on 11 November 2003
This album seems to be something of a curate's egg for some fans of Neil Hannon's previous work. Gone are the sweeping orchestral backdrops, big production and sardonic lyrical wit, to be replaced by more sparse arrangements and a decidedly more cynical outlook. It puzzles me that some people view this change of direction as a concession to a more commercial sound required by a major record label (or selling out), or a contrived attempt to emulate the likes of Radiohead (hiring Nigel Godrich as producer), or the token duff album every band produces once in a while.
What nonsense. This album finds Hannon in a more introspective and musicianly frame of mind; contributing guitar on every track this time around and giving the band more of a look-in. Hence the stripped-down, band-orientated sound. Surely if you're a musician, or any creative type for that matter, you are constantly looking for fresh angles from which to create; new perspectives in which to present your work. Hannon could easily have continued his trademark foppish suit-and-tie orchestral whimsy and probably become a huge star, but he has the wisdom to leave it before it becomes boring and predictable and tread a new path.
This is very much evident with album-opener "Timestretched", a muted, downbeat song in stark contrast to the big opening numbers of previous albums. Straight away you know that this is not The Divine Comedy of old. "Bad Ambassador" unleashes a bit more bombast and reassures the listener that Hannon has not abandoned the violins altogether. The only song remotely approaching familiar territory is the lovely "Perfect Love Song", before the entirely unfamiliar crops up in the dark, edgy, guitar-driven "Note To Self".
From here on in, the tone is distinctly cynical - disillusioned, despairing, angry, world-weary, all hung together by a tentative thread of slight optimism - but certainly never contrived. Hannon's bemusement at the ridiculousness of many aspects of modern life appears to be the main theme - he takes swipes at religion, vanity and celebrity culture, amongst other things. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to if you were expecting Hannon's social observations to follow previous examples ("Generation Sex", for instance), but one gets the feeling that Nigel Godrich's remit was to reign in Hannon's usual predilections. So, where you might normally expect a grandiose orchestral setting for Hannon's melancholy reflections, there is a pared-right-down arrangement with an acoustic guitar being gently strummed in the background. What was once lush and flamboyant becomes bleak and austere.
As the album title suggests, this is the work of a man tired of his old image (and possibly the public perception of his work, perhaps done no favours by "National Express" being the hit it was), and eager to tread pastures new. The lyrics, while perhaps more edgy in places than previous offerings, are no less articulate (or witty) for it, and Hannon's heart is still very much on his sleeve. This is an album strong on tunes and thought-provoking lyrics, and it would be a foolish DC fan indeed who dismisses it just because it sounds different. If you want violins and bassoons and songs about European cinema, there is a wealth of wonderful material in Hannon's back catalogue for you to explore. Hannon has moved on, and continues to do so - since the release of this album he has disbanded the seven-piece incarnation of The Divine Comedy to go it alone. One wonders what this latest change in format will bring. Having seen Hannon showcase some new songs (with a string quartet) at the Royal Festival Hall at last year's Meltdown Festival, I am optimistic.
This album represents the first step in a new direction for The Divine Comedy, and all praise to Neil Hannon for striving to break new ground rather than produce more of the same. Pay no heed to those disgruntled fans spouting all manner of twaddle about Hannon "trying to be an indie kid" and other such drivel, and appreciate a fine album of intelligent, well-crafted and articulate music. Then perhaps delve into his previous work and see what you have been missing.
on 11 February 2004
The real artist always renews himself constantly without ever losing his very own personality. The widest your talent goes, the further you'll be walking on new ways to enlighten other facettes of your own genius - if you have some. Well Neil Hannon has some.
