It would be easy to let the magic of the first four songs on 9 fool you into thinking this is a great album. From Lisa Hannigan's opening vocals (Rice proves his courage by letting someone else's voice introduce his album) to the wailing refrain on "Rootless Tree," it is clear that Rice is a talented musician. So it's easy to hear the strummy guitar and tepid lyrics of "Dogs" and think there must be something special happening beneath the surface. Unfortunately, there's not. "Dogs" is just a bland folk-rock ballad that could've been performed by anyone from Train to Bread.
Unlike "Dogs," most of the misfires on 9 are mixed into decent songs, so you can't just skip the crap. "Me, My Yoke, & I" reaches a frenzy that rocks like mad, but it's dragged down by adolescent lyrics that strive to be clever and sexually rebellious. Similarly, the chorus of "Rootless Tree" ("Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you...") is delivered with passion, but its bile relies on generic expressions of rage.
Rice is not a bad lyricist, but he bounces from creativity to cliché with no regard for the well-being of his songs. There are too many land mines scattered across the surface of 9 to ever let the listener sink into the music.
Rice is obviously a writer with very good ideas, but he failed to fully express them here. 9 had the potential to be a great album, in the vein of Jeff Buckley's Grace and Radiohead's The Bends. Instead, its shortcomings make it a good listen that exists in the shadow of what it could have been.
Packaging: (Altered by EPFL.)
The cover is interesting on its surface, and is reminiscent of 0 (his debut) without rehashing its imagery. But the cover art suggests a meandering pointlessness that is reflected in the music. If this is a reflection of what is going on in Rice's head, it's no wonder he couldn't find a good album in the midst of his mental mess.
Listen if you like: Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke, Ryan Adams
If it were food, it'd be: a homemade chicken pot pie loaded with whole peppercorns that explode like little bombs and overwhelm the other flavors.