Album Review: Damien Rice, “O” (2002)

I’ve owned Damian Rice‘s debut CD, O, for several years now. The Irish singer-songwriter’s music appealed to me after hearing his songs on various films and TV shows. I thought I’d love his brand of sensitive, acoustic guitar ballads, but the disc has instead ended up collecting a lot of dust over the years. It’s not for a lack of trying- I’ve attempted to listen to O on at least five separate occasions, all of them ending with me falling asleep somewhere towards the middle of the album. That’s not an exaggeration- this album quite literally puts me to sleep.

The problem is really with the sameness of songs included on the CD. Sure, the stringed instruments and Rice’s smooth vocals work really well on one or two songs, but eight songs of the same glossy vocals/acoustic guitar/violin routine? Well, it becomes extremely boring.

I actually bought the album based on the lead single, The Blower’s Daughter. The song was played during the closing scenes and in trailers for the 2004 movie, Closer, a film I thoroughly enjoyed. The scene in the film was really brought to life by Rice’s gentle ballad; the hushed refrain of, “I can’t take my eyes off of you” fit perfectly with the characters in the film, the quiet piano and beautiful strings were appropriate with the melancholy mood, and Rice’s emotional delivery seemed to be just as heartfelt as the emotions of the characters on screen.

Acoustic guitar ballad, Delicate, was played in an episode of one of my favourite shows, Misfits. The song was brilliantly used in an episode involving a death of one of the characters; I never quite forgot the sweeping strings in the chorus as she let out her last breath. It was also used in an episode of Lost; as Hurley looked around the wreckage, the violins swelled eloquently, making the moment even more poignant.

However, those two songs are the most memorable tracks on the album, and really, the only reason that they’re memorable is because of the scenes that they were used in. My problem here is that music should be meaningful without a visual image; I should be able to hear the songs on the album and feel something from them even if I haven’t seen them in an important scene from my favourite movie. Unfortunately, the rest of the songs just don’t evoke any emotion.

Damien Rice 5

Volcano, a duet with an uncredited female vocalist, is probably the only other interesting track on the album, with the cello adding a bit of variety to the track. On the other hand, the acoustic melody ofCannonball sounds like Rice borrowed a few chords from Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”, but none of Marley’s soul is translated to this colourless song. By the time Older Chests rolls around, I’ve usually fallen asleep. Though the lyrics are nicely written (“Older chests reveal themselves/Like a crack in a wall/Starting small, and grow in time”), the melody is so hushed and dreary that I’ve never really had enough time to focus on the words before tuning out. Amie uses the same chord progression that’s been used in all the other songs, and really just seems like a continuation of any one of the tracks that were previously on the album. Though Cheers Darlin‘ has the same musical blandness of the other songs (I never thought I’d get tired of hearing acoustic guitar or strings), the track is the only on the album with a interesting vocal performance from Rice; he actually sounds passionate for once, instead of sounding bored like he does for the rest of the album.

Cold Water is – you guessed it – another despondent tune.  Rice duets with the same vocalist he does on Volcano, but the melody sounds pretty similar to Delicate.  There’s also an interlude of eerie guttural chanting from what sounds like Monks during the middle and end of the track, which I suppose makes sense juxtaposed with the lyrics which seem like a plea to God (“Lord, can you hear me now?/Or am I lost?/Cold, cold water surrounds me now”).  But, once again, I had to look up the lyrics to figure this all out, as the song is simply too boring for me to notice what Rice is actually singing about.

I realize the consensus for this album is nearly five stars, but I just can’t rate it that high. Someone might read this review thinking this “kind of music” isn’t for me, but that’s not the problem here. I really, genuinely like slow paced, acoustic albums. One of my favourite CDs is by Israeli singer-songwriter, Oren Lavie, and the genre is exactly the same. The main difference, however, is that the songs on Lavie’s album, despite being mainly acoustic ballads, had some variety to them. O just seems like an album of the same dull song.  Obviously, Damien Rice‘s CD appeals to many, but I honestly can’t see why.

Rating: 2_stars.svg

Track List
1. Delicate
2. Volcano
3. The Blower’s Daughter
4. Cannonball
5. Older Chests
6. Amie
7. Cheers Darlin’
8. Cold Water
9. I Remember
10. Eskimo

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YXVMCHG-Nk]
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