Monday, January 13, 2014

Oh Damien Rice

Of all the myriad things you could call your album, why would you choose the letter O? It's hardly the strongest title, and yet there are two completely unrelated artists in my library who thought it would be a good idea.

The first is Damien Rice, whose 2002 debut album O contained such hits as Cannonball and The Blower's Daughter. The second is Tilly and the Wall, who already had Wild Like Children and Bottoms of Barrels under their belts before releasing the rather less interestingly-titled o (note the lower case) in 2008.

Wikipedia states that Tilly and the Wall chose the title simply to reflect o's equally uninspiring oval artwork, which had already been chosen. No need to dig any deeper there, I suppose.


But what of Damien Rice? The internet has little in the way of explanation for his O. I've come up with three theories of my own - none are particularly decisive, but hey, they're ideas.

O is dedicated to Mic Christopher, a singer-songwriter and friend of Rice's who died tragically young after sustaining a head injury in 2001. There's an O in Christopher, of course, but that's a pretty ropey choice of title - why not use M or C instead of plucking a random letter from the man's surname?

But both Christopher and Damien Rice himself were born Ireland, where many a family name starts with the letter O. Admittedly, this theory would hold a lot more water if they were called Mic O'Christopher and Damien O'Rice, but there's still a chance that Rice was aiming to create an account of what it's like to be part of a broken Irish family (no, I've no idea whether or not Damien Rice really comes from a broken home). Older Chests is the closest thing I have to evidence here - see this line:

"Mama tried to wash their faces, but these kids, they lost their graces. And daddy lost at the races too many times."

Okay, so the 'name' explanation is a bit of stretch. How about this: O refers to the number zero, and by using it as his title, Rice was making the kind of self-deprecating statement that's typical of this album. He is an O (or, more accurately, a 0), worthless to the people he loves. The end of Volcano is a good example:

"You do not need me!"

One more. What if 'O' is neither a name nor a number, but an 'oh'? The H-less version is far more poetic than its common counterpart - compare Nick Cave's O Children with David Bowie's Oh! You Pretty Things. It's a lot more serious when you only use one letter.

To me, 'O' seems like it should precede a plea, as in 'O God, why hast thou forsaken me?' or 'O my darling, don't leave me' (there's more information about the word's proper usage here). It's hard to deny the pleading nature of Damien Rice's songs - whether he's begging the Almighty to rescue him from his Cold Water ("Lord, can you hear me now? Or am I alone?") or bluntly requesting the presence of a lover in I Remember ("I want you here tonight, I want you here"), the next plea is never far from his lips.

Bonus Theory
After Rice released his second album, 9, a friend of mine suggested that the minimal titles were Damien's way of gradually revealing his telephone number. So far, all we've got is 09, but with another album reportedly on its way, we may be able to get Damien Rice on the blower (see what I did there?) within the next, ooh, thirty years.

UPDATE: After I posted this blog on Twitter, Craig Pearce pointed something out. Amie, the album's sixth track, contains the following lyric:

"Amie, come sit on my wall and read me The Story of O"

Another quick go on Wikipedia revealed that The Story of O is an erotic novel about a girl called O who gradually becomes a sex slave. The connotations of submission and objectification add a whole other layer of meaning to both the album, not to mention the drawing on the front cover - is that girl supposed to be O, the submissive from the novel? And is the man her master?

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