So why compare ? Many just think 'Regeneration' is not as good as the other DC albums because it doesn't sound at all like them. Thank God it doesn't ! If you want to listen to the same old songs ever on and again, just keep listening to the same albums, but if you want to know more about Neil Hannon's particular vision and his amazing capability to (re)generate the listener's emotions through a new style, go buy 'Regeneration', and you certainly won't regret it. Don't listen to the old fans and get a synthetic view of what a real artist can reach to when he releases himself free from ancient ways of success. Of course you have to get also 'Promenade', 'a short album about love'... But 'Regeneration' you must get, for sure.
on 13 March 2001
This recording definitely benefits from the influence of Radiohead's producer, Nigel Godrich. None of the fluid lyricism which the Divine Comedy specialise in is lost, and there are still lots of lush strings, but occasional moments of sparer arrangement and a more blurred sound (presaged in Eric The Gardener?) give this balance. The cynicism which sometimes tinged Fin De Siècle is also gone, even on the delighfully knowing Bad Ambassador, although the humour is still there (especially on Perfect Lovesong). All the tracks are great, but stand-outs for me are Love What You Do (possibly the best bass line in the world, ever, II) and Lost Property.
This is perhaps a subtler album than previous Divine Comedy output. Neil Hannon's amazing voice is put to better use than ever, again sometimes benefitting from holding back a little. A nice touch is the use of recorders (who the hell would have believed THEY would ever sound so good?) giving a sort of insane innocence to the sound.
They just keep getting better.
on 4 October 2005
Regeneration is quite a different album from the rest of the Divine Comedy back-catalouge, and it owes it mostly to its very different sound, created largely by Radiohead's producer.
Some may think this is a case of jumping on the musical bandwagon (as Radiohead were very much at the cutting-edge at the time). But after a listen or two to the album, any such concerns can safely be ignored. The arragements are beautifully constructed, and each is a great tune in itself. The sombre, haunting production creates a completely different sound than the usual jaunty, classical sound.
Neil Hannon has also written some different songs to match the sound. There are still some moments of comedy and whimsy, but most of the songs contain more angst, and are generally more pensive. Neil Hannon is a brilliant lyricist, and as thought-provoking work goes, you are unlikely to come across anything else as passionate, interesting, or as accessable. He covers everything from dumbing down society, the hypocrisy of the churchgoers mercedes in the church driveway on Sundays, to the difficulty of not quite wanting to live the rock-n-roll lifestyle in the way we expect.
If you haven't heard the Divine Comedy before you should probably get Casanova to get an idea of what the body of their work is like. But if you found them too jaunty, or simply want something a little thought-provoking, then get Regeneration.
I bought this album after getting one of those brilliant promotional CDs the Independent used to do. It contained acoustic versions of two tracks, Bad Ambassador and Mastermind, and the single Love What You Do as well as a few old tracks.
Love What You Do is a great single, and is the sort of song that you will hear and think "oh, is that The Divine Comedy?" when you play the album for the first time.
The two stand-out tracks, though, are Bad Ambassador, with a delightfully flowing verse followed by a soaring chorus, and Mastermind, which remains one of my favourite songs. I think it's the lyrics, "You don't need a law degree to set your mind and spirit free", "Every girl weeps like a willow, every boy cries into his pillow, every tear disappears in the morning sun", which make it, but it is one of the most emotionally full tracks I have ever heard. A superb composition that anyone would be proud.
The rest of the album, though not up to the superb standard of those three tracks, is excellent, and keeps the mood well.
I later bought Fin De Siecle, which I didn't connect with nearly as much, and I wonder if this is perhaps the highpoint of a career for a band with a lot to offer... if you're willing to listen.
on 30 October 2001
Regeneration, the Divine's Comedy's last album is undoubtedly their finest. Having rode the peaks and troughs over the last decade, Neil Hannon takes his tongue out of cheek long enough to deliver what is the best album of the year.
Regeneration starts with the delicate "Timestretched", a yearning hymn to all that we cannot have and finishes with "The Beauty Regime", a lampooning of fatuous obsession with external appearance.
The album is almost faultless, with tracks like Bad Ambassador, Eye of the Needle and the title track, it never fails to live up to all that we've come to expect from an artist who has finally found musical maturity.
