I don’t know if “I Will Follow” is necessarily the best song on U2’s debut album, Boy, but it is definitely the one that somehow separates itself from the rest of the pack on that impeccable collection of songs from 1980. Likewise, “Boys in the Better Land” may not be the best song off the 2019 debut from Fontaines D.C., but like “I Will Follow,” it's diamond-like sparkle is just a little brighter than the rest of the musical gems on Dogrel; my pick for the best album of the year right now.
I’ll admit, I don’t have much to show for new music purchases in 2019, but this young Irish band’s album is one I just can’t stop playing, and their recent performance at U Street Music Hall is one I will not forget for a very long time. As someone remarked on the way out after the show: "That's the last time that band sees the inside of that club!" Dogrel, like the band’s live show, is packed with the kind of high voltage energy that just makes you want to dive into a mosh pit of sweaty, ebullient dancers thrashing on the edge of mayhem. The songs are more like poetry set to noisy music, with a brutal beat — especially the way lead singer Grian Chatten barks out abstract lyrical impressionism with scant regard for harmony, and complete embracement of his thick Dublin accent. Blending the on-stage intensity of Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and John Lydon (Public Image, Ltd.) Chatten “favors a sternly delivered, free-ranging shout-speak that frequently veers far outside the lines of traditional pop-song structure,” that is likely to lose as many potential fans for the band as it is to garner them.
In addition to the jagged, post punk urgency that permeates their sound; an urgency I haven’t seen or felt since, dare I say it, 1981? I’m also drawn to the band for the sheer Irish poetic genius they exude. The album opens with the emphatic declaration: “Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind.” Chatten spends the rest of the album throwing around the kind of poetic language that would make James Joyce himself smile. In his Pitchfork review, Stuart Berman writes that Dogrel “walks the tightrope between surly and celebratory.” True. It’s noisy and brash, and it’s as full of itself as it is full of unforgettable Irish sentiment.
I know I’m not alone on this one, but I also know Fontaines D.C. is definitely not everyone’s cup o’ tea. What really saddens me though is the one person I know for sure would share my appreciation and marvel for this band is my brother, Joe — and not just because I’d write or call and leverage the big brother influence on him saying, “boy have I got a new band for you!” Joe would love the fact that before they ever released an album, Grian Chatten, Carlos O'Connell, Conor Curley, Conor Deegan, and Tom Coll first published two collections of poetry; one inspired by the Beat poets (Keruac and Ginsberg) and another inspired by Irish poets (Kavanagh, Joyce and Yeats). Joe would have also appreciated the title of the album paying homage to "doggerel;" working class Irish poetry written in irregular rhythm and rhyme for burlesque or comic effect, and he would have laughed at an Irish band choosing to name themselves after Vito Corleone’s godson, Johnny Fontaine from The Godfather. I know Joe would instantly connect with the band’s raucous poetry—steeped in Irish sensibility, and awash in jangly, jagged music—as well as the careening intensity generated by its aggressive aural assault. It’s angry. It’s beautiful. It’s heroic. It’s riotous. It’s truthful. It's Joe. It’s “Boys in the Better Land” by Fontaines D.C., and it’s the Happy Medium Song of the Day that I’d like to share with you, since I cannot share it with my brother. (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)