This blog has become known as the site which majors in baseball, with a minor in music. During the off-season, the subjects tend to flip-flop. Believe it or not, I’m planning on having more baseball pieces here in 2007, but it will be hard to tell this until Spring Training time.
Making a return trip is “football writer” Will Carroll discussing his previous post on the best music of 2006.
By Will Carroll
The one question I got on my Top Ten list this year … and why should anyone care what a football writer says about music? … was about what was missing rather than what was there. Perhaps my list wasn’t alternative enough, not far enough out on the edge. You know why goth kids congregate to look miserable or why biker gangs come up with evil-sounding names? We all want to be special, but none of us want to be alone. Music is like that. There’s a thrill in the discovery, a seduction in exploring, and a pride in having a band in your back pocket.
The question — Where’s Damien Rice? — is a valid one. Looking at my list, the Irish singer-songwriter stands out in his absence. “O” might be the best album of the decade and while it finished behind “American Idiot” the year it came out on my list, it holds up better. High praise given just how resonating “Idiot” is even today.
Rice’s new album “9” isn’t quite the album that “O” was in much the same way that PIcasso’s “Old Man WIth A Guitar” isn’t “Guernica”, that “Bitches Brew” isn’t quite “Kind of Blue”, that the Disney Center isn’t quite the Guggenheim Bilbao. It’s a lesser masterpiece. The sound is still there, so painfully close that you half expect to feel Rice’s breath on your neck as you listen. The heartbreak is palpable, each note dripping with the immediacy of a break-up and as calculated as a symphony.
But as it says on the iTunes review, you can only jump out of the box once. Rice’s second album doesn’t have that OMG moment where it sinks deep into your consciousness, where the cello sounds like it’s coming out of your own head rather that into it. There’s no amazing sequence like “Volcano”, “The Blowers Daughter”, and “Cannonball” to make you almost forget that the rest of the album is just as good. There’s no left-field moment quite like the end of “Eskimo.”
If “9” is defined more by being “not O”, it’s hardly “Fairweather Johnson” either. Rice sounds a bit more angry this time, a bit more over the love that remains his muse. Cursing can be an art or a crutch, but there’s no other artist that can spit F -bombs as a chorus and make it sound like Rice has in “Rootless Tree.” The building chorus is just unbelievably brilliant, the orchestration behind it infinitely deep, and the emotion as raw as a cut. The sheer volume of the spit venom is a kick to the sonic groin and then sliding back to snare drum and plucked nylon acoustic is as jarring as make up sex.
Rice’s second album is not a soundalike either. His distinctive voice, the beautiful scoring, the haunting cello, and Lisa Hannigan’s ethereal voice are all back. In fact, Hannigan’s voice actually is the first sound of the album. It’s an interesting move as Rice tries to establish “Damien Rice” as collective rather than individual. The song, “9 Crimes”, works so much that it’s already been used by “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” as a centerpiece. Rice remains an often inscrutable lyricist. His words are chosen as much for sound as they are content. He can become a bit precious and repetitive at times, falling in love with his own phrasing as he does on “Dogs”, repeating the syncopated phrase “the girls that does yoga” seemingly a million times.
Rice’s brilliant second work isn’t on my Top Ten because I can’t define how I feel about it yet. It’s going to take hundreds of listens, of trying to find out how the demonic campfire song “Coconut Skins” holds up over years, of what moment brings up a memory of a lyric before I know where this album rates. It’s an album that demands more than a list, more than a cursory expression of my admiration. It’s an album that taps on my shoulder, like the angel or devil we’re all supposed to have. I’m not sure which one it is yet, but I know that I can’t wait to hear Rice’s next work and that’s my highest praise.