Thursday, July 10, 2003


This morning I took the subway while listening to Damien Rice's new album, "O." And suddenly, just as soon as I embarked on my violently-shaken commute, I was transported to a place of calmness, a yoga-like trance. Everyone on the train immediately had become beautiful to me, truly beautiful. Every single person.
The black-clad Asian girl with her bubblegum lip gloss and black stiletto heels which certainly looked better than they felt.
The middle-aged woman sitting down comfortably reading a romance novel of some sort, looking to her left and then to her right, and then picking her nose so gently as if the act wasn't offensive if it was done half-heartily.
The exhausted old man with more stories revealed by the wrinkles on his face than any library could ever possess.
I fell in love with one girl in particular, though, her brown rustic hair up in a bun and a long sleeve red shirt even though temperatures would inevitably climb later on in the day. Her short jeans mini-skirt, displaying her average-length-yet-satisfactory legs. Her face accentuated with a few freckles and almost-dimples around her mouth, which I'm sure exploded when she smiled like the final firework of a Fourth of July extravaganza. I wanted to talk to her, get to know what her favorite ice cream flavor was. Ask her if she preferred the shade to the sun. Excuse me, I would say to her, do you cry during sad movies?

And this is what a good album could and should do. It should perk the ears, open the heart and penetrate the soul, if you believe we still have one after living in the City for so long. I stumbled across "O" just a few months ago and it has been on repeated rotation since then. The unadulterated poignancy of songs like "The Blower's Daughter" and "Older Cheats" make me afraid that perhaps I'm becoming too in touch with my emotion.
Lest you think that his style is unprecedented or innovative; that's not the case. Rice is a folk musician in the classic sense. He created this album in his bedroom with no pretentiousness, insisting its release on a small independent label to keep its home-y feel. He uses a guitar, a violin (to an assassin-like degree), finger-picking and a female vocal accompaniment that conjures the temptation of Eve offering Adam the apple. The last song, "Eskimo,' a fifteen minute paean to Alaskans even incorporates opera successfully.
In the second half of "Cold Water," which speaks of baptism and the urgency of being heard by none other than God, Rice manipulates his vocals to create a haunting yet soothing effect that wouldn't be out of place on a Pink Floyd album. It's this kind of eclecticism within a structure that makes a brilliant debut.

Many critics have been comparing Damien Rice to David Gray and to "folk" music of that ilk but that's incredibly short-sighted and inaccurate. Gray's music, which I have casually enjoyed, sounds canned in comparison. His love, his emotions, his feelings, sound premeditated and dictated while Rices' sound so urgent and immediate that you want to ask him if he's ok and bring him back from the brink of insanity (hear "I Remember" for a specific point of reference). This is why "O" is as successful as it is; it's an emotional album without emotional being surrounded by quotes. Even records in the past that I've bestowed with so much heart have been my emotional impositions. I have attached the significance because that is how I saw it and how it connected to me. "O" is different in that it will most likely connect to all people in the same way. It is a singular vision of an artist- -it's all sincerity, all the time. When there is an absolute concentrated focus on creating a wholeness, a purity of ideas, the artist, in the end, will succeed. And this is just what Damien Rice has done with "O."

Maybe next time when I'm on the subway and I'm listening to this album and I see the girl in the red long sleeved shirt, I will walk over to her while I am engulfed with heart. I will turn the music off for a moment, after I've been inspired and say to her, excuse me but do you cry during sad movies?


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