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Damien Rice - 9

Damien Rice, 9

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE sophomore album from Irish folk-pop singer-songwriter Damien Rice has a hard act to follow in repeating the overwhelming commercial and critical acclaim surrounding his debut, O in 2002.

The four years it has taken to make it suggests some creative difficulty but, for the most part, Rice seems to have pulled it off – even if it doesn’t blow you away as emphatically as its predecessor.

For the most part it’s musically delicate and deeply introspective, a ploy that opens the artist up to the accusation that he’s overly serious and borderline melancholy. Indeed, there are some slow-burners that compare to the sound of Radiohead at their most sombre.

But at other moments, it expands its horizons into more brazenly rock territory and actually benefits from a more rousing sound. Hence, Rice can be said to be stretching himself artistically, while remaining true to the elements that helped make him such a celebrated success in the first place.

The album certainly begins strongly, with the forthcoming single 9 Crimes, an achingly tender, piano-based duet with Lisa Hannigan that has to rate as one of the heartbreak tracks of the year. Indeed, it’s Hannigan’s whispered vocals that take the lead atop some melancholy piano chords that really do entrance with their beauty.

When Rice joins her, the layering and boy-girl trade off that ensues is utterly beguiling, especially when Vivienne Long’s cello is brought into the equation. It’s a majestic track that, quite possibly, sets standards the rest of the album struggles to reach.

Soft acoustic ballad The Animals Were Gone is a quietly shimmering piece that tells another tale of heartbreak – but as vivid as the imagery remains, it doesn’t quite hit the highs of 9 Crimes. But Elephant is a little too stripped down and intense for its own good, as there’s a sense that the album could come grinding to a painful halt if it were to become any slower.

Rice certainly gives it his all vocally and is probably to be found at his most introspective – but the song is far too sombre for its own good and could be accused by some of being overly pretentious.

Fortunately, the singer enlivens proceedings considerably with the following track Rootless Tree, which marks the long-player’s first venture into rockier territory. It starts out quietly, with a nice, folksy piece of acoustic guitar and a soft drum for backing, but it explodes into life during the chorus, catching you off guard and genuinely rousing the senses.

Rice’s vocals are emphatic, the guitar riffs forceful and vibrant and the swirling cello is truly inspiring. The track then slows back down again, temporarily, before repeating the trick during every gutsy chorus. If the singer continues to deliver songs of this quality more often, he’s capable of attracting even wider appeal.

Dogs maintains an upbeat vibe that shuffles along in pleasant style, benefiting from more of Hannigan’s sensual vocals, and another rousing chorus that actually celebrates love (“she moves like a little girl, I become a little child and she moves my world”). It’s actually terrifically encouraging to find the singer in such a positive frame of mind that you almost wish the album would remain in such territory.

It does for a couple of tracks – Coconut Skins providing another breezy guitar backdrop that Rice rises to vocally, before coming over a little more foreboding for the atmospheric Me, My Yoke and I. That track, in particular, finds Rice at his husky best, while the raw guitars slow-build into an explosive crescendo at around the two-minute mark. It’s tremendously invigorating.

But then the album drifts back into more slow-building territory and ends with more of a whimper than a bang. The aching Accidental Babies replaces the guitars with pianos and slows down the tempo significantly, enabling Rice to chart some much darker territory. It’s well constructed and deeply poignant but it somehow doesn’t sweep you off your feet.

Likewise, final track Sleep Don’t Weep, which seeks to begin the album as it begins – lonely, stark, sombre voices and subtle instrumentation. Hannigan is back and just as enchanting but, overall, the ploy feels like a backward step and doesn’t really conclude the album on the satisfying note listeners may have been expecting.

Rice is certainly a name that’s more synonymous with heartbreak than happiness but there are moments on 9 that show he’s capable of both. Ending the album on such a fragile note almost shatters the excellent work that has come before.

Hence, 9 is a strong return that hits some heady heights without ever becoming the all-conquering masterpiece it’s clearly striving to become.

Track listing:

  1. 9 Crimes
  2. The Animals Were Gone
  3. Elephant
  4. Rootless Tree
  5. Dogs
  6. Coconut Skins
  7. Me, my yoke and I
  8. Grey Room
  9. Accidental Babies
  10. Sleep, Don’t Weep

  1. Interesting comments – some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. On the whole, however, 9 Crimes is another masterpiece and it’s churlish to try and pretend otherwise!

    Simon    Nov 17    #
  2. 9 Crimes is indeed a masterpiece. Damien Rice is a lyrical poet!

    Marina    Nov 23    #