on 16 May 2006
I can only concur with the previous reviews. This is arguably Mr Hannon's best album. The lushness of the previous album remains, but the pop sparkle and most of all, the wit, of Cassanova, returns. I would disagree that this is not immediately accessible. If the definition of a single was that it had to be melodically strong, hummable and have a smart lyric, then 7 of the 11 tracks here could be singles. The first 3/4 of the album (minus the piano instrumental "Threesome") are pure pop - the highlights being the hilariously painful "To Die A Virgin", Hannon's prettiest song to date "The Light Of Day" and the Associates' cover which gallops along thrillingly. Only during the closing 3 songs does Neil Hannon indulge in something a little more left-field - providing a very dramatic mini-symphony to close the album in style. The final track, "Snowball In Negative" is a beautiful piece of music and probably the finest song about fag ash ever (the only song about fag ash? Oh, don't nit-pick). Despite his clear influences, Neil Hannon really has calved out his own trademark style - memorable songs peppered with poignancy, panache, wit, dazzling musicianship and a little daring too. He's challenging you to call him a "smart arse". But you'd be wrong. He's a highly talented singer songwriter who, nine albums in, really seems to have reached new heights. Rejoice! On the basis of so many great albums, Neil Hannon clearly will make great music for the rest of his life. Don't even hesitate - Buy it!
on 8 September 2006
Whilst Hannon has always had a penchant for comic parodies of often ridiculed social groups, as reflected in earlier tracks such as "Woman of the World" and "National Express", what stand out in this album are the heart-rending tracks "Lady of A Certain Age", "The Light of Day" and "The Plough".
True, musically they are perhaps not the best tracks on the album - but the themes simply jump out and grab you.
A soul-searing, tear-jerkingly sublime offering from the Divine Comedy, that will delight fans and newcomers alike - So good that it prompted me to write my first, and probably only, Amazon review!
on 28 July 2006
Unlike the "good old days" of vinyl where the most commercial tracks were spread out evenly over the two sides of an LP, most CDs now cluster the potential singles towards the beginning of the album to satisfy the impatient modern listener. This is the case with the Divine Comedy's latest LP Victory For The Comic Muse though repeated listening beyond the first three tracks will reap considerable rewards.
VFTCM begins with the catchy quality pop of To Die A Virgin which, with the old-fashioned risquéness of its subject matter and effective use of spoken samples, is reminiscent of 90s DC classics Something For The Weekend and Generation Sex. With its mixture of pop and heavy bombastic orchestrations Comic Muse is also more akin to these songs' parent albums (Casanova and Fin De Siecle) rather than 2004's Absent Friends which felt more like a Neil Hannon solo LP.
Following To Die A Virgin, we get the touching, country-influenced Mother Dear and stately pop of the album's first single Diva Lady. Although modern tracklisting has put these three commercial songs together, the recording techniques used were anything but modern with Neil opting to record most of the backing tracks live with everyone playing together. This gives the album a warm, quite spontaneous sound as illustrated in the excellent making-of-the-LP documentary DVD available with the limited edition First Day Cover version of the album.
Highlights of Victory For The Comic Muse beyond the opening tracks include the heavily orchestrated drama of The Plough and a cover of The Associates' Party Fears Two which by all accounts sounds like a Divine Comedy song with its epic swooping riff.
Another highlight is the elegant melancholy of Lady Of A Certain Age, a literate Forster-ish tale of a retired upper class English lady living on the Continent where she is wooed by "nice young men". Only Neil Hannon can write and arrange songs suitable for such subject matter and, while his detractors may accuse him of pretentiousness and over-bombastic orchestrations, this is all part of the package. The Divine Comedy wouldn't be the highly individual act they are without the intelligent wit and musical extravagances. A little old-fashioned maybe but they should be applauded with Victory For The Comic Muse being another excellent LP crafted by a master of his own singular genre.
on 5 May 2006
I managed to get an advanced listen to the new album by Mr Hannon and i must say this, for me, is his best work yet. The album is not immedately as accessible as some of his other work but, give this one a few listens and you will be reminded of how talented this artist is and how unique the sound of his music has become.
It is evident that Hannon still knows how to compose a catchy pop tune. 'Diva Lady', the first single from the album is not as strong as some past single efforts but does leave it's mark. Given a listen or two, one will be hard-pushed to forget the catchy riff. Personally though, the pop masterpiece that is 'To Die a Virgin' is simply wonderfull and i hope this follows 'Diva Lady' onto the pop charts.
