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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 26 April 2017
Fabulous CD and great price
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on 1 March 2017
Great cd
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on 28 March 2004
The Divine Comedy's 2001 album 'Regeneration' was a great piece of work, showing that Neil Hannon can turn his hand to any style of music he wants to. However, some of it lacked the sparkle, the magic, that The Divine Comedy had become known for.
With 'Absent Friends' the sparkle and the magic are back with devastatingly effective results. From the rousing title track to the heartfelt 'Charmed Life', this is probably Hannon's most balanced and beautiful body of work to date (and for that honour it's up against some tough competition). The 'downbeat-yet-uplifting' tracks (something which only Neil Hannon seems able to write) of 'Leaving Today', 'The Wreck of the Beautiful' and 'Freedom Road' are nicely juxtaposed with the more immediate, fast-paced tracks such as 'Come Home Billy Bird', 'The Happy Goth' and the childlike and playful 'My Imaginary Friend'. The mixture works well, leaving the first-time listener never quite sure what's going to arrive next. From dramatic orchestral sounds to tender, intimate moments, this album is never anything less than the height of aural pleasure.
It's not often something that's been awaited for such a long period of time lives up to expectations. With 'Absent Friends' The Divine Comedy has surpassed them, and this is highly recommended as the best album in many a year.
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on 4 February 2004
Neil Hannon's back, and it sounds fantastic.
Looks like he's listened to a lot of Scott Walker (the title track, 'Sticks & Stones', 'Leaving Today' are heavily influenced but Hannon manages to make them sound fresh ).
Though mixed by Nigel Godrich, "Absent Friends" just sounds miles away from "Regeneration".
A sort of return to the "Liberation"/"Promenade" era, with orchestral arrangements back at full force. (with the assistance of ex Divine Comedy member Joby Talbot)
Hannon's voice really stands out in this collection of stories, mostly written on the road when Neil toured the USA with Ben Folds in 2002. (that's when he had showcased the songs "Wreck Of The Beautiful", "Happy Goth", "Our Mutual Friend", "Charmed Life" or "Come Home Billy Bird" (first single of the album to be released on March 22nd).
All in all a beautiful, rich and clever album.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2017
Neil Hannon’s 2004 album, still under the guise of The Divine Comedy, is a truly wonderful, lush slice of theatrical pop music. As the title intimates, there is a running theme throughout of rueful melancholy and escapism, primarily evoking personal (sometimes heroic) human memories and experience, and extending to animals and the odd ship! For me, it is the lush orchestral (often poppier) songs that impress most, but the lower-key, acoustic-driven songs also have an increasingly haunting effect and grow on the listener over time.

The links (likes and influences) between Hannon and (early period) Scott Walker are very apparent here, whether it be via the orchestral arrangement on the vibrant title song opener (in which both humans – Jean Seberg, Steve McQueen, Oscar Wilde – and animals – space-dog Laika – are name-checked) or the uncanny vocal similarity on a song like Leaving Today. Elsewhere, the pop appeal of the likes of Come Home Billy Bird (an outpouring from the perspective of a stressed international businessman) and the nicely ironic The Happy Goth is irresistible, whilst the lyrical irony of Sticks And Stones – suggesting that (music critics’) words can hurt as much as actions – is worthy of Morrissey. Equally, though, the more laid-back, melancholic tunes – such as The Wreck Of The Beautiful and Freedom Road – increasingly resonate, whilst album closer, Charmed Life, emerges from the preceding heartache to provide a reflectively optimistic conclusion. But, for me, the album’s undoubted pièce de résistance is (for me) the sweeping epic, Our Mutual Friend, a sublimely melodic and dynamic song of unrequited love, mixing the everyday (pubs, nightclubs, 45s) with the more profound and whose orchestral arrangement is reminiscent of the other major Hannon influencer (here and elsewhere), Michael Nyman.

