Since Damien Rice’s
debut album, O
, was released in 2002 with its emotionally charged ballads of love and hate, fans have patiently awaited the return of the indiefolk artist’s delicate, unpretentious songs. Four years later, the Irish songwriter returns to a host of great expectations, with a darker, more raw interpretation of his previous sound.
In his sophomore album, 9
, Damien Rice
provides the cathartic musical experience that made O
a favorite among brokenhearted acoustic enthusiasts. What distinguishes 9
from its widely hailed predecessor is the range of musical style with which Rice experiments, while delving deeper into his earnest, singer-songwriter roots. Rice takes the musical liberty that comes with early success and introduces a variation from his acclaimed bare-bones, heartfelt style.
As with O
, Damien Rice
’s new album is not one for light listeners. Exploring the depths of unrequited love, 9
courses through the familiar themes of loneliness and jealousy that make Rice’s new breed of acoustic folk a powerful experience. The opening track, “9 Crimes
,” is the kind of sound that only seems suitable for empty, dimly lit rooms. Complemented by a haunting piano melody set against strings, Rice’s quiet, raw vocals play perfectly against accompanist Lisa Hannigan
, whose breathy, soulful voice peppered much of the previous album. One of 9
’s main downfalls, in fact, is that “9 Crimes
” is the only track that pairs Hannigan and Rice in such a duet style; Hannigan reappears in the background of many tracks, often shadowed by heavy instrumentals.
Following the dramatic entrance of “9 Crimes
,” the rest of the album braves a variety musical influences, departing from the well-worn path of Rice’s pretty minimalism. “The Animals Were Gone
,” a classic love song fit for a movie screen, boasts a string ensemble and a softly played drum kit, all of which fade into the ethereal sound of a choir. Tiptoeing into the realm of alternative rock, “Rootless Tree
” explores the frustration of unrequited love with intense percussion and an explicit chorus.
While the album has no absence of passion, especially in tracks like “Elephant
,” and “Accidental Babies
,” the force of Rice’s heart wrenching tunes are interspersed with more lighthearted, lively tracks. “Coconut Skins
” suggests a more friendly folk sound with its heartily strummed acoustic chords, while “Dogs
” sports a cheerfully picked melody with a hint of blithe lyrics resembling the carefree Jack Johnson
The lyrics of 9 blend fluidly between the range of styles explored in the album, while possessing an honesty that sets Damien Rice apart from the clouded metaphors of most indie rock. 9 presents a collection of songs with the unfiltered reflections that seem to have come entirely from Rice’s personal diary, which, when combined with his earthy, no-frills vocals, conveys a sense of unreserved vulnerability. “Elephant” highlights this signature sound, with Rice’s confessional vocals set against an acoustic guitar, building to an instrumental crescendo including the wafting accompaniment of Lisa Hannigan. Ending, of course, with Rice’s fragile brand of honesty, the song ends with the closing lyrics, “You know that’s a lie.” The final tracks of the album provide the same sincere sound, including “Accidental Babies,” which has spared the often excessive strings for an echoing piano melody.
Although there are many signature tracks on 9 which further distinguish Damien Rice for his natural musical presence, the album proves, occasionally, that too much of a good thing can exist. While the soft cello on tracks like “Sleep Won’t Weep” complete the delicate nature of the song, the cluster of strings, percussion, and guitar in “Rootless Tree” drown out the naturally intense quality of Rice’s vocals, sacrificing his natural passion for a more contrived one. Nevertheless, 9 proves to have been worth the wait for fans of Damien Rice’s serene love songs, and tracks like 9 Crimes, Elephant, and Grey Room are sure to leave them wanting more.
Rating: 4 Stars
(Copywright H. Harrigan)