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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Technically a band, "The Divine Comedy" is centred around singer-songwriter Neil Hannon. Hannon was born in Northern Ireland in 1970 and models his singing style on Scott Walker. Aptly enough for the son of a Bishop, his band provided the theme tune for the classic sitcom "Father Ted". They also recorded a version of "My Lovely Horse", the song Ted and Dougal entered into the Eurosong Contest. (Unfortunately, it isn't included on the album !!). "A Secret History" is the band's greatest hits package, was released in 1999 and covers the band's time on the Setanta label. Two of the tracks had been previously unreleased - "Gin Soaked Boy" and "Too Young to Die".

One of my favourite tracks - "National Express" opens the album. Mocking a British coach firm, it's Neil and the band at their best. A very catchy tune, the witty lyrics and Neil's crooning all add up perfectly. (The song's video was also very funny.) "The Pop Star's Fear of the Pollen Count" is another excellent tune. It's an up-tempo number, with the brass section really adding to the mood of the song. It's immediately followed by "The Frog Princess", apparently about a French ex-girlfriend. Containing snippets of the French National Anthem, the stinging lyrics are so at odds with the gentle tune, I can't help laughing at it. "Everybody Knows (Except You)" and "Gin Soaked Boy" - one of the album's "new" tracks - also deserve special mentions.

Sometimes you find an album so good, it would be easier just to list the occasional 'bad' or slightly average track. While the tracks I've listed above are my favourites, there just aren't any bad tracks here to list. It's an excellent album from start to finish - with a runing time of seventy minutes, it's filled with catchy tunes, very cleverly written lyrics and it will prove to be money very well spent.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2000
This album is an interesting collection of songs taken from the myriad of Divine Comedy albums. Well known songs such as 'National Express' reside alongside lesser known ones such as 'Lucy'. Neil Hannon specialises in grand operatic melodies and these certainly do not disappoint, 'The Certainty of Chance' being a diverse blend of strings and brass, backed up by Hannon's fine vocals. In my opinion, 'The pursuit of happiness' is one of the finest songs that Hannon has written, closely followed by 'The Summerhouse'. The long oboe refrains in 'The Summerhouse' are fantastically well put together. Other notable songs are 'Becoming more like Alfie' and 'Generation Sex'. The songs on this album all have one thing in common: they are great to sing along to! Put this on in your car, and the journey will fly by. Whats more, the tightness of the compositions will have you humming parts of the songs for days afterwards... In conclusion, this album is a worthy introduction to the Divine Comedy for people who have not had the pleasure of hearing the bands music.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 1999
As good as this Best Of is, it could have been TRULY magnificent - A collection of the best songs by one of the most innovative and imaginative pop bands around, departing from Setanta records before moving to a major record label, yet it could have been so much more. There is:
* The obvious (National Express (natch), Something for the Weekend, Everybody Knows, Generation Sex, Alfie, Songs of Love, Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count) singles or instantly recognisable album tracks. Each one is monumentally catchy and infectious (dangerously so).
* The new (Gin-Soaked Boy, Too Young to Die) - a couple of the best songs they've ever done - Gin-Soaked Boy being so hypnotically repetitive that you can virtually recall the song from scratch after the first listen (See? Simple construction - fantastic song) and Too Young to Die, a song full of raw emotion and power, with Hannon looking forward rather than back ("Maybe it's time for a change?")
* And the baffling (Certainty of Chance, Summerhouse, Daddy's Car). Good as these songs are, if album tracks were to be chosen, why not follow the example of putting on songs like Lucy (Wordsworth's rambling epic of a poem and Tonight We Fly instead? We could have had Death of Supernaturalist, Bernice Bob's Her Hair (Catchy and infectious song version of F Scott Fitzgerald's story of the same name), Europop (synthesiser-laden eighties pastiche - but good!), If... (Truly beautiful with marvellous lyrics - "If you were the road, I'd go all the way"), Through a Long and Sleepless Night (The best thing they've ever done - A crescendo of sound), Commuter Love (Tortured romantic - one of Hannon's finest song's), Here Comes the Flood (Choral jiggery - pokery, doom - laden, noisy, yet cheerful with it), Sunrise (About the Troubles in Ireland - "I was born in Londonderry, I was born in Derry city too") or When the Lights go out all Over Europe (About European cinema - don't let that fool you, when Hannon cracks into the chorus, you'll know about it).
All in all, this is a good (only a good) introduction to the gorgeous world of Neil Hannon, but it all feels a little empty - there's certainly something missing. Their next album will have to be something extra special to top their best - The beautiful, yet tortured Short Album about Love - and hopefully will have a bit more publicity behind them
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2000
I am a fairly recent convert to the idiosyncratic genius of Neil Hannon, and for the uninitiated this album provides the most easily accessible of his work. The synthesis of clever ideas, quirky lyrics, beautiful music and outstandingly passionate delivery make The Divine Comedy one of the greatest outfits of the pop world there has been for quite some time. From the catchy "National Express" & "Generation Sex" to the classics - "Becoming More Like Alfie", "Something For The Weekend" etc... this album's infectious melodic beauty cannot fail to capture the imagination. In my opinion, "Everybody Knows (Except You)" is the highpoint of this toweringly powerful album. Phenomenal!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 29 February 2008
Got this after hearing 'Songs Of Love' on Radio 2.
It's the only song I've heard since The Beatles to have made the goosebumps stand up all over on a first listen.
You have all heard the song before... but not this version. The DJ and listener who requested it agreed it was 'one of the most beautiful songs ever written'. They're not wrong. It's worth buying the album for this track alone.
Then of course, there's Generation Sex with its foreplay of incredible melody & chord sequences, brought to orgasmic fulfilment with fully-orchestrated key changes.
The melody, humour and sharply observant lyrics of 'National Express' and 'Something For The Weekend'... and so on.
This album is aural prozac.
Do yourself a favour...
BUY IT NOW!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2009
Plenty of artists only release a 'Best of' when they know their time is over. Not so Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, who released this compilation at the height of his popularity back in 1999, and yet is still going strong today (there's a new album due at the start of 2010, and the brilliant Duckworth Lewis Method, a collaboration with Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, has just been released at the time of writing).

