Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Damien Rice - 9

3 years.
That’s how long it has been since Damien Rice last graced us with his presence. That’s when he released his debut, O, a delicate (get it?), gorgeous album that had everyone calling him the next great folk singer.
Then he took some time off.
3 years, to be exact.
And now, finally, he’s back…and what were we to expect? What had he been doing with his music all that time? Would he come back completely remade as a rock singer? Would he trade in his acoustic guitar for a Flying V? What to expect, what to expect…
Well, to be honest, he doesn’t sound too much different on his new album than he did on his first one. There’s a bit more instrumentation in this album, which seems to be a fairly popular trend among the new folkies (Iron & Wine, Ray LaMontagne, etc.). He also sounds a bit angrier here than he did on his first album, but only a time or two (never more obvious than on “Rootless Tree”…the chorus of which is the sole reason this album is explicit lyrics).
But, for the most part, the fragile Damien Rice who we had met in the first album is still in full force here. The opening song, “9 Crimes”, kicks off the album with a haunting piano and the gorgeous vocals of Lisa Hannigan, which eventually leads to a duet with Damien over an ever-building musical section of percussion and strings. We’re reminded, instantly, of the thing we all loved about him in the first place: his ability to build a song perfectly, sometimes out of nothing. With a string section and more instrumentation to work with, he borders on unstoppable. Even on “Elephant”, a song comprised mainly of a guitar and Damien’s voice, you can just feel the emotion in his voice, lifting the song to higher heights than it really has any reason to go.
And that, much like on his last album, is really what drives this album and his entire sound: his voice. He can convey emotion in such a way that it is sometimes almost painful to listen to. Fragile and breakable, yet, at the same time, huge and otherworldly. Without his voice, he becomes nothing more than your everyday, run of the mill acoustic guitar toting coffee shop playing neo-folk singer…but with better lyrics.
That’s not to say that this album is perfect. There are some songs that don’t quite work on this album. The light “Dogs” seems a bit too light, with lyrics that include, “She lives with an orange tree and a girl who does yoga,”, with “girl who does yoga” repeated more than once throughout the course of the song. The previously discussed “Rootless Tree” seems like a song that he threw in just to say, “See…I’m not just depressed about stuff. I can get mad, too. Listen to this.” Not that it’s a terrible song…in fact, it’s a fairly good song in spite of itself. But that doesn’t stop it from sounding more than a bit forced. “Coconut Skins” is an upbeat folk song that seems to be more along the line of what I’d expect from Bright Eyes.
But there are also some absolutely great moments on this album. “9 Crimes” has already been talked about, but I just have to come back to it, because it is one of the best moments on the album. I was surprised by the huge, building, rock oriented “Me, My Yoke and I”, which kind of comes off as a full-length version of the last half of “I Remember”, but only because it’s much more electric than the rest of the album. “Accidental Babies” seems like it would drag a bit, being a slow, 6 minute song made up solely of a piano and his voice, but, somehow, he pulls it off.
All in all, I think of this album much like I think of O. When it’s on, it’s on. But when it’s off, it’s off. There are enough amazing moments on the album to keep you coming back, but there are also some dead spots that you keep listening to in the hopes that they’ll get better. The good moments are amazing. The bad moments aren’t terrible, but they certainly don’t live up to the great moments. There’s not much that fits in the middle of those moments.
But, thankfully for all of us, his good moments far outweigh the bad moments. Again. Welcome back, Damien.

Rating: 8.0

Essential Tracks: “The Animals Were Gone”, “Me, My Yoke and I”

Favorite Tracks: “9 Crimes”, “Elephant”

1 comment:

Chad said...

I just listened to this album and thought it was quite good. So there you go.

And so you know: I though this was your best review so far. So, keep up the good work. Oh yeah. (That was supposed to be a Peggy Hill "Oh Yeah", not a creepy one.)