Damien Rice ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ – Review

15 Nov

When Damien Rice last released an album I was still at school. Youtube and facebook were in their infant stages and there was no such thing as Spotify. Myspace was big. Bush was president. I don’t need to go on; you know how much the world has changed in the last 8 years. And here, suddenly and unexpectedly, we have a new Damien Rice record, as if nothing has changed at all. It isn’t hard to imagine Rice doing much the same thing to an ex; turning up at the door years later with a bunch of flowers, a sorry smile, a slurred ’hiya’, expecting to pick up where he left off. It’s over Damien, this boat has sailed.

He’s just that kind of guy. He is, as he seems to be aware, one of life’s losers. A moaner, a complainer, self-indulgent, self-obsessive even. I mean this fondly – we have all felt like Damien Rice at some point. We have all felt lonely, needy, Picked upon. We have all looked to the sky selfishly and asked ‘why me.’ In the darkest, most melancholic hour we have all felt like Damien Rice. And in those solitary moments, his two previous albums ‘O’ and ‘9’ could sound like the most vital, necessary music ever produced. They were so intimate, so desperate, so heartfelt, so generous and sharing, and so crushing, that if you were in just the right mood they could hold you close and comfort you or finish you off. These weren’t albums I regularly listened to, or thought had any great artistic value, but they were albums that possessed me in certain moods, albums’ that, in a way, I valued as much as anything else in my collection.

On ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ Rice has stepped out of his old mind-set and moved away from the misery in order to reflect upon it. He’s re-cast himself as a sage; a man of wisdom and knowledge, a man who is no longer there to indulge in sadness but to meditate on it and to advise about it. Last time around there was an unfiltered connection between the heart and the mouth. Here his feelings take a detour through the brain. What comes out is therefore more considered and on the whole less affecting. It’s also, often, a load of nonsense. ’It takes a lot to know a man, it takes a lot to understand,’ he begins one song, before spending nine minutes(!) trying to do just that without getting any closer to understanding. On ’I Don’t Want to Change you’, the nice first single, he presents himself as sensible, empathetic and understanding – no longer the needy man-child he once was, he’s now willing to do just about anything his muse desires. What is he willing to change about himself? Everything. What does he want to change about her? Nothing. Unfortunatley he sounds desperate rather than confident. Throughout the album this facade of sophistication and maturity remains unconvincing and tiresome.

There are moments of undiluted sincerity though. On ‘Colour Me In‘ he says ‘Love let me down’, which feels like an understatement of the year from Damien Rice. Then there‘s ‘The Greatest Bastard’, a perfectly crafted ballad both lyrically and musically. It’s still in the reflective mode but comes from a less zen-like place. it’s sung from the perspective of somebody who is tired of fighting, tired of loving and broken in to fragments. His voice is rasp and heartbreaking, especially when he sings ‘some dreams are better when they end.’ It’s the best song on ‘Faded Fantasy’ by a long way, and sadly the only real moment of true clarity and restraint on a record full of bluster and indulgence.

‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is hard work. You pass the quarter of the hour mark before you even reach the third song. That would be indulgent by prog-rock standards, and when it’s mostly just Damien and his instrument, it‘s unbearable. There are only 8 tracks here yet the record would be a double if released on vinyl and I just find that too much of a liberty. Very little about the record is good enough, especially from an artist who has had eight years to work on it. The melodies are mostly unexceptional, the guitar playing is functional and the string arrangements are overbearing and predictable. Structurally most songs are the same – start off quiet before exploding in to a worlwind of noise and passion a few minutes later. It is a useful formula but it’s used time and time again to diminishing effect.

Damien’s tried hard to convince us that his time in the shadows has made him a more experienced and stable human being, unfortunately, perhaps directly as a result of this, he’s taken many steps backwards as a confessional singer-songwriter. There are moments of insight and emotion on the album but they get lost in a lot of excess and indulgence. ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is simply a quiet, boring, unmoving and meandering mess. His gain is our loss.

3.5/10

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