It might seem hard to believe now, but Ireland’s storied history of music was in dire shape at the turn of this century as the soulless pop of Westlife, Boyzone, Samantha Mumba and a few forgettable horses from producer Louis Walsh’s stable ruled the airwaves.

Folk troubadours would be the antithesis of this, of course, but it seemed unlikely at the time that artists like Glen Hansard’s Frames and Damien Dempsey would ever break through.

Then along came Damien Rice and his sleeper hit "O," a sparse masterpiece that showed the world that Irish storytelling through song might live to fight another day.

Rice has returned with a stunning new album, "My Favourite Faded Fantasy." Though the album doesn’t see the light of day until November 11, but we have gotten a sneak preview.

"My Favourite Faded Fantasy" opens with the title track, a fractured lullaby-like arrangement that churns on a relentless guitar riff. “You could have a favorite face/a favorite name/I know someone who could play the part but it wouldn’t be the same/You could be a favorite place I’ve I got lost in your willingness to dream within a dream,” he sings in a broken, gritty falsetto.

The track swells and fades like a Pixies track, building tension as he sings, “You could hold the secrets that could save me from myself.”

Absence seems to have only made the heart grow fonder for his fans. Rice previewed the song a few weeks back and it reached number three globally on Associated Press’ “Spotify’s Top 10 Most Viral Tracks.”

"My Favourite Faded Fantasy" is Rice’s first collection of material in eight years and was produced by Rick Rubin and Rice. Rubin is a fitting choice, as he has resuscitated the careers of Johnny Cash and Tom Petty with milestone albums.

As good as Rice was on the classic "9," he is at the peak of his songwriting powers on this disc. These are epic tracks, most of them clocking in at over five minutes.

Rice made the most beautiful music with Lisa Hannigan, who added a childlike female foil that brought the stark beauty of his songs to life. Their professional and romantic relationship ended around the recording of "9" in 2006, a regret Rice might still carry on his back.

“I would give away all the music success, all the songs, and the whole experience to still have Lisa in my life,” he told Hot Press four years ago. “No question.”

Fans wondering where his head might be on the topic needn’t look as far as the lead single. “Wherever you are, know that I adore you/no matter how far I can go before you/and if ever you need someone/not that you need helping/but ever you want someone/know that I am willing,” Rice sings in the gorgeous “I Don’t Want to Change You.”

He echoes the sentiments of his Hot Press interview within the ache of “The Box” when he sings, “I have tried but I don’t fit/into this box you call a gift/God forbid you might envy me/my reasons for walking away/my reasons for everything are lost with you.”

His massive success might be the envy of many a musician, yet the lyric sheet on "My Favourite Faded Fantasy" would lead you to believe that it isn’t easy being Damien Rice.

The quiet/loud juxtaposition of his music also follows the cycle of low introspection and anger that comes with the territory of love lost. His pain is our gain. This is gorgeous, haunting music.

Rice’s select intimate U.S. tour, including a stop Los Angeles and three nights in New York City, all sold out in minutes due to huge demand. The Manhattan dates have become the hottest tickets to score this month. He will play the Box on October 16 and 18, with a gig at Brooklyn’s Warsaw on the 17th. It all leads up to the big gig at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on November 15.

For a full list of dates, log onto DamienRice.com.

Damian Rice: His pain is our gain. This is gorgeous, haunting music.Wikimedia