by Emmet Penney (@ChknNugtDeepSt8)
The other day, I heard someone say that whenever you see the word “authenticity” arrive in a contemporary piece of writing it appears in italics or scare quotes. When people do this they hope to communicate two things: a) authenticity isn’t real (we live in a simulation etc.), or that it means something like “try-hard”; b) they’re the kind of writer who’s smart enough to know (a). I’m not sure what has replaced it--cynicism, insouciance, worldliness, a kind of “we just care about the aesthetics and nothing else,” the “right” kind of political perspective, some hybrid of some or all of these? I’ve never given up believing art’s province shares a border with truth. The idea that something real and true could reach out through your speaker and bring either you nearer to the world or the world nearer to you inspired and maintains my abiding love of music. All I can feel when I listen to Fontaines D.C.’s latest album, Dogrel, out from Partisan Records, is that I’m being made to understand something hot-coal-close to the human core.
“Big,” “Boys in the Better Land,” and “Real” haven’t left my head since I first played the album through, but the track that caught me off guard the most is, “Chequeless and Reckless.” Grian Chatten, the lead singer, opens the first verse with a manifesto of sorts:
A sellout is someone who becomes a hypocrite in the name of money.
An idiot is someone who lets their education do all of their thinking.
A phony is someone who demands respect for the principles they affect.
A dilettante is someone who can't tell the difference between fashion and style.
Charisma is exquisite manipulation.
And money is the sandpit of the soul.
Hard to argue with all that. But then I can’t remember anyone giving a shit about sellouts or phonies in a long time. Maybe that’s because I’m American, a son born in the house that P.T. Barnum built. It’s hard to gauge what’s at stake in a lot of American art, because no one wants to be caught caring too much. Most of it feels like aestheticized idle gossip ginned up to make money or kill time. Because if you’re no doing it for money, then why the fuck are you doing it? America wants to know. Fontaines D.C. don’t have that problem.
While I’m sure things aren’t better “over there,” they’ve certainly got the greatest literary tradition in the English speaking world like a stiff wind at their backs to propel them forward. That tradition sounds alive and well on this record. Shane MacGowan lurks in the rafters, as do James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh. Belonging to this tradition of Irishness, which guitarist Conor Curley describes as “being easily romantic about what you see,” gives the album some serious heft. There’s a confidence, a clearness of purpose. This record wasn’t made because these guys didn’t know what else to do; it was made because it’s what they had to do. The only way I can describe Dogrel is as like I’ve been hearing a song playing in the other room for a long, long time. Only now have I opened the door to hear it clearly. It aches to hear it. The band toggles between sneering and sighing all over the record. The bass undulates, the drums crack, and the guitars cut. Then there’s Chatten sneering, “Is it to real for ya? Is it too real…?” over and over in my head these last couple weeks, a question I can’t let go of--what I am refusing to see? What can’t I bear?