First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
Four years is a terribly long time to wait between albums, especially for an artist who is attempting to leverage his initial breakthrough into a longstanding career. Nevertheless, Damien Riceís 9 was well worth the wait, even if it doesnít play out quite as effortlessly or as gorgeously as his brilliant debut O. Although there are similarities between the two sets, Rice, to his credit, chose to forsake the mere replication of his debut; instead, he opted rather ambitiously to build upon the groundwork that he had laid by filling his songs with more angst and experimentation as well as by providing them with a cinematic framework. In a nutshell, however, this is both a blessing and a curse.
As the opening overture 9 Crimes, from which the new collection obtains its title, makes apparent, 9 is the anguished tale of two lovers who have been ripped apart by their own insecurities and their subsequent infidelities. Throughout the set, Rice couches his tortured musings in arrangements that cross Van Morrison (The Animals Were Gone), Simon & Garfunkel, (Coconut Skins), Radiohead (Elephant), and The White Stripes (Me, My Yoke, & I) with the grand melodrama of Jeff Buckley and the smartly written theatricality of Leonard Cohen. As the breathy vocals of Lisa Hannigan mesh with Riceís weary sadness, they simultaneously amplify the distance between his characters and magnify the fragility of their connection.
Nevertheless, where all of Oís songs worked outside the context of the endeavor, the success of 9ís material is completely dependent upon its place within Riceís overarching storyline. This is a strikingly bold move in the cut-and-paste world of iPods and digital downloads, especially considering that when they are extracted from his passion play, many of the tracks falter under the weight of his repetitive cathartic release. Yet, when taken in full, they extend the desperate search for love that Rice began to define on O, although this time, he scores his words with music that assumes a disquietingly darker air.
Although 9 retains Oís voyeuristically intimate ambience, it also swaps some of its beauty for uncomfortable discordance. Elephant, for example, begins as a barely audible whisper that rises and falls while its melody slowly is transformed into a turbulently churning vortex of emotions; Rootless Tree rolls ever so gently along its acoustic-minded refrains before its angered sentiments erupt in a string of expletives; and the distorted vocals and rhythmic chug of Me, My Yoke & I slowly mutate into a mechanical roar that disturbingly animates a sexual tryst. Suitably, 9 concludes with Sleep Donít Weep, a sad and weary lullaby that finds Riceís central characters once again caught in an embrace that they both know must end. As they drift into slumber, the song slips into an extended ambient tone that, in capturing the sometimes unsettling stillness of night, provides a moment for reflection upon their final fate. Ĺ
9 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box