CD Review of 9 by Damien Rice

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Released: 2006
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I’m trying to come up with a singer/songwriter I’ve seen perform more times than I’ve seen Damien Rice perform and I can’t come up with a single one. And I love singer/songwriters. Actually, I have not seen any one artist perform more than I’ve seen Damien Rice. There was a time when he was first stepping onto the scene, and I think I saw him four times in the same week in NYC ‘cause he was doing a run of shows in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. I caught them all and convinced my friends to go with me, even though they were as flat-ass broke as I was.

It all started when he first came to NYC and played at the CMJ Music Marathon thing. I missed that particular show (but swore to never miss another one). A friend told me about seeing this now-famous set and he recounted his experience about that show to me in such a way that I went out and paid $25+ for his disc, as it was still an import at the time. Even being a broke-ass kid in the city, I do not regret that purchase one bit. Although the levels were too hot on the recording because he did it himself in the fucking Tuscan Mountains of Italy or some shit on some Roland digital recorder, O had a charm, charisma and timelessness about it that has only shown its presence on a handful of recordings in the history of recorded music. It was/is representative of all things – from stark to utterly beautiful – that an album of this nature should be.

So needless to say, I’ve been starving for his latest release 9 for quite some time. However, I knew going into this listening experience that the simplistic nature of the first recording would undoubtedly be altered (or missing altogether) as his financial situation changed drastically since his first record. It was totally bound to happen and I knew it because I literally watched him go from playing Sin-e on the lower east side to playing to Beacon Theater in a matter of months. Listen, I’m not going to get on a high horse about selling out, ‘cause I think that’s bullshit. He’s one of the greatest talents of our time and that doesn’t mean the dude should starve and suffer for his art or whatever the hell people say. The dude paved his own way and he should not be frowned upon for becoming successful. He deserves everything he has earned. Sorry. Got a little sidetracked there.

There was talk early on in the recording process of this album that it was going to be tracked in its entirety at Abbey Road studios in London and that this record was going to have a more “electric” feel. Okay, that’s cool. I’d be fine with that, but I’m not sure that’s really what happened. As I only received a “watermarked” version of this record, I’m not sure where it was recorded and on a side note: “watermarked” CD’s fucking suck. I tried to play this CD on six – I shit you not – six CD players before I could even listen to the record. If labels keep pulling this shit, it will end up on the web just to spite them. Wait and see.

While the track “Elephant” treads very close to the place that tracks like “Cannonball” from O ventured, the track “Rootless Tree” fumbles in its own attempts at trying to push the envelope and “Me, My Yoke and I” feels sluggish and tired.

What the hell do I know? Maybe there was too much time spent on trying to recapture the sonic essence of the first record and not enough attention was paid to the elements that truly made the first album so great. In general, Damien Rice sounds angry on this release. Really angry. At the world, at everything. I know he’s been spending a great deal of time with charitable organizations and maybe it’s this time spent seeing the world for what it really is as opposed to the doe-eyed lenses that were worn to write the first album that brought about such a harsh change. Or maybe he’s just preparing the listener for a time in the not-so-distant future that he has lived through his own experiences. I just hope the playful allure that once left audiences captivated at his live show is not also lost. And regardless of all of the above, Lisa Hannigan has one of the most beautiful voices ever. Period. Maybe a solo record by her could bring back some of the joy and wistfulness of earlier times. Whatever. I still love this dude.

~Josh Preston