Remember singer-songwriters? The golden age of the performer-composer was around the late '60s/early '70s. Mostly they were sensitive, some were wistful, and the men were in touch with their feelings long before anyone else was much bothered about that kind of thing. The essence of being a singer-songwriter was that you could knock up something from the most basic ingredients - an acoustic guitar, a stool, a denim shirt - in no time. Singer-songwriters were, say, Joni Mitchell if they were women or Tim Hardin if men.
A few were quite brilliant, most were wonderfully pretentious and almost all of them were middle class, appealing to a thoughtful audience who related to higher education. It's that "writer" word that counts. You can't really see any of the rather agricultural-looking Westlife boys as singer-songwriters with guitars. Or the Atomic Kittens.
It's a niche market among late teens who think they're too good for pop and dance, and older middlebrow men who like to keep up. Every record company's got a couple on the go.
Damien Rice looks absolutely the business. There he is, in black and white in the commercial for O, his launch album. He's alone with just his guitar and a stool. And a big serious recording studio mike. And a clutch of quotes from broadsheet newspapers and thoughtful magazines such as Q (the ones that never ask what's happened to Lee from Steps).
Damien's hair looks ginger and completely free range. There's a bit of gingery fluff round his jaw too. This market considers too much conspicuous grooming a sign of inauthenticity, so the stylists have been working overtime to bring out the bedsit in Damien.
"Not a poor track on this album. Buy it," says The Times. The Guardian says that O is "gorgeous and understated". We see these thoughts on-screen in a gorgeous understated Penguin Special Modern Classic sort of typeface, while Damien is saying how "love just taught me to cry" with that break in his voice that everyone tries to do now (Andrea Corr can probably do it in her sleep).
Is this conscious retro or an unconscious unbroken tradition? I really haven't a clue. But all my instincts say that if I played this gorgeous understated thing, I'd be saying give me Darius over Damien any day. "Colour Blind" is quite an OK little song.