If 2018 was the basis for the usual amount of expectation, then this year has been the one for results. And, folks, did Fontaines DC deliver via widespread mainstream acclaim for their debut album as well as for their accompanying live shows. “Is Dogrel one of the best albums of the year?” asked Irish Times reviewer, Eamon Sweeney, eight months ago. “It is hard to think of another guitar-driven Irish album since Whipping Boy’s Heartworm that is as effective and potentially world-conquering…”
Further praise for Dogrel included it being on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist, having BBC6 Music announce it as their Album of the Year, and no less a smart music lover as Tracey Thorn proclaiming on Twitter that she "can't stop listening" to the band. As for those live performances, you only have to look at the band's Glastonbury show for proof positive of their innate dynamism. Their last-minute mid-afternoon Glasto gig on the John Peel Stage arrived through a mixture of bad and good luck: bad on the part of their friend Sam Fender, who had to pull out from the gig, and good on the basis of they were in the right place in the right festival at the right time. "The reception from the crowd," ran one review, "is one of adoration… For them to be granted their Glastonbury moment feels all too perfect."
For fans, their three sold-out Irish shows over the next two weeks (Vicar Street, Dublin, Saturday, December 7th/Sunday, December 8th, Ulster Hall, Belfast, Thursday, December 12th) will tick a few boxes: celebration, validation, a genuine homecoming. Not exactly the “jacks are back” (that’s U2’s dog-eared line) but a return to the country and the cities that are clearly so much at the root of Dogrel.
And yet, as members of the band told this writer during the summer, they will point blank refuse to be pigeon-holed (never mind perceived) as a collective of chin-stroking, literature-loving chroniclers of the towns they love so well. In short, the media’s echo chamber that has regurgitated Dogrel’s educational range of characters, its argot, provocations, and lively-voiced sketches of (for example) “Dublin in the rain” has long since desensitised them to such descriptions. “It isn’t really extraordinary that we read,” remarked guitarist Conor Curley, poker-face intact. “Months have passed,” said guitarist Carlos O’Connell. “While the album isn’t by any means dead, if anyone wants to know what it is about then they’ll just have to listen to it and find out.”
This is fair enough – the worst thing about echo chambers is the persistent repetition of opinions. And besides, for every celebratory voice at these shows, there will be ears on high alert for new material, of which there will surely be several examples. Without wishing to bring it back to books, it looks as if a chapter for the band is closing, with next year ready for a new one. “Do you want to write an album that you know people will like because they’ve liked previous songs of yours that are written in a certain fashion?” asked O’Connell some months ago, somewhat rhetorically. “Or do you want an album that comprises songs we write – different-sounding songs? We just want to write an album that is honest to us, and if it doesn’t sound like how we have previously sounded, then fine.”
All good, then. Stick that in your echo chamber and see what comes out.