Many of us were sure Damien Rice would never release a third album. Despite several one-off singles, the Irish singer/songwriter had remained relatively silent over the past seven years. Attention has been brought to a quote released after he parted ways with his collaborator, lover, and friend, Lisa Hannigan, following the release of 2006’s 9: “I would give away all of the music success, all the songs, and the whole experience to still have Lisa in my life.”
With this in mind, many will find Rice’s long-awaited third LP, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, one of the saddest albums they’ve ever heard in their entire lives. In a world where singer/songwriters (and cookie-cutter pop-punk bands) write songs about girls owning love, Rice writes about true heartbreak and sorrow in every sense of those words. The tremor in his voice is instantly noticeable in the delicate, Ben Gibbard-esque title track, when Rice sings, “You could be my favourite faded fantasy / I’ve hung my happiness upon what it all could be/And what it all could be with you.”
This works as an introduction to the album on multiple levels, as a song that will both appeal to old fans and help break in new ones. “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man” is just the opposite; “It Takes a Lot” is the first time we witness Rice’s experimental new style, a bold nine-minute epic filled with sonic twists and turns courtesy of producer Rick Rubin and a full orchestral outro. A connection can almost be made between this album and Justin Timberlake’s 2013 pop-juggernaut,The 20/20 Experience; both are the most ambitious and mature projects to be realized by their creators yet, structuring pop songs to a varying degree with a full string section.
From here, there’s something on the album for Rice fans of every ilk; songs like “The Greatest Bastard” and “Colour Me In” will please fans of O, the latter specifically being one of the best ballads Rice has ever written. Meanwhile, “I Don’t Want to Change You” continues down the same path as “It Takes a Lot,” being an acoustic number that slowly builds into the emotional centerpiece of the album as Rice stammers through beautiful verses like, “Wherever you are / Know that I adore you / No matter how far / I can go before you / And if ever you need someone / Well, not that you need helping / But if ever you want someone / Know that I am willing.”
Perhaps the album is best explained by its relatively typical closer, “Long Long Goodbye,” which is sung with a lullaby-like hush before erupting into a grand finale that encapsulates the entire album. My Favourite Faded Fantasy finds Damien Rice doing what he does best: playing Damien Rice songs. And that’s a great thing. He might not change the folk game as much as he definitely has the ability to, but there’s enough experimentation to keep things fresh after seven years for what could easily go on to be Rice’s best release. My Favourite Faded Fantasy is a grower and an exhausting listen, but it’s also one of the most beautiful musical journeys you’ll take all year.