Fontaines D.C.’s much anticipated debut, DOGREL is a consequence of ‘exquisite manipulation’. The tumultuous 11 track ode to Dublin City sends listeners to the fleeting heights of poetic romanticism, right down to the gruelling depths of cynicism in this shuffle between emotion and apathy. Heiled as Dublin’s sophisticated storytellers, Fontaines D.C. set out to paint a vivid narrative of their city that’s one part Joyce, two parts Holden Caulfield with a charming gloss of narcissism on top.
DOGREL’s ode to Dublin city is one that follows a long line of artists who have attempted the same. From Doyle’s ingenious Barrytown Trilogy to Joyce’s avant-garde literary visions, Dublin’s cultural identity has been shaped and reshaped repeatedly throughout history. In their depiction, Fontaines D.C. focus on the vivid portraits of individual citizens and attempt to address global issues with a local tone whilst placing themselves as the focal point in which the city revolves around.
Throughout the album, we notice a single recurring theme; the thirst for success. From the stellar opening track of a young boy dreaming big, we can’t help but place ourselves in the shoes of our preaching frontman Grian Chatten, who belts out ‘My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big.’ We revisit the same musician again in ‘Roy’s Tune’: ‘And the lights in my eyes they were evergreen,’ and finally once more in ‘Chequeless Reckless’, in his ‘tailored dreams of having it all’. There’s a sense of entitlement that dominates the core themes of the album. Although still in their infancy as a group, Fontaines D.C’s bold confidence is a crucial factor in the drive of DOGREL and, possibly, its global success. However, with a confidence so concentrated, it’s hard not to notice the fragmented identity of the album as it struggles to settle comfortably into any of its tracks until the end of the album.
There’s a stark contrast between the earlier Darkland singles versus the final cuts in the album. Often the Fontaines D.C. sound falls victim to a series of repetitive and monotonous licks that make even the shorter tracks drag. Themes of anti-capitalism, (‘Death is falling down on your work routine’) and anti-establishment (‘Falling even harder on your churches and your queen’) give DOGREL all the elements of anarchy, without packing the punch it needs to hit those lyrics home. At times, Fontaines D.C’s confidence succumbs to a sound that feels uncomfortable in its own skin.
Whilst some themes remain prevalent, the tone of the album varies drastically from one track to another. ‘Hurricane Laughter’; a boisterous track that’s double the angst and double the average song length features bursts of unrestrained emotion that strikes like a match to a jerry can – then there’s a shift to the reserved, almost poignant finale ‘Dublin City Sky’. The chaotic ramblings and intense passion of Joyce to the soft-spoken romanticism of Yeats. One could say it’s a showcase of versatility, others could call it a structureless narrative that strays from taste to taste without anchoring to a single identity making it a difficult album to judge.
Their songwriting sees real characters of Dublin brought to life in a depiction that just barely misses the mark of realism, where the lyrics are caught between a rose-tinted romanticism and Fontaines D.C’s self-inflicted cynicism in their portrayal of Dublin City. There’s a filter that taints their imagery of Dublin and shifts the subject matter into a comical, caricature rather than a living, breathing city.
The final tracks showcase the best of what Fontaines D.C. have to offer in this penultimate saga of riot to romance. It’s only a shame this peak arrives so late in the album. ‘Chequeless Reckless’ is a definite highlight with its witty wordplay, grit and the perfect turbulence of sound they’ve been trying to attain throughout the album. ‘Boys in the Better Land’ is one part thin Lizzy, another part Ramones. It’s the mix of charm and character with a flowing narrative that comes with the craft of storytelling. The sound spirals with controlled chaos, constructing the most vivid depiction of their material subject to date. They finally get a firm grasp of the balance between storytelling and a crisp, confident sound.
The finale, ‘Dublin City Sky’ breathes the equivalent of the slow ballad at the end of an invigorating session of diddly-diddly-aye. The outlier on the album that’s poignancy sticks out just far enough to seem uncomfortably out of place. Despite being the objectively finer tracks on the album, it seems a fitting ending for a different album and thus leaves listeners hanging in a void, absent of any real closure.
Best Track: Boys in the Better Land (Darklands Version)
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