After just six years, Grian Chatten is already well on his way to completing music. As the frontman and chief lyricist for Irish post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C., he’s already achieved success and accolades that some artists work decades trying to achieve.
Since breaking out with their incredible Mercury and Choice Prize nominated debut Dogrel in 2019, the band have since gone on to deliver two more highly acclaimed records in A Hero’s Death and last year’s Skinty Fia, cementing themselves as one of the planet’s best rock bands. Along the way, they’ve also earned themselves Ivor Novello and Grammy Award nominations, as well as a surprise BRIT Award win earlier this year for Best International Group. So having achieved so much with Fontaines in such a short space of time, it’s not too surprising then that Grian has taken time out this year to deliver his first solo outing – Chaos For The Fly.
Inspired by a late-night walk through the worn casinos and bars of Stoney Beach (around thirty miles north of Dublin), the album was essentially written in Grian’s mind that very same night, as he jotted down lyrics and clearly envisioned the sonic direction which he wanted to take with the project. Knowing it wasn’t going to be a Fontaines album, he still teamed up with regular producer Dan Carey to bring these songs and the tales of murky coastal glamour to life. The result is one of the best albums of the year so far, a dazzling dose of melancholic splendour that strengthens Grian Chatten’s position as one of the finest songwriters working today.
Lead single ‘The Score’ opens proceedings and sets the scene perfectly, instantly transporting the listener to a lustful evening in Madrid on this sun-kissed acoustic track. Follow-up ‘Last Time Every Time Forever’ then flies us instantly back to that dilapidated seaside town in Ireland, with Grian illustrating imagery of seagulls and slot machines with sweeping strings, flashes of synths and some gentle vocals from his partner Georgie Jesson.
It’s a poetic early highlight, with memorable, wonderfully written lines like “Without a chance, I’m king of every single thing, and it’s the cheapest spend, to make a dead heart sing.” The brilliant ‘Fairlies’ then rounds off this opening trio of singles, with its stuttering strums and resplendent chorus. Supposedly written under the influence of a lot of beers, it makes poignant lines like “The boat is drifting in, the weight is cast, how can life go so slowly and death come so fast?” even more impressive.
When a nine-track album is so front loaded with singles it can maybe be seen as a warning sign, but that certainly isn’t the case here as the brilliant ‘Bob’s Casino’ squashes any of those brief qualms. Basking in the shade of some Hollywood glitz, it’s a noir-tinted song that sounds like it’s been pulled from another time. As the showbiz brass plays, Grian delivers for my money one of the best vocal performances of his career to date, with his deep baritone gravel beautifully offset once again by Georgie Jesson’s softly sweet harmonies. ‘All of the People’ then immediately strips everything back, a stunningly raw yet string-tinged ballad that faces its despondent gaze at the dark under belly of the music industry.
Just when you think you might be getting the album figured out, Grian takes another sharp auditory left turn with the mesmerising ‘East Coast Bed’. With soulful horns, neon-soaked synths and Grian’s dreamy vocals, the exquisite production and glorious breadth of sounds on display see the song glide around your headphones with the grace of a high-flying trapeze act. Before you’ve even had chance to pick your jaw up from off the floor, acoustic anthem ‘Salt Throwers off a Truck’ only adds to the wonderment. The difference is this time it’s Grian’s lyrics that take centre stage, presenting a romantically woven chronicle that abruptly ends on the bleak words: “And now he’ll feel nothing forever.”
Once the harmonica haze of ‘I Am So Far’ has passed, Grian then blows us a kiss goodbye with one final masterpiece – ‘Season For Pain’. It begins as a calmly dark folk song with a brief flash of acoustic grunge that would make Kurt Cobain proud, before instrumental chimes then appear out of nowhere to send listeners away amidst a brightly bewildering psychedelic glow. It’s a wonderfully enchanting note to end the record on and a finale that captures everything that is so fascinating about this album.
With this incredible first solo effort, Grian continues to justify the hype and prove his greatness, with this album for me more than able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the three exceptional Fontaines records that are already out living in the wild. While it may lack the raw primal power of those records, it more than makes up for it with a wealth of rich instrumentation, accomplished musicianship and engaging, vivid stories.
Whether you’re a Fontaines fan or not: sit back, hit play and revel in the chaos.