nd so it is/Just like you said it would be” goes the opening line to the best song on Damien Rice’s debut album, O, “The Blower’s Daughter.” Fittingly, the song is not exactly what you’d expect from a singer-songwriter and benefits greatly from this fact. There are strong production values, a wavering between complex and simplistic lyrics and a surprise female voice in the second third of the song. The song’s ending is a poetic twist leading directly into “Cannonball,” also one of the better songs on the record.
But, as rare as it might be, you can actually hear the moment when the album turns sour. “Older Chests” moves slowly along with Rice’s voice and an acoustic guitar backing unremarkably until Rice utters the word “time.” Enter maudlin strings. It’s not shocking, necessarily- there have been strings already present on the record- but the way and the volume with which they enter into the mix is. And the simple introduction of this semi-incongruous element is one which sours the pot considerably. Instead of the acoustic ballad being allowed to wrench its emotional content out of Rice’s voice, we now have the added weight of swaying emotion provided by very meaningful sounding strings. As it’s been proven with the emotional balladry of various pop-rock acts, the strings do add a extremely contrived emotional aspect, but it never comes off as anything more than someone trying a bit too hard to ram the point home.
As opposed to the first half of the record, these moments are ever present on the second. “Amie” seems to almost be self-conscious of the ridiculous nature of the strings, cutting them abruptly at the end of the song. Rice apparently realized that the arrangement had no clear end in sight and could continue its swirling maelstrom of melody forever if not nipped in the bud.
“Cheers Darlin’,” in fact, is the only track that remains emotionally intact after this breaking point. The production is interesting, featuring what sounds like glasses being raised and clinked as the song staggers drunkenly as the perfect barroom accompaniment. The outro is a bit too long, but echoes the inevitable excesses of drinking far too much.
But all of these criticisms of the second half of the record are more to do with Rice’s experimentations with the traditional folk format and not a refusal to budge from a certain formulaic stance. There is no greater compliment to say about O than the fact that the possibility of opera singers (“Eskimo”) in folk has never sounded more interesting- and more rife with promise for the future- than in this case. Rice has opened up the doors, we can only hope, for a perfection of innovation. And what more can we ask for?