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While Mr Rice is a notoriously camera-shy chap, we shouldn’t mistake this reticence for a meekness of character. Far from it – because from beginning to end, 9 is a serious statement of authorial intent.
Colin Carberry, 02 Nov 2006
Vladimir Nabokov would famously begin his lectures at Cornell University by dishing out the following advice to his students:
“No talking, no smoking, no knitting, no newspaper reading, no sleeping and for God’s sake take notes.”
There is much that demands your attention on ‘9 Crimes’, the opening track of this, Damien Rice’s long-long awaited follow-up to O. There’s a gorgeously bereft piano part for a start, and a bout of two-way vocalising between Rice and Lisa Hannigan that – in this ink-dark tale of deceit and betrayal (“Leave me out with the waste/This is not what I do/It’s the wrong kind of place/To be cheating on you.”) – seems positively indecent. But listen carefully and, beneath it all, there’s another noise that can be made out faintly but distinctly – the sound of the Grays, LaMontagnes, Johnsons and even (dare I say it) Blunts of this world breaking their pencil tips on their jotters in sheer envy and frustration.
Singer-songwriters are often (erroneously) taken to be unassuming, hermetical little creatures. But while Mr Rice is a notoriously camera-shy chap, we shouldn’t mistake this reticence for a meekness of character. Far from it – because from beginning to end, 9 is a serious statement of authorial intent.
O may well have shown Rice staking out his territory, but 9 beats its chest and establishes once and for all who’s boss.
If Rice really was a nervous wounded-wing, there’s no-way he’d skirt as close to Nick Drake comparisons as he does on ‘The Animals Are Gone’ (the strings are strikingly similar to Robert Kirby’s ever-autumnal arrangements). It’s the sheer power of its execution (helped in no small part by the creepy Wizard of Oz fade-out) that makes the song soar.
Lyrically it also (re)establishes the bi-polar persona we were introduced to on O.
“I know I’ve left you in places of despair/Oh I know I love you, so please throw down your hair.”
Which shows that, despite the fame, fortune and A-List pals, romantically speaking, Damo is still up to his old tricks – namely: casting himself in his own fairytales as both Rumpelstiltskin and Prince Charming.
Rice puts on a truly virtuoso performance over the course of this grandly theatrical record. He beckons the audience towards him on the likes of ‘Grey Room’ and ‘Sleep Don’t Weep’; shows-off his skills as a mimic on ‘Dogs’ (Janet Planet-fixated Van) and ‘Me, My Yoke And I’ (Polly who’d-have-guessed-it Harvey); he even shakes the joint’s foundations on ‘Rootless Tree’ (a prime slice of muscular folk-rock with a chorus that runs “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and all you’ve been through.”)
And while at times he strikes an unmistakably hammy note (even his most dewy-eyed acolyte will suspect ‘Elephant’ of being an emote too far), the razor’s-edge ruthlessness of lines like “So be free/If not, leave him for me/‘fore one of us has accidental babies” means that 9 is never less than a compelling spectacle.
Rice’s darker moments may not (yet) quite plumb the great lyrical depths of Bill Callahan or Will Oldham, while the gentle humanism and quotidian observation of someone like Damon Gough can leave him looking heavy-legged in comparison. But, judging by the vaulting ambition that courses through 9, Damien Rice is more than happy lording over the fertile patch he’s happened on.
9 is a record designed to take on the world. And the world, you can bet, will have no option but to sit up straight – and take very good notes.