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This review is from: A Short Album About Love (Audio CD)
This is the album which sustained me through my second year at university. It means a great deal to me and provokes a lot of very happy memories.
And what an album it is! Seven hauntingly beautiful love songs, recorded live (without an audience) at London's Shepherds Bush Empire with a full orchestra. Neil Hannon's wry lyrics and smooth-as-chocolate voice melt the heart with several different perspectives on the experience of love.
Many have made the error of assuming Hannon to be nothing more than a purveyor of lightweight comic pastiche. To make that assumption is to miss the point entirely - listen more closely and you will find that beneath Hannon's sardonic wit beats the heart of a true romantic poet and articulate social commentator.
"In Search of Happiness" kicks things off in an appropriately upbeat manner - Hannon stands back and lets the orchestra do most of the talking here, and Joby Talbot's lush arrangement gives the song a Lloyd-Webber-esque feel.
The single "Everybody Knows (Except You)" finds Hannon, in his customary dry way, opening his heart to the object of his unrequited love. He made a small boy cry, you know. The pedantic nit-picker in me would point out that that roughly half-way through the song, Hannon cries "You know I love you baby!", when the whole point of the song is that his "baby" doesn't know... but who am I to make an issue of it?!
The heartfelt "Somebody" changes the tone altogether. "I need to be someone's somebody", he sings devastatingly. Check out the howling guitar feedback in the background during the extended orchestra play-out... it reflects the pained tone of the lyrics and vocal perfectly.
"If" is cleverly deceptive, deliberately wrong-footing the listener in the guise of a beautiful, seemingly poignant and sincere declaration of undying love and loyalty, until the dark twist at the end reveals Hannon's true intent.
"If I Were You (I'd Be Through With Me)" finds Hannon marvelling at a lover for choosing him and staying with him, warts and all. The orchestra swells magnificently during the final chorus to wonderful effect... make sure you turn it right up! Curiously, when I saw the band play what was to be one of their final gigs as a seven-piece at Brixton Academy in October 2001, Hannon introduced this song as being about "...being in love with a lesbian, and knowing that you'll never be a lesbian..." Maybe he was explaining a deeper meaning to the song, maybe he was having a bit of a laugh... maybe I've missed the point!
"Timewatching" is a re-recorded version of a track from "Liberation", The Divine Comedy's first album. It's much improved here, more mellow in its performance and with a stronger string arrangement.
"I'm All You Need" is a fitting closing track. The opening chords have "finale" written all over them, the song starting gently as Hannon pleads with his heroine to stop wasting her time with shallow idiots and realise that... well, the title says it all. The orchestra kicks in to give the chorus a real "oomph!", and takes centre-stage for a final flourish before returning the song to its' gentle beginning, fading out appropriately to the album's conclusion.
Neil Hannon is a sickeningly talented individual - multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, lyricist of extraordinary articulacy, imagination and biting wit... and that voice! How such a small, scrawny, pasty-looking man, who surely must always have been picked last for the football team in school PE lessons, can produce such a powerful voice, possessed of such beauty, clarity and expression, is one of nature's mysteries. Good on him.
Joby Talbot (keyboards) also deserves praise. His orchestral arrangements complement the songs perfectly, providing a wonderful backdrop and coming to the fore when necessary without ever being overbearing. Many bands have tried, with varying degrees of success, to integrate themselves with an orchestra. This is an unqualified success. It grabs you by the heart and makes it soar (not sore!). And Hannon and Talbot have the wisdom not to plough the same field for the sake of an easy life, as the radically different "Regeneration" album from 2001, with its band-orientated sound and stripped-down arrangments shows.
I cannot recommend this album highly enough. It is 34 minutes of pure, heartfelt beauty which will touch your soul and reassure you that amidst the plethora of manufactured, soulless pop stars constantly rammed down our throats, there are true artists with a great deal to move us and stir our souls.