The biggest issue with punk music has been, and probably always will be, the idea and sound of punk music is incredibly restrictive. Once you’ve been labelled a punk band or artist, there’s a certain sound you’re immediately identified with, that of short sharp power chords, breakneck paces, and snotty, confrontational vocals. While this approach has led to some of the best albums you’ll ever hear, it has also led to many punk artists feeling trapped and pigeonholed. It’s why The Clash sought to change their sound with every following album, and why Johnny Rotten left the Sex Pistols, formed PiL and went back to his own name. Great artists look for ways to push themselves out of the box they’ve been forced in, and on their triumphant second album A Hero’s Death, Fontaines D.C. have found a way to push their sound forward into exciting and thought provoking moulds.
If there was a flaw to be found in their first album, the visceral Dogrel, it’s that the constant fast pace and incisive social commentary meant that there wasn’t much variety, leaving the LP feeling a little one-note, great though that note was. With A Hero’s Death, the band has found new sonic palettes to better reflect the more personal, inward-looking nature of the lyrics. Contrast the album’s first track, the mournful I Don’t Belong, with Dogrel opener Big. While that track was loud, bullish and arrogant, proclaiming in its chorus how the song’s hero was “gonna be big”, “I Don’t Belong is much more insecure and doubtful, repeatedly proclaiming ‘I don’t belong to anyone’. The instrumentation calls back to the National, with muted guitar plucks and moody drum beats. It’s a stark change from the bratty Irish loudmouths the world met only last year.
Much of the album’s lyrics where inspired by the glum monotony and crippling self-doubt brought on by their first tour. While this could’ve been a case of rockstars moaning about the tragedy of getting to tour the world and entertain thousands, the lyrics are filtered through feelings and emotions that many can find relatable. Album highlight A Lucid Dream features the lyric “you’re all prone to being anyone else other than you”. While this is obviously a reference to a feeling of detachment whilst performing or in the public eye, it’s phrased in a way that listeners can identify with.
Sonically, the band is still prone to full-throttle rock when the mood takes them, but the highlights are the tracks that break out of their comfort zone. The title track has a peppy pop-rock sound that highlights the band’s Beach Boys influence, while Televised Mind is awash in scuzzy basslines and droning guitars similar to Brian Jonestown Massacre. Slow song Oh Such A Spring is haunting, swooning piece of nostalgia that calls to mind 50s torch songs, whilst Sunny is a Wild West fun-ride.
With A Hero’s Death, Fontaines D.C. have taken the raw visceral edge of their debut and refined it, smoothed out the rough patches and crafted an eclectic collection of sounds with thoughtful, considerate lyrics to match. It’s like a great film sequel; still the same core piece of work, but enhanced and restructured to improve on what came before. And thankfully, the band has crafted a Dark Knight rather than a Batman & Robin.