Already a Top 10, platinum success in his native Ireland, Damien Rice brings a distinctive, idiosyncratic approach to the basic singer-songwriter mode on this absorbing debut. Discovered by the arranger David Arnold, who furnished him with a home studio set-up (and contributed to the track "Amie"), Rice employs a variety of odd strategies to divert his songs away from the standard David Gray style, with keening banshee strings and a snatch of reversed Gregorian chant casting new light on songs such as "I Remember" and "Cold Water", and intriguing, European tonalities lending the bitter, self-mocking "Cheers, Darling" something of the cosmopolitan air of Leonard Cohen. At its most complex, the 16-minute "Eskimo" runs through three sections (separated by lengthy stretches of silence), the first capped with a bizarre operatic climax – the fat lady giving it loads – and the last with a new lyric variation of "Silent Night" sung by Lisa Harrington. The unusual arrangements bring an exotic flavour to an album that elsewhere reveals American alt.country influences: the opening "Delicate" has the quietly reflective, ageless quality and religious tone of Will Oldham ("Why'd you say hallelujah/ If it means nothing to ya?"), while the simple, fulsome "The Blower's Daughter" could be a Smog out-take. Less appealing are the tracks on which Rice slips too deeply into overwrought sentimentality, such as "Amie", an indulgent wallow in Weltschmerz, and "Older Chests", a bout of brazen Nick Drakery featuring lachrymose cellos and wan maundering about the passage of time.
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