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. The way that Rice illustrated love and loss at the same time was relatable for me on all levels, and I’d like to think that it helped me…indirectly, at least. I don’t base life decisions on music, but the brief moment of clarity that it provided me with during that early autumn morning pointed me in the right decision. As Lisa Hannigan’s soothing verse gently made its way onto the track, I somberly flipped on my turn signal and decided it was time to exit.
It’s safe to say that my attachment to Damien Rice’s music is pretty personal. O
is still an album that I maintain as one of the best singer/songwriter compositions of the new millennium, and that’s why (especially after the disappointing 9
), My Favourite Faded Fantasy
caught me so off guard. For one thing, I wasn’t even aware of its impending release until about a month beforehand, an ignorance that mostly came about from him not releasing anything for eight years (Psst, Damien! When you disappear for almost a decade it’s hard to keep a fanbase!) I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t almost forgotten about him, save for the few times that a track from O
would come up out of nowhere on my iPod. But equal parts incredible surprise and nostalgic bias drove me to immediately listen to the album, and I can now inform you that My Favourite Faded Fantasy
is one of the most outright depressing yet simultaneously beautiful records of 2014.
On the surface, this album doesn’t seem like much more than your typical man-with-an-acoustic-guitar-spills-his-guts
record that we’ve all heard time and time again. In fact, it’s really not all that different from that approach…at all. I wish I could say something like “Damien Rice is changing the way we look at acoustic songwriting” or “My Favourite Faded Fantasy
is earth-shattering”, but I can’t – because it is neither of those things. What I can
tell you is that Damien Rice does it by the books better than anyone else does it by the books. It doesn’t seem like that glowing of an endorsement, but it’s truly the subtle things that set this piece apart. There’s the sweeping, melodramatic strings of ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man’; there’s the way each track builds to a flawless climax every time – as if he had post-rock aspirations somewhere along the way during the recording process. The underlying emotional weight, one hundred percent relatable lyrics, and incredibly moving vocal performances all have something to do with it too. “I never meant to let you down” has never sounded more poignant than it does when Rice sings it with fervor on ‘The Greatest Bastard’, as if he’s moments away from completely breaking down. Of course, that’s hardly the best lyrical passage I could quote to promote enthusiasm about the album (I could have picked the title track’s gorgeous passage, “You could be my favorite taste to touch my tongue…I know someone who could serve me love but it wouldn’t fill me up”) but everything he says on this album is far less important than how he conveys the emotions behind those words. That’s why a line as simple as “I never meant to let you down” is what sticks out amongst everything else. Damien Rice has the rare gift of poetic vocals, and what I mean by that is everything
he sings sounds like a masterfully composed metaphor because he’s the one singing it.
So, at this point what you know is this album is worthwhile because of Damien Rice’s voice and feels
. It’s true that those are the primary strengths of the record, but there’s also plenty more to expound upon. For one thing, My Favourite Faded Fantasy
is incredibly consistent. There’s only eight tracks, but none of them can be skipped. Even though the songs routinely wander into the territory of six-to-nine minutes, there is nary a dull moment. A constant fluid progression is occurring, and the climactic destination at which the music arrives – sometimes instrumental (‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, ‘The Box’) and other times vocal/emotional (‘The Greatest Bastard’, ‘Trusty and True’) – is capable of spanning across multiple songs. In other words, what one track sets up occasionally isn’t realized until the ensuing track – which is a sign of a very well put together album. ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man’ is perhaps the most impressive song on the album, and that’s because it embodies every trait mentioned to this point. It’s a long, winding expedition through gorgeous melodies, soothing vocals, amazing lyrics, and theatrical (if a little over-the-top) contributions from the string section. If Damien Rice told me that the reason it took him eight years to release a new album was because it took him six years to write ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man’, I’d probably be okay with it. It’s the kind of song that defines My Favourite Faded Fantasy
and illustrates both the admirable steps of growth that Rice has made as well as the desired qualities that he’s retained.
The album’s first half is definitely the most memorable, but the back half might actually be better and I’d be remiss to not delve into its intricacies. The previously alluded-to gem ‘Trusty and True’ takes the starting anew
sentiment and runs with it for over eight minutes, forming a track that is basically a more hope-filled answer to the sullen ‘It Takes A Lot To Know A Man.’ “We’ve wanted to be worthy of you, but weather rained on our dreams” Rice laments before erupting into a harmonic choir-like chorus of “Come alone, come with fear come with love, come however you are.” On a primarily dark and drab album, this track projects a beam of optimism that cuts through the night like headlights on a dark highway. The refined orchestral components of ‘Colour Me In’ are also highly worthy of praise, showing that the exaggerated and overly sensational strings that show up early and often in the album aren’t misguided, but rather moments of beautiful contrast. The simplicity of songs such as ‘I Don’t Want To Change You’ and ‘Long Long Way’ make them initially pale in comparison to the other highlights on this record, but the way the songs develop within themselves and gradually climb towards cathartic lyrical or vocal moments still place them well above the filler category. Thus, even the songs that don’t necessarily tower on their own two feet still function perfectly well within the context of the album. Considering that there will always be greater songs and slightly lesser ones on any musical piece, there really isn’t too much more that we can ask of Damien Rice. Truth be told, though, you probably won’t feel the need to ask for anything else when the album reaches its conclusion – it’s beautiful, diverse, and emotionally fulfilling.
There was a time when O
was the obvious standard-bearer for Damien Rice’s musical career, but now even that has been eclipsed. There’s a slew of flattering adjectives that have been and will be thrown in this album’s general direction – and honestly, most of them are accurate. However, what makes this effort so different is its ability to transcend those mere qualitative descriptions and transport one’s mind to its most emotionally darkest corners – even if it has to clear away some of the cobwebs that we attempt to veil our pain in. With My Favourite Faded Fantasy
, I find myself back in that old car of mine, driving as fast as I could with no clue where I was going. My ability to play that memory back like a vintage movie scene is a direct result of this album’s astonishing depth, and even though it may be faded, Damien Rice brings it to life like nobody else can.