Fontaines D.C. appear to be in decent working condition. Last year’s Skinty Fia, the Dublin band’s excellent third album, advanced their rickety post-punk formula to something a little more expansive, more grandiose. So it’s out of the blue that their singer, Grian Chatten, has sought relief from his duties to record a solo album, Chaos For the Fly.
They’re a polarising sect, those five boys. As large and dedicated as Fontaines D.C.’s fanbase is, I’ve long detected the sentiment among certain sections both close to and within the Irish music scene that these vaunted sons have been given oxygen that perhaps should have been administered to other artists.
More casual chats with people about the group often wind up with me simply being told they “don’t get it”. This, I believe, is mostly due to Chatten. His distinct barstool balladry, pronounced colloquialisms, and dryly serious brogue are crucial in invoking the old romantic Dublin charm that Fontaines D.C. trade on, but they’re not to everyone’s taste.
Chaos For the Fly is a departure. The music doesn’t have the same urgency or tension that Chatten’s usual band members provide. Cinematic strings sweep through “Last Time Every Time Forever”; “Fairlies” has some scraggly American blues and country roots. Captivating ballad “The Score” features acoustic plucks, solemn bass play, a metronomic drum machine, and Chatten delivering an appropriately understated performance that bears little resemblance to what we’ve become accustomed to.
That said, the press notes describing the conception of the album are anything but understated. They take us to a beach north of Dublin, post-dusk, and the practically supernatural occurrence of the album being delivered to Chatten by the energy of waves. Among these fables, though, are some interesting insights into why he decided to go it alone on these nine songs.
“I just thought: I want to do this myself. I know where we as a band are going next and that’s not where I want to go with this. I’ve got a couple of exaggerated aspects of my soul that I wanted to express,” said Chatten. “The rest of the band are all creative and songwriters in their own right, too. I didn’t want to go to them and be like, ‘No, every single thing has to be like this.’ I didn’t want to compromise with these songs in that way.”
Chatten’s writing on Chaos For the Fly ditches his trademark longform prose for lyrics that are tight and edgy. There’s nothing like the political and societal probings he’s previously penned. Instead, Chatten looks inward, seeking emotional precision.
“East Coast Bed” is full of grief as it describes a person he knew since childhood who is no longer in his life. On “Last Time Every Time Forever”, he admits “All my words/ They fail me now”, surprising for a man who appears to take great care in selecting every syllable, before laying out some disgust at how certain individuals have acted towards him (“People are scum/ I will say it again/ Don’t let anyone tell you that/ They wanna be your friend”). Who these people are and what they’ve done, Chatten does not say. Some missing specificity is detrimental to the album, as is the odd tired motif – “You see your heart’s been tethered to a sinking stone,” he sings on “The Score”.
There’s evidence of Chatten’s success attracting serpents to his door. “All of the People” could be read at smackdown to all the haters and hangers on, with anger directed at one unnamed person in particular: “Did you know I’m into your brother?/ Did you know that I hated your show?” Featuring some uninspiring piano chords and a melody that doesn’t go very far, “All of the People” is actually one of the least interesting songs musically, but its calmness renders Chatten’s anger eerily cold and precise.
What Chaos For the Fly doesn’t have is anything like a killer single. You can imagine a stressed label exec saying, “This is great Grian, but it’s missing a hit.” It’s likely this one will be reviewed pretty well and quickly forgotten, like side projects dropped during a major band’s lifespan so often are. But its importance is more in the soothing of its creator. Chattan is releasing some inner tension, before returning to his rock-star day job.
Grian Chattan’s Chaos For the Fly is out this Friday.