'A Secret History' is a joy from start to finish, and although it leaves out some true DC classics, that's forgivable as this was clearly designed to be as commercial and accessible as possible, and to be an introduction to their eclectic range of music. Indeed, I first discovered The Divine Comedy with this album - and I promptly went out and bought their entire back catalogue within the same week!

It's a must-have for any fan of real, intelligent music, played with real instruments and with a truly powerful voice at the helm.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2004
The principle market for a "best of" compilation is the casual shopper, rather than the hardcore fan. As such, it predominantly features singles and other more accessible tracks; those that the casual shopper will recognise and enjoy. One or two exclusive new songs, or maybe a special edition with extra material, are thrown in to entice the weathered fan. These are the criteria by which a "best of" must be judged, and the choice of material must be considered within these parameters.
For hardcore fans, this will never be your favourite album, as your choice of seventeen favourite Divine Comedy tracks will surely be unique. A "best of", ironically, is rarely much to do with the best. Is National Express a better track than Don't Look Down, is Lucy better than Woman of the World, is Marvelous Party better than If...? Not in my estimation. But that's not the point. Having said that though, I'm struggling to think of many more tracks on this collection I would be so happy to substitute. With the likes of Frog Princess, Songs of Love and Summerhouse on show, this is an extraordinarily rich display of strength.
As for the new bits and pieces, we have a remake of Pollen Count that is bright, colourful and shiny but doesn't add much to the original. We have the captivating, emotional Too Young To Die. But the crème de la crème has to be Gin Soaked Boy; a cracking single, catchy as hell, with lyrics that prove that, when he puts his mind to it, Hannon still has it licked.
By any criteria, the strength of this material is awesome.
Important footnote: if you are a casual shopper buy this, but if you are hardcore fan you must get the limited edition 2CD book-set (available elsewhere in Amazon) for maximum fulfillment.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
It's true, 'Best Of' compilations are often a pain in the left knee. Either they're in a terrible order or they feature a Christmas hit slap bang in the middle. I'm yet to buy a John Lennon collection that doesn't feature Happy Xmas (War is Over) as track 6, and when you're listening in July, hearing John and Yoko whisper 'Happy Christmas' is quite depressing. Luckily, there is no Christmas song on this album and I can safely say that it's the best 'Best Of' I've ever bought. Generous in its amount, all the songs stand out as 'the best Divine Comedy song'. The fact is, there is no best Divine Comedy song, but if I were held at nasty-carrot point 'Songs of Love' and 'Frog Princess' would be my choice. I'm also unaware of a fun alternative to listening to 'I Went to a Marvellous Party' which is listener-friendly to all those who think Rave is real music. The question is, 'right, what's next?'
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is the sound of the Divine Comedy pre-major label (Parlaphone) deal. Originally released on the small Irish indie Sentata, these are the singles and album tracks that made Neil Hannon's reputation as a clever, erudite and totally unique songwriter. Then of course there is THAT voice - near operatic at times and able to handle everything from straight ahead beat-group pop to string drenched Scott Walkeresque melodrama.
Hannon is also a lyricist of great skill and wit - something that is often overlooked - and these songs are enthused with his offbeat take on life, love, loss and the absurdity of the human race.
All the major hits are present - 'National Express', 'Generation Sex', the lovely 'Everybody Knows and the lyrically vicious 'Frog Princess'. 'Becoming More Like Alfie' still manages to raise a smile with it's swinging 60's arrangement and mirth enducing lyrics and no one but Hannon could take a song about hayfever (Pop Singers Fear Of The Pollen Count) and turn it into a rollicking top 30 hit. The jewel though is still the magnificent 'Something For The Weekend' - a true classic.
Lesser known tracks 'Your Daddy's Car' and 'Tonight We Fly' also shine as does the dark 'Certainty Of Chance'.
The Divine Comedy aren't to everyone's taste - Hannon can often be too arch and overly fussy with arrangements and his smart arse take on the world does occasionally grate - but when he gets it right there isn't anyone in the current music scene to touch him. The drum n bass cover of Noel Cowards 'Ive Been To A Marvellous Party' is absolute rubbish though !
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2004
Plenty of bands only release a 'Best of' when they know their time is over. Not so The Divine Comedy, who released this compilation at the height of their popularity back in 1999, and yet are still going strong today (in fact, their latest album 'Absent Friends' is possibly their best yet).
'A Secret History' is a joy from start to finish, and although it leaves out some true DC classics, that's forgivable as this was clearly designed to be as commercial and accessible as possible, and to be an introduction to their eclectic range of music. Indeed, I first discovered The Divine Comedy with this album - and I promptly went out and bought their entire back catalogue within the same week!
It's a must-have for any fan of real music, played with real instruments and with a truly powerful voice at the helm, in this age of manufactured pop.
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