Irish troubadour Damien Rice doesn't so much reinvent the folk genre on this lush, impossibly mature debut album as push its boundaries in several compelling musical directions at once--all the more remarkable considering the album was largely self-produced … see full wiki
If there's ever been an album so hopelessly beautiful as Damien Rice's "O," I've yet to hear it. It's not a glittering beauty like the early music of Enya, nor a razor-edged beauty like Radiohead's "OK Computer" or the falsetto of Coldplay's Chris Martin. No, "O" is in a category all by itself. The title, a single, apparently meaningless letter, is so fitting for the record. Like the record, there's a beautiful simplicity to it, but close examination reveals a delightful intricacy. And so it is with Damien Rice's music. The Irish folk troubadour's sincerety, clear in each of his heart-tuggingly poetic compositions, is a welcoming nakedness that shines through his bittersweet vocals.
The magic's in the arrangements as well as the vocals, though - the echoing guitar and longing cello in the record's highlight, the dazzling "Blower's Daughter" (well-used as the main theme for Mike Nichol's screen adaptation of "Closer"); the mixture of classic and contemporary instruments which fall like an avalanche in "Cheers Darlin'"; the consciously insane opera in the wonderful "Eskimo." Rice is aware of the craziness of this world, but he's more interested in the simple beauty of it: things like the wind in your hair or the sun setting over a field. Lisa Hannigan's smooth, breezy vocals support Rice, who knows just when to let her soar. In fact, Rice knows when to do everything. His timing is impeccable. He knows when to sing, when to let Hannigan sing, when to bring in the violins - even when to let the opera singer loose.
There are by no standards any bad or even lackluster pieces on "O." There are some that are more extraodinary than others, however: along with "Blower's Daughter," the reflective "Cold Water," the bitter "Cheers Darlin'," the wise "Volcano," the another-day folk of "Older Chests," and the soaring lunacy that is "Eskimo" (hang around throughout "Eskimo" to hear two hidden tracks, the excellent, bombastic "Prague" and Hannigan's cynical take on "Silent Night"). As an added bonus, each song works equally well seperately or together with the rest of the album. I'd highly recommend buying the album as opposed to downloading the songs, though. Almost impossibly beautiful, "O" was one of the best records of 2003 (the best?) and remains one of the best of the decade.