As it was on 2003’s O, Damien Rice’s songs are so naked emotionally that even listening is akin to eavesdropping on a bad breakup. Throughout 9, relationships are presented as cathartic and claustrophobic traps to which Rice clings tightly even as he works to extract himself. That indecision is exquisitely articulated on the haunting “9 Crimes,” with Rice and bandmate Lisa Hannigan pining for lost love and praying for distraction. Valentine’s Day must be a nightmare for the poor guy. Sometimes the passivity/aggression doesn’t work, though—e.g., the overly florid “The Animals Were Gone” or “Dogs,” which does little more than restate the obvious and goes nowhere in doing so. Obvious, Rice usually isn’t. His “Why’d you leave me?” mantra could be easily read as mopey—clearly, the boy ain’t right—but underneath the wounded-bird surface lurks untethered rage. “Rootless Tree” and “Me, My Yoke & I” are blistering, escalating from wistful to practically deranged as Rice, egged on by primal strings and guitars, unleashes vitriol (“Fuck you fuck you fuck you”) that pretty much kills that whole sensitive-guy thing.
Damien Rice plays the Beacon Theater December 12 and 13, beacontheater.net.