It is often said that an artist is sometimes undone by his best work. In some ways this was the case with Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice. If you're a fan of his, then you're no doubt familiar with his majestic solo debut O. This album was a beautiful and transcendent piece of Indie perfection, and it was difficult to see how he could do any better. Indeed, his rushed follow-up album 9 was a disappointment (at least for me), and then Rice disappeared all together. Now Damien Rice is back after an eight-year hiatus.
His newest work, My Favourite Faded Fantasy (yay for European spelling!), is not an album for the impatient listener. There are no radio-worthy tracks here, no Cannonball or 9 Crimes. These are, on average, 5 minute-long suites, slowly and painstakingly brought to life, and with dramatic crescendo's brought to fruition, and then ending in transcendence. At first, I thought it was better than 9, but in no way lived up to the glorious O. Now, after a week of listening, I know O has been surpassed.
Rice, who's comparison to artists like Jeff Buckley is more than earned, approaches his indie folk with the passion, and gusto more in common with the opera performer on opening night, than a folk artist. His voice, which ranges from breathy whisper, to impassioned, gut-wrenching cry, lends itself well to material that touches on heartbreak, severed relationships, and paralyzing self doubt. Rice's own artistic and personal turmoil, has no doubt provided more than enough fodder for Faded Fantasy.
Electric/acoustic guitar, full string orchestras, horn section, and delicate piano make each song a thrilling, sorrowful, and sometimes hopeful journey. It is hard sometimes not to miss Lisa Hannigan's backing vocals and cello accompaniment, but Rice is more than enough to carry the album. As mentioned before, it's an album which requires patience on the side of the listener (just as it did to produce it), but speaking from experience, once you finally "get it", you won't want to listen to anything else.
Thanks for coming back Damien, you were so missed!