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Damien Rice's creative ambition has always outstripped his personal ambition: The Irish singer-songwriter's 2002 debut O yielded many lavish orchestral flourishes, and even a foray into opera near the end, but Rice himself always seemed a reluctant star. After 2006's 9, he quietly retreated from the public eye and relocated to Iceland, barely popping up publicly since, so the arrival of these eight new songs comes as a welcome and periodically thrilling surprise.

There's nothing reluctant or halfhearted about the bold, dreamy, impeccably rendered music on My Favourite Faded Fantasy, which gets plenty of room to breathe and seethe over the course of more than 50 minutes. Take "It Takes A Lot To Know A Man." What the song lacks in smashing insights about gender relations, it finds in abundant chamber-folk beauty, as the proceedings stretch out for nine and a half dreamy minutes.

Rice loves to let songs build to lavish climaxes, and My Favourite Faded Fantasy does much the same thing as a grand whole: Though its singles ("I Don't Want To Change You," "The Greatest Bastard") reside in the album's first half, its back half is a Murderer's Row of album highlights strung together. Rice's best song in more than a decade, "Colour Me In" hits a spectacular, string-swept crescendo late; a few minutes later, the lovable eight-minute "Trusty And True" transitions slowly from a lightly plucked whisper to a lushly rousing, suitably philosophical Irish sing-along.

Given the eight-year layoff, the move to Iceland, the departure of longtime collaborator Lisa Hannigan, and the addition of new co-conspirators — Marketa IrglovaJonsi collaborator Alex Somers, producer Rick Rubin — it's fair to expect a radical departure. But My Favourite Faded Fantasy moves Rice's sound only in matters of degree: It picks up where he left off, give or take eight years of soul-searching, and looks at where he's been with a mixture of hunger and regret. As always, introspection suits him.

-Stephen Thompson, NPR

Track List:

1. My Favourite Faded Fantasy
2. It Takes A Lot To Know A Man
3. The Greatest Bastard
4. I Don't Want To Change You
5. Colour Me In
6. The Box
7. Trusty And True
8. Long Long Way

Photo courtesy of the artist.

[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]

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