Possibly my favourite track on the album is 'Lady of a Certain Age' which forms an account of the desperate situation which befalls many an 'upper class' female with nothing but 'a chequebook and family tree' to bargain with in her latter years. The melody and arrangements on this tune are sublime and reflective of the album as a whole. Hannon has become one of the foremost arrangers of the modern music scene and this is highlighted in this album.
I would highly recommend this album to any fan of the band as they will no doubt adore it and also to those who simply wish to listen to something that bit different. This is a great example of an artist demonstrating what they do best. A fabulous aural journey from start to finish
on 21 June 2006
This new offering from the genius Neil Hannon lives up to all my hopes. Made in a little over two weeks with real musicians, this cd is a delight, melodic, soaring, and with the wonderful, wry and witty lyrics. But if you've read the other reviews you'll know this.
What makes this such a special set is the DVD which explained so much to me about how such a superb cd comes into existence. Funny, touching, a gentle view of two eventful weeks last December, and an insight into how real music is still being created. They were recording onto reel to reel tape! But it worked, the cd sounds wonderful.
The whole package is a delight as well, the stamp theme is great fun, and the old fashioned looking discs are terrific.I advise buying this for yourself and anyone who loves beautiful music.
on 29 June 2006
The Divine Comedy is one of those artists that I always enjoyed listening to on the radio but never intrigued me enough to spend my hard-earned cash on an album. However, there was something about the current single, Diva Lady, that finally prompted me to take the plunge and boy, am I pleased I did!
The first two thirds of the album are largely Divine Comedy standard fare; excellently-written pop songs that tell whimsical stories. Stand out tracks from this part of the album are To Die A Virgin, Lady Of A Certain Age and Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World. The only track that didn't work for me was the cover of The Associates' Party Fears Two. I felt it lacked the urgency of the original and who could equal Billy Mackenzie's incredible vocal performance?
The final third of the album is, to be frank, extraordinary! The Plough, Count Grassi and Snowball in Negative sound like they come from a Jacques Brel-esque operetta. They are sophisicated, complicated and above all, quite beautiful. These three songs stay with you long after the CD has finished revolving.
Overall, there is something for everyone on Victory For The Comic Muse. I shall now be investing in The Divine Comedy's back catalogue!
on 23 June 2006
There are those who think The Divine Comedy are no more, that the mediocre popular success (if one could call it that) of "Regeneration" and "Absent Friends", despite both albums containing songs of real quality and beauty, killed off an act that is too readily written off as mere musical slap-and-tickle. These people should immediately sit and listen to "Victory...", and discover that Neil Hannon is in fact better than ever. With echoes of 1994's "Promenade" album in terms of its musical soundscapes and vivid contrasts between songs and subject matter, this latest album from Enniskillen's finest stands up to repeated listening time and time again. Opener 'To Die a Virgin' is a standout track - strings purr a glorious, melodic hook over a downright funky, ELO-inspired guitar and bass, while Hannon recreates the sexual frustration of a teenager without being gratuitous. The album glides through the country stylings of 'Mother Dear' through to the single 'Diva Lady' - witty, observant, nicely crafted and not, as has been claimed, misogynistic in the least. However as a choice for a lead single this song may not have been the most appropriate. The next track, 'A Lady of a Certain Age', has already entranced Divine Comedy fans, and I believe that one would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not enjoy this track. The melody, the lyrics, the arrangement all fit together perfectly. 'Light of Day' is perhaps the closest this album comes to "the usual", musically speaking, as a charming ballad with a poignant side and an anthemic chorus. After the brief instrumental 'Threesome' comes the album's only cover, 'Party Fears Two', released originally by Associates in 1982. With a drum rhythm that will be familiar to fans of 'Tonight We Fly' from "Promenade", the song drives along at pace and is a fresh interpretation of a largely forgotten song. One could question Hannon for including a cover on the album, however, as many would argue that they would prefer to hear more of his own output - especially if it is as brilliant as 'Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World'. Mariachi trumpets, handclaps, and a shiny happy feel that's impossible to dislike - another standout track. The final triptych of songs on this album is much less accessible, but brilliant for it. 'The Plough' recalls Brel and Walker in spectacular fashion, and 'Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont', while eccentric, is a beautiful piece, combining spoken word with elegant vocal melodies and a gorgeous arrangement. The album's closer, 'Snowball in Negative', is just as unusual - but one cannot but be moved by its instrumental finish.
