Damien Rice: 9

B

Damien Rice

Album: 9
Label: Warner Bros.

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Damien Rice's song "The Blower's Daughter" worked perfectly in the movie Closer because in a way, the song itself is like a miniature movie: The lyrics aren't especially descriptive, and the instrumentation isn't at all cinematic, but Rice's lead vocal rises and falls like pure drama. Rice more or less continues in the vein of his debut album O on his new 9. He rocks more often and more bombastically, but he still writes few song-songs of the kind that anyone with a guitar could stand on stage and interpret. This music needs Rice's rangy voice and desperate theatricality to work.

Which can be a problem. A song like 9's "Accidental Babies" builds from a piano part that sounds like a first-year student plunking around, and the words, while hardly ham-fisted, are in the same passive-aggressive heartsick mode that Rice can't seem to shake. (Outside of "you," the most-heard word on 9 has to be "me.") The sad-sack cabaret performances tend to start slow, moving ahead step by step until the stillness is shattered by Rice shouting "fuck you" over and over, as he does on "Rootless Tree," or by an orchestral swirl straight out of Disney's Fantasia, as on "The Animals Were Gone."

Whatever the climax, and whatever vocal acrobatics Rice adds to the mix, this approach to music-making doesn't conform to simple pop-folk songs, and when Rice tries one—like the gently rhythmic, melodic "Dogs" or "Grey Room"—he flounders. He needs the moments of exquisite tension, which means his music needs listeners who want to hear it. It isn't like Rice is going to let them concentrate on anything else.

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