It has been eight years since Damien Rice’s last studio album, 9, and now a new album is on the horizon. A long wait, but with some artists you know you will be rewarded with your patience and his new song, the title track, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy,” does not disappoint.
Rice is known for his melancholic albums and brokenhearted songs. This is not only evident in his music and lyrics, but in the ways his songs have been used in film and television. CLOSER (USA/UK, 2004) is a great example, with “The Blower’s Daughter” being used to express the themes of lost love, mistrust, loneliness, sadness, and longing that pervade the film. This was my first introduction to Damien Rice, as his despondent song played over the opening scene. It was hard not to be amazed by the fragile sound held together with pure passion. A voice and guitar filled with yearning and craving for something more, something better, or, in most cases, something lost. Often this something is a someone, taking the form of a woman, and this correlates perfectly with CLOSER. These women (or maybe woman) populate many of Rice’s songs in various names and forms. One time known as “Amie.” Another time referred to simply as “la fille.” Most often she is unnamed, the “you,” in a multitude of songs. She has been there since his first solo release and remains in “My Favourite Faded Fantasy.”
Producing and handling the release of his debut album, O, on his own, Rice was able to partake in an independence not granted to many musicians early in his career. Without the pressures of a record label he was able to create exactly what he wanted, when he wanted to. He has clearly dictated his own pace with three years elapsing before the appearance of his sophomore release, 9. With eight more years passing from then until the announcement of his latest album, MY FAVOURITE FADED FANTASY, this void would imply that Rice has not been up to much. This is not the case. He has been consistently playing at a variety of festival shows in Europe. There have been a few songs here and there, such as “Lonely Soldier” and “The Connoisseur of Great Excuse.” He has also produced Mélanie Laurent’s EN T’ATTENDANT, so Rice has not been completely silent, just very quiet and low-key, eschewing the traditional pace of recording and releasing music, allowing far more than a year or two to lapse between albums, the schedule that many other musicians adhere. This tempo does not affect his popularity or strain his bond with fans, but generates a constant state of anticipation, especially since he has been playing new songs frequently in the past few years.
However, it makes one wonder if part of this recent extended hush comes from the end of his relationship, both professional and personal, with singer Lisa Hannigan. Hannigan joined Rice on his first two album and accompanying tours, taking on vocal and instrumental duties. The two split up in the midst of the tour to support 9, with Hannigan leaving the band before their US leg. Rice has since spoken publicly about his affection for Hannigan and her effect on his life, music, and outlook. I only mention this all to provide some background for those unfamiliar with Rice and his music, not to gossip or definitively say Hannigan is the “you” in every Rice song. However, I believe it’s important information to consider in respect to his new song, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy.”
Upon hearing “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” for the first time, I was struck by how the vocal immediately makes Hannigan’s absence felt. She is, after all, the first voice we heard on 9, in the song “9 Crimes,” taking the opening verse on the leading track. “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” begins with Rice singing in an unfamiliar and ultimately disorienting high range (it seems to be a shifted pitch applied to the recording). You ask yourself if Hannigan has returned to sing on the album or if this is another female singer. Wait? Is it a female singer at all? It takes more than a few seconds to recognize Rice. Then, when you know it’s him, the vacancy of Hannigan is felt all the more. That’s her part. She should be on there, singing that part. But she’s not.
To me, this is a stroke of genius. It works not only in making the track intriguing to even the casual listener, but rewards the fan with a depth that other musicians don’t reach in the production. I think when we all hear a song we immediately take notice of lyrics and, while these are important, we lose sight of how the arrangement of the music, its form, takes a complementary role. Speaking of the lyrics, I love the play the song makes on tenses and reality: “You could be my favourite faded fantasy.” The expectation that someone has a potential future role in a past memory that is a dream. “To dream within the dream,” Rice sings immediately before the title is mentioned in the song. You are being set adrift in the narrator’s mind.
The closest musical relative that Rice has is an acknowledged idol of his, Leonard Cohen. By combining religious and suicidal suggestions, “my poison, my cross, my razor blade,” there are not too many others who write and sing such words without aiming for shock value, but instead for their ritualistic and deeply spiritual qualities to portray individuals who are at breaking points or undergoing life-changing experiences. The point of transformation is where many of the characters of Cohen and Rice songs remain mired. “What it all could be with you,” Rice wonders (asks?) repeatedly in the song. Cohen and Rice don’t offer any answers or conclusions in their songs. Instead they linger on the feelings in the moment, even if it’s a moment that has passed, or never happened, it’s still occurring, on repeat, in their psyches. Or perhaps just in the narrator’s mind? Rice and Cohen are both in the habit of writing autobiographically (see Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2“), but we shouldn’t presume that every song is necessarily the perspective of the singer (take a listen to Cohen’s deranged narrator in “First We Take Manhattan“). In the case of “My Favourite Faded Fantasy,” we can safely say that Rice hangs his words, and maybe his feelings, not only on the actual loss, but on the mental and imagined as the more devastating and tangible.
“My Favourite Faded Fantasy” starts off delicately with some electric guitar picking that, like his high vocal, brings us into uncharted territory in the sonic of world of Damien Rice. While Rice primarily plays acoustic, he has used electric effects, particularly distortion, on a few choice tracks. “Rootless Tree” immediately comes to mind, but in that song it has been used to build a powerful chorus. On this track, he crafts a dreamy aural landscape that takes us on a ride somewhere we haven’t been before with him. It drifts, building and quieting, drums play smoothly then frantically, until it reaches a crescendo that it recedes from, only to finally build to a climatic finale, reminiscent of “Amie” or “Me, My Yoke + I.” This finale ebbs like the tide. Where we will now be ashore we won’t know until the album is released to continue the journey with Rice.
This idea of floating along is perhaps not unintentional. The cover art depicts a large, thin wall rising out of water. A single ladder leans against it, with someone climbing it, apparently having just disembarked from a small boat, to join the others who are standing atop it. There is a small figure seemingly floating past the wall, either having missed the opportunity to join the others or liberating him/herself from the experience. I could make any interpretation of what the wall represents, or who is implied to have erected it, but like all great art, it doesn’t signify any single thing but a multitude of ideas.
I look forward to all the things that MY FAVOURITE FADED FANTASY has to say. Damien Rice is a talented songwriter and musician. I encourage those of you who are unfamiliar with his work to take a listen. He may not craft the happiest songs, but, needless to say, they always make me think, ponder, and wonder.
Rice announced the first single from the album, “I Don’t Want to Change You,” a few days ago. The album will be out November 3rd.
Heidi and I will be seeing Damien Rice perform in October.