Album Reviews

Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

(Atlantic) UK release date: 3 November 2014

Damien Rice - My Favourite Faded Fantasy He takes his time, does Damien Rice. It took the Irishman over four years to follow up his lauded debut album O with the rather less lauded 9, and now – eight long years on – he’s back with his third album. And, if the subject matter of most of the songs on My Favourite Faded Fantasy are anything to go by, he’s not had the best of times.

The source of this heartbreak is easy to trace, even on a cursory listen to the album – while much of My Favourite Faded Fantasy sounds like a natural progression from O and 9, there’s a very distinctive voice missing: that of Lisa Hannigan, Rice’s former partner who he split from during his last world tour. While it’s impossible to read Rice’s mind, it’s a fair guess that most of these songs – about lost love, pining for an old partner, and the self-destructive nature of relationships – could well be about her.

Hannigan’s absence is a minor problem for the listener as well – much of the appeal of Rice’s previous material was the beautiful harmonies and vocal chemistry he could produce with her, and it takes some getting used to hear to Rice on his own. Yet producer Rick Rubin has created a familiar sound for him – his trademark stripped-down, minimal style is the perfect foil for Rice’s songs after all – and from the first note of Rice’s world-weary vocal, it’s like welcoming back an old friend.

Although there are only eight tracks on My Favourite Faded Fantasy, there’s a pleasing breadth of ambition to most of them – Rice and Rubin really give these tracks room to grow and develop. Most of the songs run well past five minutes, and in the case of the astonishing It Takes A Lot To Know A Man, nearly touches 10 minutes. It’s the latter that most obviously harks back to 9: Rice’s haunted falsetto delicately floating over piano chords and strings, which slowly wind and weave their way towards a devastating multi-tracked vocal climax. Despite the nagging feeling that it would sit better at the end of the album, it exemplifies the record’s bruised beauty.

As ever with Rice, there’s a clearly defined mood – pretty much every song is a stately, hushed ballad, although tracks like Colour Me In and I Don’t Want To Change are the most accessible potential singles. The noisy musical coda to the opening title track – where the howl of guitars echoes around Rice’s anguished cries of “I’ve never loved” – turns out to be a misdirection, and the record soon settles down into a familiar, reflective, wistful mood.

The ghost of Hannigan is never that far from the surface. The Greatest Bastard is more self-deprecating than self-lacerating, but will appeal to anyone who was entranced by the hushed winsomeness of the likes of Cannonball and The Blower’s Daughter. Lyrically, it sometimes feels akin to taking a peek at someone’s diary after they’ve had a particularly fragile moment, even if some of the lines raise an eyebrow for the wrong reasons (such as “I helped you open out your wings, your legs, and many other things”). The aforementioned I Don’t Want To Change You treads similar lyrical territory – introduced with the line of “wherever you are, well know that I adore you”, it’s bound to the song of choice for anyone bitterly weeping over a recent break-up.

Sometimes, it may become a bit too tortured and melodramatic for anyone not in love with the Rice sound – Tasty And True is another lengthy, meditative ballad that takes a bit too long to really get going – but the beautiful Long Long Way (a close musical cousin of O’s Cold Water) ends the album on a high note. It may not be a barrel of laughs, but My Favourite Faded Fantasy proves that nobody does hushed introspection as well as Damien Rice.

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More on Damien Rice
Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Damien Rice @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
Damien Rice – 9
Damien Rice @ Brixton Academy, London
Damien Rice @ Glastonbury Festival