On this evidence, Neil Hannon's new adventure should be another notch on the modern masters' bedpost.
on 14 March 2006
The new millennium was a curious time for those bands once at the forefront of the Britpop scene. Many imploded, some mutated and others continued with business as usual. The holy trinity of Pulp, Blur and Oasis showed their individuality by taking wildly different career paths - Blur lost a member, dabbled in world music and came back with an album that tried to sound like OK Computer, but instead, sounded like a sub-standard The Bends - Pulp made a darker album produced by Scott Walker dealing with murder, obsession and the asylum issue - whilst Oasis lumbered on as a tribute act to themselves. Meanwhile, Radiohead got weird with the ambient electronic experiments of Kid A and Amnesiac, alienating many who wanted the dull rock of 1995 that would later be reflected by Travis - Luke Haines (of The Auteurs) would form Black Box Recorder, score a top-twenty hit with a song about adolescence and produce obscure soundtracks for films about bedroom terrorists - whilst Neil Hannon (of the Divine Comedy) would push for a strange sound that managed to incorporate the traditional indie-pop guitar sound, with an edge somewhat closer to ambient or post-rock.
Written off at the time of release as The Divine Comedy attempting to ape Radiohead's classic OK Computer, Regeneration can now be appreciated as a much more interesting album that deals specifically with post-millennium turmoil, the shape of the world circa 2001, and the continual dumbing down of society into a tired tabloid pulp. The album is wildly different than anything Hannon had done before, with the sound of Regeneration rejecting the 'one man and his orchestra' template that had benefited albums like Casanova, A Short Album about Love and Fin de Siecle, and instead incorporating a full-band performance from collaborators Bryan Mills, Ivor Talbot, Stuart Bates, Miggy Barradas and long-term arranger/collaborator Joby Talbot, alongside Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. The use of Godrich as producer means that the album sounds like every other album that he's been involved with since OK Computer, so there's definite shades of The Invisible Band, Sea Change and Talkie Walkie... However, if we sift beneath the electronic blips and bleeps and the swathes of atmospheric backing, we find some of Hannon's very best songs, which are here all the more affecting when stripped of the more familiar orchestral arrangements and that BIG theatrical sound.
Like Fin de Siecle before it, Regeneration is probably Hannon's most pessimistic work, with the songs here painting a picture of soulless streets, vacuous thoughts and characters devoid of morals and emotions. Many of the songs have an alienated feel to them, particularly a song like the opener, Timestretched, which finds Hannon introducing the album with the aching refrain "there's not enough hours in the day / to say all that I want to say...". The song acts as a short introduction that sets the template for the album as a whole and leads us smoothly into the forgotten single Bad Ambassador, which probably should be seen as a rock song in the mould of U2's career peak Achtung Baby, with a great vocal performance from Hannon (which almost comes close to "snarling"!!) and an epic guitar solo probably more at home on a classic Queen or Pink Floyd LP. The lyrics, as ever, are fantastic, with Hannon intoning what sounds like absolute nonsense ("I wanna chill / wanna sit real still / wanna sleep like the dead on a bed of roses...") before taking it to the bridge with the fascinating lyric; "I wanna abseil down my ivory tower / and buy myself a Jaguar!!".
Throughout the album, Hannon can be seen pushing his lyrical wit further than ever before, using metaphors and irony in songs like Perfect Lovesong (the only song here that recalls the classic Divine Comedy pop style and a track that was probably included under orders from EMI!!) and the heartfelt Lost Property (in which Hannon lists a number of discarded items before tying them all together with the chorus; "all through my life / there have been / many rare and precious things / I have tried / to call mine..."). The Eye of the Needle is bleaker stuff, building around an acoustic guitar and that Godrich style ambient backing... with Hannon singing vague lyrics that just evoke a sense of urgent sadness, with that standout lyric; "the cars in the churchyard / are shiny and German / distinctly at odds with / the theme of the sermon / and all through communion / I study the people / threading themselves through / the eye of the needle", somehow managing to encapsulate a century's worth of social and political horror (or something like that!!). Songs like Love What You Do and Dumb it Down continue the bleaker themes and the lulled sound of drifting guitar chords, lush keyboards, subtle percussion and a hint of piano, with Hannon's weary voice tying the whole thing together perfectly.
