KNEECAP – Fine Art

A colourful but flawed debut album...

KNEECAP could start an argument in an empty room. As the Belfast trio recently observed, they’ve got a knack for annoying virtually everyone, including either side of the community around them, both Nationalist and Loyalist. At its best, their prickish instincts are ruthlessly entertaining – anyone who can turn ‘Get Your Brits Out’ into a rave’d up playground chant must be on to something. Debut album ‘Fine Art’ is a conceptual work, framed by a night at a fictional Belfast boozer, a KNEECAP owned community pub called The Rutz. Brash, colourful, and playing to their instincts, it seems to sum up KNEECAP’s illicit charms, but also their failings.

There’s a huge amount on ‘Fine Art’ that succeeds. Opener ‘3CAG’ is a whirlwind of Celtic melodies, complete with vocals from the wonderful Radie Peat of LANKUM. The title track hot-wires grime’s square wave production for a post-Troubles dynamic, while ‘Harrow Road’ is an expertly executed pastiche of the London music industry.

When it’s funny, ‘Fine Art’ is often laugh out loud hilarious. If the recent Rich Peppiatt directed, Michael Fassbender-aided flick was a comedy drama, then this album broadly removes the drama, and dials up the comedy. It’s more weekend bender than Fassbender, put it that way. The interludes pull together the over-arching theme, and act as a kind of warts-and-all depiction of the Rutz, where the language is as strong as the illicit powders you can get from a guy in the corner of the bar.

Subtle, it is not. ‘I’m Flush’ is like having your head trapped in a bass bin – itself balanced inside a washing machine – at full volume. ‘Rhino Ket’ is a full body barrage of electronics, while the crunching ‘Ibh Fiacha Linne’ will make the nerve-endings of your wisdom teeth rattle for weeks.

The production is broadly chaired by Toddla T, whose experience helps dial up KNEECAP’s ideas. Moving from almost gabber aspects of hyper-colourful electronics to some more subtle elements, it’s a fusion of club tropes that aims for effectiveness over nuance, but as a result lacks a little depth. It’s also striking that ‘Fine Art’ doesn’t platform other Northern Irish talent. Between Toddla T – a Sheffield geezer – and members of Dublin’s own LANKUM and Fontaines D.C., there are precious few voices here from the North of Ireland. Indeed, The Rutz is probably one of the only Belfast boozers I can think of with hardly any Northern Irish people in it.

Equally, while the shock factor exhilarates on first listen, the pot pourri of creative elements that makes up ‘Fine Art’ begins to cause a bit of a stink after a while. The neon-tinted immediacy offers a tantalising glare, but once the jokes wear off, the album can actually be a chore. Broad to the point of contradiction, it’s a record that covers a lot of bases, while lacking a singular purpose. It’s almost as if KNEECAP are enacting a cartoonish version of their own lives – it’s fun, but ultimately two-dimensional.


Words: Robin Murray

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