Artist: Damien Rice
Album: My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Tracks: 8 (+1 Bonus Track)
Release Date: November 3rd 2014
Label: Damien Rice Music and Vector Recordings/Warner (US and Canada)
When news that Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice was set to release his third studio album this November hit the rumour mill, many heads began to turn, many people such as myself disregarded the news at first in disbelief, and mouths across the nation hung open, letting out small whispers in wonderment. The homage to nostalgia and regret is entitled My Favourite Faded Fantasy and was released on the 3rd November 2014 through Damien Rice Music, and in Canada and the US; Warner Brothers.
‘Damo’ released his first album 0 in 2001, we were introduced to many songs such as The Blower’s Daughter, Cannonball, and Volcano, which would later propel the man into stardom. Five year later, he unleashed 9, a far more macabre and serious piece of music containing brutally honest and unrelenting tracks such as Grey Room, Rootless Tree and Me, My Yoke and I. It’s on this transition from naïve and gentle lover to rough cynicism that Rice’s sinister genius is exposed. Following the release of his second album it was clear to see that the toll of song-writing had been well and truly taken on the artist as he slumped into an eight year spell of silence, appearing now and then with a ‘new’ song, collaborating with the odd artist along the way. The general opinion of the masses was that Damien Rice had retired from music.
That was until a woman came along, or rather went along. It’s widely believed that Damien Rice’s separation from Lisa Hannigan, a musician who had previously featured on all Rice’s releases and was, in many ways, an unofficial double act was the main contributor to My Favourite Faded Fantasy. Choosing to confide in Rick Rubin, a producer famous for working with bands such as Slipknot, Slayer, Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, Ed Sheeran and Kanye West, simply for the reason that he hadn’t heard of him, he released two semi-official singles called I Don’t Want to Change You, and The Greatest Bastard.
I Don’t Want to Change You opens with a trademark string section, emotionally involved and slow violins that conjure up images of spring, and misty mountains. The main violin riff acts as a procession to the heavy-set guitar chords, strummed passionately and firm. Damien’s voice enters, defeated, like the aftermath of a row, when the apologies become easier spoken to an empty room, and all sense is made, he sings: “Wherever you are, know that I adore you.” The main body of the song is much like what we can come to expect from the singer, sulky guitars, mournful tones, and reproachful lyrics. From the assistance provided by the strings, the timbre grows more tense, subtle but yet noticeable. When the chorus stumbles through the door, we hear: “I don’t want to change you, I don’t want to change you, I don’t want to change your mind. I just came across a manger out among the danger, somewhere in a stranger’s eyes.” With all the grace of the violins and the crashes from the cymbals as well as the Biblical reference in the lyric, you can almost see a saintly halo developing over Rice’s head.
The second unofficial single The Greatest Bastard is a far softer track, featuring less of the elaborate string sections, and growing drum-driven beats, and casts our memories back to the time when the man was singing songs such as Coconut Skins and Accidental Babies. For the majority of the song, we hear Damien’s softly spoken voice tell us the tale of reflection through simple poetry: “I made you laugh, I made you cry, I made you open up your eyes. Didn’t I?“. In many ways this is one of the most disappointing aspects of the record. For a man so talented as Rice, I’ve come to expect the best, enamouring musicianship, heartbreaking melody and uncomfortably honest lyrics. To hear rhymes as simple as these for me, seem almost as though he has plumped for the simplest rhyme over the best possible line. The chorus however, is one of the finest moments on all the album. In a ‘laddered’ melody he sings: “Some make it, mistake it. Some force and some will fake it. I never meant to let you down. Some fret it, forget it, some ruin and some regret it. I never meant to let you down.” In this laddered melody, I mean his voice grows higher and higher, more and more cracked with pain, and is met accordingly with carefully chosen piano chords, the introduction of subtle strings, until it hits a high-climax. The first time I heard this song I felt a real feeling of emotion, that splintered my throat and silenced it for a moment. It was about two in the morning, and I put the record on to fall asleep too, and I shortly re-awakened. Despite the poorly constructed verses, and basic rhyme choices, it’s worth listening to this song purely for the chorus, where Damien leaves his comfort-zone of half-whispered words, and converts into a bellow, a full voice singing.
Nearly every song on the record is as good as the last, and deserves merit in its own right. One of the most incredible songs for me is It Takes a Lot to Know a Man, the second track on the album, and at a staggering nine and a half minutes long, it truly is an overwhelming composition. It opens, far faster than the songs that appear before it, the drum beat is an electrified shuffle offering the backbone for Damien Rice’s musing “It takes a lot to know a man, it takes a lot to understand the warrior, the sage, the little boy in rage.” and then later: “It takes a lot to know a woman, a lot to understand what’s humming, the honey bee, the sting, the little girl with wings.” These are some of the more complex lyrics on the album, some of the finer crafted rhymes, here, there is a clear sense that he has gone into depth of consideration on this song. The moment this song hits absolute perfection however, is around the four-minute mark. The drum beats dissipate, the Tchaikovsky inspired violins have faded out, the time-keeping piano ostinato has been dulled. Instead, dark piano chords resonate. It’s sinister, unnerving voices drift through, like a Gregorian chant of fallen angels. One leading voice sings: “What is it you’re so afraid to lose? What is it you think will happen if you do?”, and a second male voice enters as: “You wrote to tell me you’re nervous and you’re sorry.” Damien Rice then harmonises with himself with the heartbreaking, and atypical melody: “Crying like a baby saying ‘This thing is killing me’.” It’s hard to describe the feeling that this section gives you but it’s safe to say I have rarely felt such a chill listening to a song.
The last song on the album, not including bonus track Camarillas, is Long, Long Way. On the first listen, I wasn’t too sure what I thought about this song, but I wasn’t taken as quickly as I was with some of the other songs on this short album. The song’s timbre is more ghostly and ethereal. The music is soft, like the sort of ambience you would hear from an instrumental soundtrack courtesy of Nick Cave, or Godspeed! You Black Emporer. If the album were a concept, we could view it as being the stages of an argument. It opens with My Favourite Faded Fantasy, the initial sadness and disillusionment, following on to the questioning of It Takes a Lot to Know a Man, then the self-hatred and irony of The Greatest Bastard, to the plea of I Don’t Want to Change You. Then we hear the anger stage, the resentment of The Box, and closing with Long, Long Way. The feeling of the post-argument sleep. The battle is over, and the energy fades, and the tiredness sets in, anguished, but no longer aggressive. To this extent, the track is almost a lullaby, far from taxing on the ears, no great display of emotion or musical complexity, but is in every way as beautiful as the songs that came before it.
Overall, My Favourite Faded Fantasy could be the best of Damien’s work so far, and rests in my top three albums of the year. If I could recommend any of the albums I’ve written about this year, this would be the one that resides at the top.
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