If you cared to look, the signs were there more than a year ago, a couple of months after the release of their debut album, Dogrel.
“Do you want to write an album,” Fontaines DC guitarist Carlos O’Connell said to this writer, “that you know people will like because they’ve liked previous songs of yours that are written in a certain fashion? Or do you want an album comprising songs we just continue to write – different-sounding songs, perhaps? We know that the next album can be whatever we want it to be because no one expects it to be anything other than us as a band.”
True enough, but fandom is a mercurial thing – the very same people who swore never-ending loyalty a year and more ago can turn into shiv-waving backstabbers if the new material doesn’t live up to their expectations. This isn’t unusual; indeed, it’s only right that such cultural democracy be applied at full volume. But it’s often bemusing to see how quickly opinions change – it’s almost as if artists are no longer allowed to evolve without permission.
It’s clear with A Hero’s Death that the furthest thing from the collective mindset of Fontaines DC is approval; if that were the case, they would have written songs that aligned themselves closely to their debut’s incisive, erudite snarl. Instead, the new material mostly takes stock of post-Dogrel success and the sluggish, oppressive nature of touring in the heat and glare of the stage lights.
Intuitively, however, there isn’t a shred of rock star grumbling here – it’s more a non-linear view of how too much of what you have always dreamed about can easily entrap mind and body. A Hero’s Death is, more or less, second album syndrome as filtered through shrewd perspectives and unsolicited intrusions.
The oldest songs here have Dogrel’s distinctive scent: Televised Mind is a repetitive rumbling of bass, guitar and vocals; the title track is spoken word in style, again built around recurring, familiar phrases; and I Was Not Born is a full-throttle blast of Public Image Limited at their finest and The National at their most stimulating.
Unforeseen yet very welcome advances are with post-Dogrel songs; Sunny, No, and (in particular) Oh Such a Spring are textured, weatherproof sides of Fontaines DC. Meanwhile, Living in America, Love is the Main Thing, A Lucid Dream and You Said put forward the notion of a raucous arena band in the making.
Swaying between the two states, A Hero’s Death progressively calms down, by turn meditative, volatile and benevolent.