Singer-songwriter Damien Rice is a man of few words, and those he does speak can seem almost meaningless. Rice reportedly considered calling his sophomore album either “A Hen Will Sit On An Unfertilized Egg” or “You Love Her, You Even Love The Shit You Hate About Her,” titles that are oblique to the point of unmarketable and suffer from an uncharacteristic wordiness as well. “9” — an album with a blessedly brief, if still inscrutable title — follows in the footsteps of Rice’s debut “O,” but offers greater variety, eschewing the acoustic melancholy that made him a soundtrack staple and offering a series of musical mood swings that offer something for every mood.
On this album, as on his first, Rice is all over the place. He juxtaposes touching pleas asking a loved one to leave another man with obscenities expressing his rage at feeling like a rootless tree, and he conquers an emotional spectrum and expresses extremes that all can appreciate.
There is something about Rice’s voice that — no matter whether he is singing about a gun, or being horny, or a girl and her dog — makes his vocals sound so wonderful that you cannot help but enjoy the ride. In “Me, My Yoke, and I,” Rice’s nonsensical lyrics consist mostly of words such as “drum,” “book,” “hand,” “god” and “fishing,” repeated with increasing intensity. But despite these apparently free-form lyrics, Rice balances his songs with painfully beautiful melodies like “The Animals Were Gone.” On the light-hearted “Dogs,” Rice explores emotions through a montage of imagery rather than descriptive laments, painting a picture of the morning sun, dogs running on a hill and a girl that does yoga, and crafts a light-hearted, intimate folk song in the process.
Venturing even further into the realm of pure sonic experience, Rice closes the album with 16 minutes of a Tibetan singing bowl being played at the end of a lullaby-like track, “Sleep Don’t Weep.” Though the inclusion of such an atypical instrument may seem bizarre, the soothing effect provides a perfect bookend to the album’s emotional rollercoaster, and Rice pulls it off where perhaps other artists could not.
Trying to find grand meanings behind “9” would be a wasted effort, but the album’s emotional capriciousness carries a depth all its own. Rice’s natural vulnerability speaks to an inherent truth, even if it only lasts as long as the momentary waves of emotion his songs provoke. The random assortment of alternative genre tracks offers no social commentary and makes no attempts to break your heart, but that’s what makes it so endearing. Rice puts forth an effort that’s just right, showing us that he can make good music without seeming to try too hard.