Remember when Little Mix covered Cannonball as their X Factor winners song and everyone despaired? How dare they!
Now admittedly, the song’s melancholy wasn’t really the right fit for a fun girl band who couldn’t get to grips with the lyrical honesty. But what this cover does prove is that Damien Rice’s material has always crossed the boundary between acoustic folk and pop. For all the raw emotion of his music and its folk aesthetic, his grasp of melody and guitar fingerpicking ensured his music was equally palatable for mainstream tastes.
That’s no longer the case. Eight years on from second album ‘9’ (itself essentially a carbon copy of ‘O’) and Rice has moved on somewhat from his old style. Where his previous material was intimate, concise and immediately relatable, ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is a more difficult listen. Each of the eight tracks operates within its own structure often far removed from simple verse and chorus. There are multiple movements within a song, with contrasting moods and instrumentation. It adds a sense of grandeur to his music that belies the intimacy of his past work, often feeling self-indulgent with endlessly repeated refrains.
The instrumentation also detracts from the emotion of the songs. Where before Rice could sustain a full song with just his voice, guitar and perhaps the odd splash of cello or percussion, here we have full string sections, brass and other orchestral colours. It may make for a more varied sound, but the delicate torch songs of the past are missing overall. You won’t find many memorable melodies to guide you through the murk to the core feeling of the lyrics, unlike the immediacy of his best work.
That’s not to say there aren’t some highly emotional and beautiful moments on this album, it’s just you have to hunt for them a little more. As a more complex work, the honest emotion isn’t as easily accessible as before. The Greatest Bastard is the closest track to Rice’s old style, performed predominantly on guitar his quivering voice and storytelling take the fore – the “please don’t let up” section in the middle is heartbreaking. The title track, meanwhile, is a great introduction into this new sound: inspired by the likes of Jeff Buckley, the touching opening lyrics slowly crescendo towards a tumultuous climax. It Takes A Lot To Know A Man revolves around a simple piano chord sequence that gradually develops in typical Rice fashion, but at well over nine minutes long it would’ve served better in a more concise form. Towards the end of the album, the tracks somewhat outstay their welcome – they simply don’t have the emotional punch of Cannonball, Volcano, The Blowers Daughter or Rootless Tree. The impassioned vocals of Colour Me In are the exception.
There’s no doubt that ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is a beautiful album in places, but the simplicity of Rice’s old material is preferable to this new development. You won’t be hearing any pop covers from this album any time soon – maybe that was all part of the plan?
* My Favourite Faded Fantasy
* The Greatest Bastard
* Colour Me In
Listen: ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is available now.