Overall, this is an album that reaffirms The Divine Comedy's status as an act that is unbowed by the demands of flitting musical trends - the very fact that this album is recorded reel-to-reel proves that this refusal to conform runs right down to the production values. Instead, Hannon's gift for lyrics and melody combine to produce eleven songs (ten, discounting the cover version) of great beauty. I have listened to this album repeatedly since I got it, and have not yet tired of it. Anyone who sees this release and dismisses it should look past the stereotype and give this album a chance. They will not fail to be seduced by its many and varied charms.
on 19 June 2006
This is a beautiful album. Neil Hannon somehow manages to keep writing the most amazing songs, and the eleven on this record are easily up there with his best ever work.
Absolute highlights include the very poppy and catchy 'To Die A Virgin', the melancholy, beautiful and heartbreaking 'Lady of a Certain Age' and the barmy and eccentric 'Count Grassi'. But to be honest, the whole album is a treat - moving from cheeky, frothy pop to epic, grand music at the drop of a hat.
The fact that this is easily up there with The Divine Comedy's best albums is a tribute to the seemingly endless talent of Neil Hannon. This is a real return to the brilliant sound of his first few albums (while still bringing plenty of new stuff to the table), and isn't as over-produced as his two most recent LPs, lending it an immediate feel all of its own - you could almost be in the room with the musicians while they play. If you've never heard any Divine Comedy before, take a punt on this and enjoy something that's totally unique. Nobody else makes music like this, so it should be treasured.
on 19 July 2006
Yet again another truley fantastic album from one of the best song writers in the last decade. The musical arrangements flow very naturally and the songs contain a good healthy balance of musical structure, wit and orchestral content to keep every fan happy for another few years until the next album. If you liked any of the previous 3 - 4 albums then every penny you spend on this album will make it worth the while.
Neil is a true musical maestro and yet again has exceeded his own high expectations and produced what i think will become an all time classic album.
The music press have been hailing this album as a `return to form' and 'his best album since Casanova' when, truthfully, Neil Hannon has been releasing consistently fantastic music since his very first release. I've always been a big fan of the man who consistently couples intelligent, witty and meaningful lyrics with brilliant music which could be described as having classical, baroque and vaudeville influences whilst still being reminiscent of some of the greatest musicians & performers of the 20th Century - The Beatles, The Beach Boys & Scott Walker. One thing is for certain, it's difficult to really categorise The Divine Comedy and that's the way I like them - they're one of a kind.
This album opens with To Die A Virgin, a very catchy (and funny) guitar & strings driven based song about sexual frustration, followed by the warm & genial Mother Dear, a tribute to his mother, delivered with a near-country swing complete with toe-tapping banjo riff. The next track was the first single from the album, the smart, snappy, upbeat Diva Lady, a caustic tongue-in-cheek love song to the Paris Hiltons and Jennifer Lopezes of this world.
A Lady Of A Certain Age is a slow-tempo acoustic guitar & strings-backed track which glides along sadly, describing an elder lady who has lived the life of luxury but is a truly lonely figure. The Light Of Day is a poignant, beautiful, gentle and dreamy song about lost love (Why must the summer always turn into the fall?/Why must we lose love to ever know love at all?) - my only complaint about this song is that it's too short. This is followed by a short and delightful piano interlude entitled Threesome.
The next track is a up tempo romp about alcoholic debauchery (in a similar musical vein to `Tonight We Fly') called Party Fears Two, which, although pleasant, has - up to this point - really failed to engage my interest - and it's the only song on this album not written by Neil Hannon (a cover version of a song by The Associates). It's easily topped by the pop sensibilities of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, a funny tale about a man who doesn't understand his girlfriend, referencing a 1980s TV programme about the weird & wonderful. It's genuinely pleasing to the ear, a great pop song with lyrics to really make you smile.
I'd love to learn the inspiration, if any, for the ninth track, The Plough, a pop-opera waltz about an ruthless, intelligent social climber which ponders theological questions and provides a thoughtful moral narrative - excellent. This is followed by a spoken-word-over-soundtrack piece reminiscent of some of his earlier pieces, Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont, which proves to be a little pretentious but just about succeeds. The album closer, Snowball In Negative, is unusual and mournful, but the instrumental, piano-led finale to the song is utterly gorgeous.
For any fans of Neil Hannon, this album will not disappoint - and it has the potential to win over new fans as well, with accessible, high-quality songs being released as singles and, although this group is probably just not mainstream enough to really enjoy the success they deserve, hopefully this album will contribute to The Divine Comedy's modest success story, pleasing all of their current admirers whilst perhaps winning over a select few. This is a superb album which I would recommend to any sophisticated music fans with exquisite taste.