On their third record in almost as many years, Fontaines D.C. have settled into their sound, if not their surroundings. The band are clearly adept at reflecting their environment, simultaneously able to give voice to their inner thoughts and convey specific observations. On their debut, this manifested as a love letter to Dublin, while on A Hero's Death they captured the disassociation that comes with success and international touring. Here, they are contemplating their residence in London and the distance, both literal and figurative, between themselves and their roots. Skinty Fia may feature some of their most self-assured songwriting to date, but thematically this is a band seeking reconciliation between their Irish identity and their status in the U.K. music scene, a relationship fraught with inherent contradictory emotions.
The opening track, "In ár gCroíthe go deo," is a strong statement in that regard, as it lays out an example of how certain pockets of English society still distrust the Irish. The song recounts the story of Margret Keane, who was denied -- by the Church of England -- having "In ár gCroíthe go deo" engraved on her tombstone, for fears it would invoke a connection to the IRA. The track pulses and builds toward its conclusion, and the revelation that this occurred in early 2020. "Big Shot" and "How Cold Love Is" are content to simmer, ruminating on egos and love before exploring the latter theme further on "Jackie Down the Line," an instant classic, sitting comfortably with Fontaines' best songwriting. It's catchy, broody, hook-laden, and able to frame toxic love in an interesting and personal way, indulging Grian Chatten's more villainous thoughts. Love is another big theme throughout the album, which dissects it and finds that it can be cold, poisonous, and sometimes fragile. This culminates in the declaration "I Love You," with Chatten pleading with his past in the hope his younger self and Dublin in general can accept where he's at now. Both themes are thoroughly mined for their tension, with the lyrics and instrumentation lending themselves to the personal nature of Skinty Fia, giving such acute insight into Fontaines' headspace that it borders on uncomfortable. This is what the band have always been best at, though, bringing the listener into their world and showing them the darkest corners alongside the rays of light.