Tortured troubadour Damien Rice will not appreciate the suggestion, but there must be a sizeable overlap between those who bought his two million-selling debut album, O, and owners of James Blunt's much-derided chart dominator Back to Bedlam. Superficially, both singers sound heartbroken in the most tasteful way, weeping quietly in the background while your dinner party carries on regardless.
Closer inspection of Rice, however, reveals a disorientating assortment of depths, edges and prickles. He walked out on his first chance at stardom with the rock band Juniper, preferring busking to courting the mainstream; in concert he will berate his fans for not being quiet enough; and in interviews following O's incremental, word-of-mouth success, he promised a follow-up full of anger, bitterness and alienating electric guitars.
This album does not quite live up to such dark rhetoric. Only two of 9's ten tracks are anything other than pretty. "Me, My Yoke and I" has no chorus, hypnotic repeated lyrics and guitars that build to a fierce, crashing crescendo. "Rootless Tree" launches itself from a delicate verse into a furious roar of "fuck you and all you've been through".
Elsewhere, it's all perfectly palatable - strings swoon, acoustic guitars flutter and only the lyrics maintain the dark mood. On "9 Crimes", a minimal piano ballad, Rice's criminally underused co-vocalist Lisa Hannigan sings, "Leave me out with the waste". On the folksy "Coconut Skins", ostensibly the lightest track, Rice advises, "Explain to her your weakness so she understands/And then roll over and die."
It's bleak stuff, yes, but not bleak enough to turn away all those fair-weather fans. There will be plenty more success for Rice to resent.