Damien Rice, ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ – Album Review
Just had your lovelorn, still-beating heart ripped from your chest? You’re in luck. Well, your timing is fortuitous, at least. Your heartbreak happens to perfectly coincide with the first release in eight years from Damien Rice -- the Irish singer-songwriter who perfected the art of bluntly beautiful ruminations on loves lost with his 2002 debut, ‘O,’ but who was then largely lambasted by critics for the perceived paint-by-numbers melancholy of his 2006 follow-up, ‘9.’ With ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy,’ however, Rice is back to believable.
Maybe he just seems more sincere this time because we have an obvious face (and voice) to put to all of Rice’s directly indirect allusions and confessions: former romantic and musical partner Lisa Hannigan, whose vocals intertwined with his throughout both ‘O’ and ‘9’ and who split with Rice in 2007 -- right before he essentially became a recluse (as far as once up-and-coming acts who were all over the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ soundtrack go). But on the title track and album opener, when Rice delicately sings in an uncharacteristic whisper-like falsetto, “You could be my poison, my cross, my razor blade / I could love you more than life if I wasn’t so afraid,” he sounds sincere -- whether he’s referring to Hannigan or not.
The song sets the template for the ensuing seven songs -- each with similar mournful introspection and orchestral composition. The second track, ‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man,’ provides an accurate road map: Beginning with sparse instrumentation behind Rice’s still occasionally comfortable lyrics (“It takes a lot to know a woman / A lot to understand what’s humming / The honey bee, the stings / The little girl with wings”), the song builds slowly with sweeping strings to reach an impassioned climax. Even ‘The Greatest Bastard,’ which is quintessential Rice most of the way through with his Irish brogue meandering over acoustic guitar eventually swells with strings and horns into a cinematic epic. Not all of the songs are exceptionally evocative ('Colour Me In' lacks a sort of urgency found elsewhere on the album), but 'My Favourite Faded Fantasy' is still a relative triumph for the long-silent Rice.
The constant presence of symphonic elements make it like an amalgam of Jeff Buckley at his most literal and the Moody Blues at their least commercial in a way that’s often overwhelmingly poignant. In fact, there’s little debate that the music on its own could bring you to tears; the main determinant to whether or not the album resonates with you is whether or not you find Rice to be a sympathetic character and can look past his sometimes clunky poetry (in ‘I Don’t Want to Change You,’ he rhymes “manger,” “stranger” and “danger” with a straight face).
But one thing is certain: It provides a perfect soundtrack to a break-up. There's self-doubt, regret and resignation embedded within -- but with repeated listenings, the darkness begins to dissipate, leaving a faint but uplifting sense that everything is exactly where it needs to be.