Release Date: Nov 11, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock
Review Summary: One of the most outright depressing yet simultaneously beautiful records of 2014.The first time I ever heard Damien Rice, the song was “The Blower’s Daughter” from his debut O, and the setting was a pitch black highway around 3 a.m. Anyone who has been in a stale relationship before knows what it’s like to fall out of love, and that’s what was happening as the Irish troubadour serenaded me for the very first time while I semi-blindly steered around each curve. I finally arrived at the crystallizing moment that we all tend to when you truly care about someone but realize that, deep down, it was never going to work in the first place.
"It takes a lot to know a man", admits/warns Damien Rice as he allows his troubles to stretch grandly before him. A wonder they do not consume him as they twist across spiky terrain that offers no place to hide. The trials and tribulations of the worldweary troubadour are nothing new, but in Rice's rather elusive case, there's much to address after many years in the wilderness.
Damien Rice doesn't do anything in a hurry. He lets his songs unfold at a deliberate, almost stately pace and he's similarly unconcerned about rushing through his career, taking a full eight years to deliver 2014's My Favourite Faded Fantasy, which amounts to only his third record in 12 years. Other artists who have experienced a similarly long gestation period return with long, overblown works, but not Rice.
He takes his time, does Damien Rice. It took the Irishman over four years to follow up his lauded debut album O with the rather less lauded 9, and now – eight long years on – he’s back with his third album. And, if the subject matter of most of the songs on My Favourite Faded Fantasy are anything to go by, he’s not had the best of times. The source of this heartbreak is easy to trace, even on a cursory listen to the album – while much of My Favourite Faded Fantasy sounds like a natural progression from O and 9, there’s a very distinctive voice missing: that of Lisa Hannigan, Rice’s former partner who he split from during his last world tour.
Given the emotional turmoil surrounding the making of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice’s second album, 2006’s 9, it’s perhaps surprising that a successor has appeared at all, even after a troubled eight-year hiatus. His vocal foil from those days, Lisa Hannigan, is long gone, but such is the strength of his songwriting here, she is barely missed. The nine-minute It Takes a Lot to Know a Man builds up an unstoppable momentum before a beautifully orchestrated coda; The Greatest Bastard has a raw and disarming candour to it.
Damien Rice is a bit of an enigma. Having established himself as one of the world’s finest singer-songwriters, selling millions of records worldwide and winning awards to boot - after only two albums, he disappeared and to most, he was expected never to be seen again. That all changed earlier this year when it was announced that his third effort – this, ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ – would be released before 2014 drew to a close.
Eight years is a long time to remain silent if you have something to say. When Damien Rice’s last album came out, Aaron Paul had just starred in Mission Impossible 3, George W. Bush was the President of the United States of America, and Microsoft had recently released the Zune. Since then, Rice completed an American tour, had a rather distressing breakup with his musical collaborator and ex-girlfriend Lisa Hannigan, occasionally played gigs in his homeland of Ireland, and stayed out of the view of almost everyone else.
Irish songwriter Damien Rice is the closest thing that acoustic-wielding adult alternative will get to a wild card. His stunning debut, O, was a critical and commercial success with the help of tear-jerkers like “Volcano” and “The Blower’s Daughter,” and its 2006 follow-up 9—a lush, nuanced take on Rice’s biting songs—was panned critically, though unfairly if you’re asking this reviewer. While O presented a clear vision of Rice and longtime collaborator Lisa Hannigan as artists, 9 pushed it forward—sometimes in uglier ways.
Seven years of self-imposed exile, a new producer (Rick Rubin), and an album title that nods to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—enough factors to suggest that Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice's My Favourite Faded Fantasy might be a self-consciously experimental comeback album. And the opening title track does offer a surprise, as Rice demonstrates that a breathy falsetto is yet another feature of his thin but versatile voice. The song, flaunting Rice's grasp of contrasts, gradually builds to a full-band crescendo, complete with a gnarly electric guitar riff and Rice squalling, “I've never loved!” However, the primacy of gentle piano, layered strings, and fragile acoustic guitar soon asserts itself as the album's primary mode.
Damien Rice reintroduces himself after an eight-year absence, sounding as if he’s fallen through the rabbit hole and come out the other end somewhat wearier, but clear-eyed and more resolute. Rice’s “Fantasy,” coproduced by Rick Rubin, is often dark and beautiful, featuring dramatic orchestrations, intricate arrangements, and hushed, swooning vocals. The Irish singer-songwriter often intimates emotions with delicate phrasing and cracks in his voice than with lyrics, which sometimes veer toward the sentimental and vague (“I Don’t Want to Change You”).