Despite what some critics have said, Regeneration is a great album... both musically and lyrically. The songs more than stand up to those on Liberation or Fin de Siecle, whilst the overall song-writing is here more impressive than on popular albums like Casanova and 2004's return to norm, Absent Friends. Yes, the production does scream Radiohead-lite... but look beyond this to the deft instrumentation, the evocative lyrics and the tremendous melodies and you have something approaching a minor-masterpiece. The closing run of songs include the gorgeous Mastermind (which builds around acoustic guitar, some minimal piano and Godrich's production effects, and finds Hannon crooning lines like "every nose is a vacuum cleaner / in the loved-up London arena / every eye flies a dollar sign for me... / every tongue will wag if you want it / every lung has a shadow on it / every heart comes apart at the seams" before gleefully intoning the slogan; "you don't need an indie song... to figure out what's going on") as well as the title track, and the gorgeous downer of a climax, The Beauty Regime ("and if your life depresses you / just live it through / your favourite movie star..."), which brings things to a close on a hopeful, though bitterly ironic, closing note.
It's been three years since Fin De Siècle, and in this time, things have changed. Neil Hannon has left Setenta for Parlophone, he has got rid of his dark suits and ties, and, for the first time, The Divine Comedy is not a one-man band anymore. Although the man is still in charge of the compositions, he now has the humility to let others interfere with his music. With Regeneration, Neil Hannon strips his lyrical compositions to the bone. Left is the spinal cord of his talent: perfect pop melodies and quintessential song writing. Gone are the Scott Walker influences, the string quartets of the early days or the large formations of the later years - Joby Talbot is still in charge of the string section, but is, this time, very much in the background -, in are simple guitar and piano lines and a more classic pop/rock structure. Hannon's lyrics have evolved too. Still using witty quotations and old-fashioned forms, his songs are more straight to the point. So, what is left of The Divine Comedy as it was known, the fans ask? Well, more than could be imagined at first: the melancholy and darkness that inhabited Fin De Siècle draw their dark blanket over the whole album, especially taking care of Timestretched, Lost Property or Regeneration; the perfect melodies that graced Casanova or A Short Album About Love still linger around Perfect Lovesong, Love What You Do or Mastermind. What differentiates Regeneration from its predecessor is that Hannon doesn't seem to deal in instant three-and-a-half minutes pop songs this time round. No Becoming Like Alfie. No Bernice Bobs Her Hair. No When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe. No National Express. The nearest he gets to it is on Perfect Lovesong. The album requires more time to reveal itself, and The Divine Comedy deserve for their audience to be patient. There isn't much here for the ones who liked the DIY-in-your-bedroom innocence of Libaration or Promenade, the flamboyance of Casanova, the panache of A Short Album About Love. But the format adopted here does put Hannon's lyrics in a very different perspective, almost giving them a life of their own, and revealing the man as a true poet in the process. Neil Hannon has taken the brave decision to change direction before he started parodying himself, risking disconcerting his fans. The result is an album intense and interesting, even if it hasn't got the class and grandeur of its predecessors. Regeneration suggests that there is more than one way to appreciate The Divine Comedy
on 2 March 2002
Regeneration IS a good album, and yes there are some incredible songs on it [Eye of the Needle and Mastermind] but it isn't their best by any stretch of the imagination. Some fans rue the departure of the cheeky lyrics of old, others embrace the new maturity and serious outlook. But the only opinion that truly matters is mine... sorry it's yours, buy this album and see what you think.
on 21 March 2001
The album represents another masterpiece for the band. There is no song to match the comical nature of songs such as National Express, I've been to a Marvellous party and Generation Sex. But, DC retan much of their humour.
Neil Hannon has managed to create a much more mature and fantastic sound with this album.
While certain songs, such as Perfect Lovesong and Bad Ambassador, instantly strike you as being excellent, some others are definitely growers.
I would recommend this album to anyone. It's the first album in a while that I have on constant play. It continues to get better the more I listen to it.
Neil Hannon has once more demonstrated his fantastic lyrical ability on this album. He has such a marvellous ability in treating life's great issues in a lighthearted and easy listening manner.