Review Summary: 9 is a step forward for Damien in some areas and a step backwards in others. He explores new sounds while still sticking to his habits and fails to produce anything more than mediocre lyrics, but still, his beautiful music shines.
Numerology conveyed through music is often a cool idea when done right. Tool’s Lateralus goes through all sorts of Fibonacci allusions and many other math wizards use their skills to create complex and intricate music. Damien Rice is not one of those. His music is on the opposite side of the spectrum, about as simple and plain as it can get. He completely ignores the possibilities of connecting his album title with his music; there are even 10 tracks on the album rather than 9. But who cares? Damien Rice is not about big, epic concepts. It goes against everything his music stands for, a deeply personal and emotional rush of intensity and beauty. Rice never holds anything back in his music; putting his feelings out as blunt as possible.
As far as Rice’s style of bluntness and love of beautiful growth and climaxes, nothing has changed since O. If anything, his stylistic tastes in these areas grew. Almost every song on the album results in a climatic point and luckily, that happens to be one of Rice’s strongest songwriting talents. He masters the use of repetition and dynamics to make what most other singer/songwriters could only make a mediocre song one of his best. Take Elephant
, a plain song that features simple guitar riffs and basic lyrics. However, it is one of the album’s best songs. It grows from a whisper to a beckoning cry, starting with barely audible guitar to powerful acoustic strums. He manages to make the most growth that is possible with just him and a guitar, but he calls on the help of his backing band to take it to a new level. A cello ascends into the growth before a huge wall of sound enters. Cymbal splashes, sweeping cello lines, and strong acoustic guitar manage to make an ambiguous sound, mostly due to the production style. Everything leads to a huge scream of “tell me you want me to lie, cause this has got to die.” Elephant
is Damien Rice’s typical sound as shown on both of his albums at its best. It emphasizes the climax better than anything else on this album.
But that’s not to say Rice didn’t expand on this album. Plenty of new ideas came through on the album. Some might consider Rootless Tree
a step backwards, it sounds so much more mainstream than anything else he has produced. It showcases a standard drum beat, a simple guitar riff, and a typical song structure. Not to mention the abundance of repetition in the song. What makes Rootless Tree
so good? Well, Rice performs this type of song better than anyone. His verse and chorus vary in dynamics excellently, and his chorus is improved further with the incredibly blunt lyrics.
So **** you, **** you, **** you
And all you didn't do
I said leave it, leave it, leave it
It's nothing to you
And do you hate me, hate me, hate me, hate me so much
That you can't let me out, let me out, let me out
Of hell when you're around
Let me out, let me out, let me out
Hell when you're around
Let me out, let me out, let me out
Sure, the lyrics are simple, but they certainly convey a message and Rice sings them with earnest and intense emotion. The wall of sound shown off at the end of Elephant
makes a bigger appearance in this chorus and the range of dynamics make the song undeniably catchy. Rootless Tree
is like an explicit John Mayer on Room for Squares. It takes his sound of an acoustic guitar backed by a typical band and puts a rawness and grittiness onto the sound.
9 introduces another more experimental song for Damien. Me, My Yoke, and I
takes a grunge spin on Damien’s music, featuring a clean electric guitar rather than an acoustic. Damien plays rather sloppily, but only for stylistic effect. He slides up and down the fretboard, letting the slide itself be the main melodic theme. Once again, he utilizes repetition heavily in his lyrics, which gets tiring in this song and easily the worst aspect of the song. Once again, he masters growth, having the chord progression and his voice ascend all the way into the distorted, instrumental B section. The B section is nothing more than a heavier interpretation of the main riff. What makes the song so great is Damien’s vocal melodies and the ability to grow even through one riff in the entire song. The climax shows the noisiest version of the riff, having feedback and Damien’s screaming nearly drown out the entire melodic theme.
Throughout this entire review, I’ve highlighted Damien’s use of growth in every song. For that reason, Accidental Babies
is a welcome change in that it stays quiet and sweet throughout the entire song. It features an arpeggiating melody on the piano (an instrument that makes much more of an appearance on 9 than O) and Damien singing with barely any strength, which is simply a stylistic method of his. He shows off his power enough in other songs. He falls down to the same note on each line, which makes the song drag a bit, never changing melodic ideas. The piano continually grows slightly only to fall back down to the same melody. The piano melody never tires like Damien’s voice, with enough rubato built into it to add a bit of difference throughout. Accidental Babies
only works because it serves as a great switch from all the epic growth and dynamics on the rest of the album. The song is beautiful and subtle, something he showed off much more on O than 9.
However, other than these tracks, Damien falls into his comfort zone. Granted, his comfort zone is better than nearly any other singer/songwriter out there, but so much more can be expected from him. The middle of the album passes through Dogs
and Coconut Skins
and the listener has no recollection of what just happened. The songs, once listened to individually, are both uptempo songs that sound much more folk than much of Damien’s repertoire, but they get ambiguous throughout. Lisa Hannigan makes a large appearance on the album, showing on over half the album. She makes her best appearance on 9 Crimes
, the album’s first single, taking a verse for herself and standing out as easily the highlight of the song. 9 is a much less subtle album than O and shows Damien trying out a few different directions but for the most part, throwing together the first ideas that came to mind when writing a song. His lyrics take somewhat of a step backwards and he gets even simpler than on O. At times, like in Rootless Tree
, the simplicity works. However, most songs call for much more eloquent and profound lyricism and it proves to be his Achilles Heel. Damien Rice’s talent shines through on 9, but it at times feels like a lazy release from him and does not match the overall quality of his debut.
Animals Were Gone
Me, My Yoke, and I