I’m no good with sub-genres. They confuse me. I can easily break down a band or song and tell you whether or not I like it and why, but if you ask me to correctly categorise its rightful place within the official musical canon then I’ll almost certainly get it wrong. The band I’m reviewing today is apparently “Post-Punk”, which I’m informed by an enthusiastic friend of mine can mean many different things. He also gave me the secondary examples of Joy Division and The Cure, so I can infer firstly that this is a genre that has been a long time in development, and judging from these three examples it seems to me to be broadly defined both by the indignant, anti-establishment backbone of classic punk and the often melancholic, disenfranchised tones of the new millennium landscape. Or at least that’s what I get from it. Like so many things in our postmodern times, the simplicity of the old punk rockers is no longer enough to keep our attention for long. Therefore the genre has decided to evolve, and as someone who is not ordinarily a great fan of punk music I think it’s a pleasing development.
‘Dogrel’ or ‘Doggerel’ is a Middle-English word referring to a sort of free-form poetry most often associated with expressing the voices of the lower classes in Britain and Ireland. It is a very apt name indeed for this album. The artists are a group of Irish lads who met at music college in Dublin and bonded over their love of such poetry. After first writing their own poems, releasing a few singles, and then their debut album, Dogrel, they have been received with much critical acclaim and mainstream success. They are putting out their second album this year, entitled A Hero’s Death, and I’d encourage you to check it out along with this one.
You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about the actual music yet. That’s because it’s a hard one to explain. The focus of the album, in keeping with their stated aims, had to be Grian Chatten’s vocals and the lyrics therein. This simply comes with the territory. It therefore sinks or swims pretty much on your opinion of that aspect alone. One friend of mine absolutely hated the vocalist’s style, criticising him for sounding boring, uninterested, or even comatose throughout. I don’t entirely disagree with this assessment, particularly in the songs Sha Sha Sha, Too Real, Television Screens, and Hurricane Laughter, but I would say that in the second half of the album he really perks up, adopting more of a singing voice and creating a much more active and exciting sound in songs like Liberty Belle and Boys in the Better Land. These were definitely my favourite tracks, but that’s not for a dislike of beat-poetry or slow songs in general. I also really enjoyed the first track on the album, Big, and Roy’s Tune about half way through.
I’ve listened to a little beat-poetry in the past, Gil Scott-Heron for example. I like some of it, but the fleeting intersections of perfectly expressive vocal delivery to embody uniquely powerful and thought-provoking lyrics come too rarely for me to stay tuned in for long, lacking as it does the kind of instrumental technicality which I generally prefer. It’s for this reason that I did not enjoy this album as much as I might have, as the singer’s voice did lack some of the energy which was abundant in the instrumentals (which I have no issues with by the way. They were used very appropriately.) and I felt that this detracted from my enjoyment of the lyrical content itself. That said though, even in the slower tracks there is undeniably a very satisfying cadence to Chatten’s voice which really hooked me and I only enjoyed more on subsequent playthroughs. He’s truly an excellent orator.
The poetry was great though! My personal favourite line was:
‘And the radio is all about a run away model,
With a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel.’
The entire album is steeped in a palpable sense of passionate criticism from within. It’s obvious that the writer loves the city and the country in which he grew up, but he keenly senses the undergirding divisions and neglect which have kept them from being all that they might be. Songs like Television Screens and Too Real seem to decry a sickness of fakes, sell-outs, and the vapid selfish types who value money, status symbols, and personal gain above community, heritage, and shared emotion. This I think is the album’s strongest selling point. These themes and more are really tangible in not just the lyrics, but the composition and tonality of the songs, and even in the often surreal music videos that accompany them. It’s easily worth listening just for that aspect alone. Do check out the videos as well. They’re super weird.
Anyway, in closing I would say that this isn’t really the type of music I would normally go for, the instrumentation is perfectly well suited but all in all not that remarkable, and the vocalist’s style does create a bit of a dirge in certain places. But in terms of aesthetic authenticity and depth of feeling created mostly by the lyrics and Chatten’s engaging voicing of them it really is something special. All of that said, I definitely enjoyed it more on my second and third listens, so maybe in the future I’ll come to appreciate even more about it, but for the moment I’m giving this one a contextual score of 7 out of 10.
Thanks for reading.
Written – May 2020
Published – May 2020