One of the best illustrations of Rice's gift comes on the bitter "Cheers Darling," a song Rice wrote at 3 a.m., after an argument with an unfaithful lover. At the Tin Angel, he performed it as a theatrical piece, stopping between toasts to provide details on the relationship.
"That really did come about at 3 a.m.," Rice says. "I put down this loop of rhythm I made out of clinking glasses and percussion noises. Then after I listened back, I just recorded whatever words fell out of my mouth. That showed me how interesting stuff comes from not thinking, not trying to be clever. Really, not trying at all."
The moving "Cheers Darlin'" works in the same way, describing the deflation Rice felt after spending an evening flirting with a woman at a pub only to have her call her boyfriend to come take her home. "I wrote that while I was drunk," Rice says, smiling. "I came home right after it happened, banged out the chords and just started singing it. The vocal take that's on the record is from that night. I tried to do it over, but I couldn't really recapture the same feeling.
"The boozy sneer is evident as he sings, "Cheers darlin', here's to you and your lover boy" and in every spiteful "darlin'" that follows, culminating in his imagined confrontation, "What am I darlin'? A whisper in your ear? A piece of your cake? What am I, darlin'? The boy you can fear? Or your biggest mistake?" All the while, the musical accompaniment gets more exquisite. "I took the song to my friend Jean [Meunier, a French pianist] and asked him to play along," Rice says. "I taped it, and it's great to hear him get into the song. You can hear it, how he plays only a few notes at the beginning, and by the end, he's playing this magnificent piece."
Consider Cheers Darlin’, a bitter little number in which Rice sounds drunk — for the good reason that he was — although he says, being a little feller (5ft 8in) a couple of glasses of wine will do that to him. He composed it, or it became composed, in one burst after a disappointing evening in a Dublin bar with a girl whom he was hoping would be his girlfriend. “She probably wasn’t, but I got the impression I was getting signals. Elbows touching, all that. It was like, OK, we’re going somewhere and there were more drinks and chewing cigarettes and leaning against each other and I got to a point where I realised that I was missing my last bus home. I was broke and if I didn’t get the bus that meant getting the taxi and I really didn’t have the money. But then she wasn’t going either, so I thought we’re going to spend the night hanging out together. Then she turned around at midnight and said, ‘Och, I’m late, I’ve got to go and meet my boyfriend’. So I had to get a cab. So that was €40 because I lived outside of Dublin.” No wonder he was furious.
“I was a little frustrated, yeah, at first.” But at 5am he was ringing his producer in America and telling him he had written this new song and feeling healed. “I remember feeling really quite excited and I’d forgotten all about the crap that I’d gone through that night.”