If I had to choose only five artists who had truly been an inspiration on my career as a composer, Damien Rice would undoubtedly be up for inclusion. This despite the fact that he’s produced only three albums across 17 years and by the time I’d heard the first of those I was already two years out of music college and trying to make my way in the music industry. That debut album, ‘O’, (the CD handed to me at work by one of my former colleagues) had such a profound effect on my writing and some of the choices I made during the following years, that I had no hesitation in placing it in this list of 12 favourite albums.
Damien Rice ‘O’ Review
In 2003 I knew I wanted to be a musician; I just couldn’t make my mind up how. I’d graduated from guitar college the year before but was torn between concentrating on becoming a session guitarist, or moving towards songwriting and composition. Discovering ‘O’ and shortly afterwards seeing Damien Rice perform live at the Cambridge Corn Exchange was perhaps the biggest single factor in being able to come to a decision. It made me realise that I really did want to focus my efforts on writing songs and original music. The way Damien Rice exposes so much of his personal feelings (dare I say it, his soul) on the record. And then translated that so well onto the live stage, was something I really wanted to at least try to achieve myself, with my own songs. Playing guitar on other people’s records didn’t have the same appeal after that experience.
Listen to the album on Spotify HERE.
Range of Sound
One of the things I enjoy most about ‘O’ is the variety of sound. Although Damien Rice is probably most often associated with an acoustic guitar and the ubiquitous ‘folk’ tag, this album displays an impressive range of textures and styles. With the tenderness of opener Delicate and the rhythmic riff of Volcano, the album starts strongly. Tracks 3 & 4 raise the level even further with perhaps the two best known singles in the Rice discography. The Blowers Daughter (below) and Cannonball. Melodic, poetic; Rice’s line towards the end of former ending “I can’t take my mind off you” being one of my favourite lyrics of all time.
From the songs that follow, we hear the pain and anger of Cheers Darlin’ complimented by music concrete taken from an imaginary bar scene. Then unusual Gregorian chants nestle within the quite beautiful Cold Water followed by the powerful rock intensity at the end of I Remember. This song features one of many captivating lead vocals from Lisa Hannigan; a singer whose contribution to ‘O’ cannot be overstated and whose own career is worth checking out.
One outstanding feature of ‘O’ is Vyvienne Long’s cello playing, which is sometimes augmented to full and rich string arrangements. No better demonstrated than on ‘Amie.’ I found this song particularly influential when writing string parts for the second Storey album, Streets Will Fold, such as album closer Save Today (listen below). The closing track of ‘O’ (Eskimo) is perhaps its finest moment. Beguiling yet reflective lyrics tell a tale of longing, building up to an astonishing, operatic mid-section. Truly a hairs-on-the-arms moment and inspirational when I wrote Home From Home in 2009.
Influence of Damien Rice
Assimilating this album really opened my eyes to the possibilities of combining different musical styles and most importantly, honest composition. Whether or not it conforms to the conventions or expectations of the music industry at the time. With the help of some superb collaborators (rhythm section Tomo and Shane Fitzsimmons deserve an honourable mention), Damien Rice created the album that HE wanted to create. A series of aching yet truthful songs that almost anyone can relate to at some point in their life. And that is one of the main reasons why it not only sounds as fresh and moving as it did 17 years ago, but will continue to sound relevant as it ages over time. ‘O’ really was one of my crystallising moments.
Note it’s worth listening to ‘O’ right until the end – there are two fantastic ghost tracks after ‘Eskimo’ including a wistful a-capella version of ‘Silent Night’ by Lisa Hannigan. A fitting end and welcome bonus to an already brilliant album.
Get In Touch!
I’ve had a good week, doing some work for Special Song during a welcome visit to Toulouse. Please feel free to share or comment below and if you’re looking for a co-writer (a composer, lyricist or producer) for your project then please drop me a line via the CONTACT page of this website. In the mean time you can stay up-to-date with my Instagram page or subscribe to my YOUTUBE channel.
Another review next week. Take it easy…