Damien Rice: Love, loss and melancholyDamien Rice makes heartbreak music. This is the kind of music that is meant to be listened to after heartbreak but it is also the kind of music that will break your heart. Rice’s albums run the gamut of emotions, from love and loss to desire and loneliness, regret and quiet intimacy. But there is something comforting in them, as if the music itself were a cocoon, enveloping you, entombing you.
Damien Rice makes heartbreak music. This is the kind of music that is meant to be listened to after heartbreak but it is also the kind of music that will break your heart. Rice’s albums run the gamut of emotions, from love and loss to desire and loneliness, regret and quiet intimacy. But there is something comforting in them, as if the music itself were a cocoon, enveloping you, entombing you.
From the very first strains of ‘Delicate’, off his first album O, Rice wears his emotions on his sleeve, singing as if pained, as if all the hurt in the world lays on his shoulders and all he can do is give it voice. This is a kind of melancholy that is pervasive, that sieves off of the album in waves, pulling you under with its riptide. But it’s a beautiful kind of melancholy, where you identify with the emotions because it is something you have felt also, at one time or the other. It is not just the ache of a love lost but the sorrow of a partner’s passing, the death of a once-valued friendship—it is that twinge in your heart when Rice repeats “I can’t take my eyes off of you.”
The Blower’s Daughter introduced the world to Damien Rice and his specific brand of melancholy. The song suffused the Mike Nichols’ film Closer and its refrain, which should have been romantic, became a despairing ode, a statement of love perhaps unrequited. With two other singles off O—‘Volcano’ and ‘Cannonball’—Rice sealed his reputation as the downhearted crooner. But O wasn’t just about emotion—it was about mood, an atmosphere that the listener could immerse themselves in.
O went to win the coveted Shortlist Prize, the British equivalent of the US’ Mercury prize, awarded to an album that sold less than 500,000 copies but deserved a much wider audience. And it also catapulted Damien Rice to fame. But Rice, like Nick Drake before him, didn’t seem too comfortable with fame. His second album, 9, was released to mixed reviews and Rice himself has said that he would’ve taken half of the songs off it if he could do it again. After 9, Rice went on a hiatus of nearly a decade, disappearing from public view. It wasn’t just fame that led him to retreat, it was also Lisa Hannigan.
Throughout 0 and 9, there is another voice that accompanies Rice, playing off of his blues. This voice is earnest and beautiful, it soars often and it elevates Rice. This is the last voice you hear on O, off the hidden track ‘Silent Night’, and the first on 9, on ‘9 Crimes’. That voice was Lisa Hannigan, who accompanied Rice for most of his recording. When the two split up, personally and professionally after 9, Rice was devastated and it took him nearly eight years to get back to making music. Hannigan went on to have her own career, with critically-acclaimed albums that rival anything Rice has done.
In late 2014, Rice finally came out with his third album, My Favorite Faded Fantasy. It was a comeback, a resurgence, Rice was back on form, and it showed. Recorded in a studio where Sigur Ros made a number of their albums, the Rick Rubin-produced album brought back the yearning of O. On this record, Rice is devastating, as if saying that a love lost leaves behind a wound that festers and often, cannot heal. It is a reminder that as much as love is beautiful, it is tragic, and there are many who suffer its barbs.
One could compare Rice to many others—Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Ray LaMontagne—but he has a niche that is all his own. The songs off of O are unlike anything else and if they seem familiar, it is because their emotions are universal. We all know what Damien Rice means when he sings, “Still a little bit of your song in my ear/Still a little bit of your words I long to hear.” When Rice sings, when Lisa Hannigan joins him for a duet, when the strings soar behind him as they often do, there is a longing that suffuses the air, as if his sentiments are sloughing off the speakers.
I would never have imagined Damien Rice would come to perform in Nepal, but when I heard he would be playing at the Patan Museum, I thought there was no venue more suited to his particularities than this. I don’t imagine how the show at Tangalwood will be, but at the Museum, in its cloistered space, I can imagine Rice with his guitar, alone in front of a microphone, a lone spotlight on him as the crowd collectively holds its breath. Then he’ll sing and so will everyone else, following along, “I can’t take my mind off of you.”
Damien Rice, supported by Marta Del Grandi, will be performing tonight, February 22, at Tangalwood and tomorrow, February 23, at the Patan Museum. The shows are organised by WASP Concerts.