MusicReview

Kneecap: Fine Art review – Intimidatingly brilliant tribute to hedonism, identity and the pure joy of living fast

The stars throughout this guest-heavy debut album are Kneecap themselves, who demonstrate shockingly intelligent lyrical dexterity

Fine Art by Kneecap
Fine Art
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Artist: Kneecap
Label: Heavenly Recordings

We’ve had the hype, the film trailer, the murals, the endlessly entertaining interviews. Now it’s time for the album. Kneecap’s relatively thin back catalogue has been often DIY in its sonic ambition. Fine Art needs to be decent. It isn’t. It’s an intimidatingly brilliant, novelistic tribute to hedonism, creativity, language, identity and the pure joy of living fast.

The first time we hear the Irish-language punk-rap group – Móglaí Bap, Mo Chara and DJ Provaí – actually rap on the album comes after its opener, 3CAG, featuring Radie Peat of Lankum. Mo Chara then takes charge of the title track: “Éist liom: ná tar chugam le do chuid smaointí, ná déan anailís ar mo chuid líntí.” It’s not so much a pronouncement as a gauntlet: “Listen to me: don’t come to me with your thoughts, don’t analyse my lines.” A thorough analysis would take an age. Fine Art is fractal. Each bar, beat and flourish expands to reveal seemingly endless constellations within Kneecap’s universe. This is sedimentary art, coded from the get-go: 3CAG stands for trí chosan agus guta, as in three consonants and a vowel, as in MDMA.

Welcome to the Rutz, a fantasy pub and anchor to the mind-bending yet cohesive journey this record takes. There’s the confrontation of Ibh Fiacha Linne, with Kneecap adopting violent personas, threatening to “stick your mouth down on to the pavement”; there’s Beastie Boys-level raucousness on the cocaine-fuelled I’m Flush; there’s a moving ode to the unifying force of raving, Parful, sampling the documentary Dancing on Narrow Ground; there’s the hilarious ketamine anthem Rhino Ket – “bally up and let’s rob a vet”. There’s softness; the pop of Love Making, the uplifting Way Too Much. There’s even Manchán Magan cast as a wisdom-trading druid on Drug Dealing Pagans.

Kneecap: ‘I was in the toilet, throwing up creme de menthe, and I look up and see Michael Fassbender’Opens in new window ]

The stars throughout are, of course, Kneecap. This is their story, their identity, their talent and their shockingly intelligent lyrical dexterity, swerving deliriously and delightfully between languages with renegade liberty. Unlocking all of this is the album’s head magician, the producer Toddla T.

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Fine Art is a revolutionary statement of intent lyrically, thematically, musically. Toddla T demonstrates a thrilling skill for depth and subtext within his own sonic storytelling. To weave so intricate a tapestry that holds both light and darkness equally, to marry trad, rave, grime, hip hop, garage, punk and all the overlapping sounds and references of dance music across genres so intoxicatingly, to take hold of Kneecap’s brimming creativity and emerge with such a potent distillation isn’t just something to listen to and enjoy. It becomes something to study. United, the artists involved have birthed a radical symphony.

Una Mullally

Una Mullally

Una Mullally, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column