Thus, Hannon’s music here calls to mind, at various points, many references – Walker, Nyman, Belle & Sebastian, Black Box Recorder (guest Lauren Laverne sounding like Sarah Nixey on Come Home Billy Bird), John Cale (Paris 1919 era), stage musical productions and more – but, in the end, it is undeniably Hannon and a great example of a timeless pop classic.
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on 10 April 2004
God, this is glorious. No, really. I warn you that this will be an unashamed rave. Hopefully a pithily formulated and incisive, spot-on-nail-on-the-head kind of review. But a rave nevertheless.
It seems to be a musical truism that, the richer bands get, the richer their orchestration in direct parallel. As the money rolls in, so the budget increases and in direct proportion to this, the bums on seats in the recording studio. But whereas some bands leave you with that kind of « I discovered them first when they were hip and unknown » nostalgia for the sparse, almost homely arrangements of their early days, The Divine Comedy have reached a new circle of richer, more complex orchestral sounds. And it simply glows.
I suppose Neil Hannon was always orchestrally minded with unashamedly classical leanings. However, in the early days of albums such as « Promenade », the feel was very much one of a chamber orchestra. Elegantly used, but reduced means. « Absent friends » has been written, produced and performed by Mr Hannon, but uses what sounds on many tracks (the wonders of studio technology?) like a fully-blown symphony orchestra. Horn solos swoon around his vocals and oboes gently sigh in the background. The arrangements, by Joby Talbot, very much in evidence on « Casanova », are lush and lovely. Fortunately, Neil Hannon's « bass baritone » is never swamped by this richness of sound, but carries the melodies and their message just above the layers of gorgeous orchestration.
For message there is. As with all Divine Comedy albums, certain songs depict a person, a kind of mini « vignette», in which a whole life and set of values are sketched out in the space of 3 minutes with the observational accuracy of a Saki or an Oscar Wilde. On this album, we are treated to a portrait of « The Happy Goth » , an international business traveller in « Come Home Billy Bird » and a lonesome truck driver with a poet in his soul in « Freedom Road ».
Other songs capture an event, or a specific moment of emotion. Neil Hannon has got married, had a daughter, and moved back to Dublin. Scenes from his family life pervade songs such as « Leaving today » and « Charmed life », written for his new baby daughter. These songs represent some of the more mellow, reflective and mature writing on this album; clearly the work of a man who has settled down, found happiness and lost none of his artistic inspiration for that. Who said great art comes from suffering? Balderdash. J.S. Bach was a happily married man with umpteen kids...
Highlights are « Leaving today » featuring Hannon's voice against a graceful, yet restrained string and horn accompaniment. A heartbreaking evocation of the pain he feels each time he leaves his wife and new daughter to go off on his travels. « Our mutual friend » is also a great moment : a beautiful string orchestra arrangement against which Hannon sings a wry account of how he lost the love of his life (or so he thought) as well as a good friend in a moment of comatose alcoholic unconsciousness...
Yes, I echo the other reviewers : he's back. And for anyone who doesn't yet know the music of The Divine Comedy, but who loves intelligent, wry and insightfully written songs with gorgeous layers of orchestral sound, then this is for you. Give it a whirl.
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on 28 February 2004
The Divine Comedy have been one of the British music scene's most interesting, if never influential, bands, combining lavish orchestral arrangements with witty and intellectual lyrics. However, since the frontman Neil Hannon's marriage in 1999, he has moved away from the arch wit of 'National Express' and 'Something for the Weekend' in favour of a more heartfelt and sincere sound. The first evidence of this was the Nigel Godrich-produced 'Regeneration', which had some interesting musical and lyrical ideas but was largely spoilt by Hannon adopting Radiohead as an influence (listen to Kid A and Regeneration back to back, it's an education), and, most damagingly of all, eschewing the sweeping arrangements that epitomise the Divine Comedy.

Here, Hannon and his long-term collaborator Joby Talbot have returned to the orchestral, lush sound of Fin de Siecle and Casanova, where song after song sounds like a hybrid of Broadway musical, Scott Walker epic, Michael Nyman-esque soundtrack and, in the case of the splendid title track, even 60s-esque western. Fans of earlier Divine Comedy albums are almost certain not to be disappointed by this; stand-out tracks include the mighty 'Freedom Road', loosely based on Hannon's experiences touring America, the doom-laden epic 'Our Mutual Friend', which is about an especially cruel case of infidelity, and 'Sticks and Stones', which features Amelie's Yann Tiersen on guest accordion.

However, it is the lyrics that raise this several notches above most of the competition. Over and over again, Hannon has proved that he has a gift for the witty allusion, and Oscar Wilde, Steve McQueen, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and Tennyson all appear in some guise or another. Yet the sole redeeming feature of Regeneration for many was that Hannon had moved away from archness into the more heartfelt and sincere, which is continued here in such obviously autobiographical tales as his account of leaving his family to go on tour in 'Leaving Today', with its heartbreaking couplet 'I could stay if you asked me/ So for God's sake don't ask me', and his reflection on his current situation in 'Charmed Life', to say nothing of such charming vignettes as 'Come Home, Billy Bird', detailing the adventures of a businessman trying to get home, and 'The Happy Goth', with its self-explanatory title.

In fact, out of 11 tracks, the only ones which seem to be less immediate than the others are 'The Wreck of the Beautiful', which lacks an interesting tune, and 'Laika's Theme', which shows the heavy influence of Nigel Godrich (here on mixing duties only). But this is still a welcome return to form for Hannon in all respects, and an extremely exciting purchase come the end of March.
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VINE VOICEon 3 August 2006
Mr Hannon just gets better with age, like Wine or cheese!

1. Absent Friends - Wonderful curtain raiser. Poignant and touching but enough going on to get your feet going. Had me welling up at the first listen. Kudos for the 80's theme tune popping up too! (10)

2. Sticks & Stones - Simple but scathing muse on the mysteries of attraction. Lyrically very smart. (8)

3. Leaving Today - Love the lyrics but find the music a bit of a dirge to be honest. (7)

4. Come Home Billy Bird - Fantastic song and a worthy single. Humourous, anecdotal lyrics with a real emotional kick at the end. Lovely to hear Lauren Laveren (of Kenickie/XFM fame) adding backing vocals. (10)

5. My Imaginary Friend - Starts like a novelty record but ends with real pathos. Surprisingly touching and one of my wifes faves. (8)

6. The Wreck of the Beautiful - Weakest song on the album as it is simply not memorable. Nothing really wrong with it but.... (6)

7. Our Mutual Friend -In my humbe opinion, the best song written thus far this decade. (10)

8. Happy Goth - Another sounds-like-a-joke-song-but-isn't track. Will ring true for a lot of people. Nice Star Wars reference too. (9)

9. Freedom Road - Div Com go country! not as horrendous as it sounds. This is a world weary spot on performance. (9)

10. Laikas Theme - brief insturmental. Does nothing wrong (6)

11. A Charmed life - 'My Way' for the modern age. (10)
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on 16 March 2004
After the 2001 attempts to create a Radiohead with strings left Neil Hannon, creator and driving force of the Divine Comedy feeling a little underwhelmed he decided to once again go it alone and self-produce this latest album just like he did back in the mid nineties with Liberation and Promenade.
This album is heart-breaking but it's warm something that just cannot be said of it's predecessor. Songs about both absent and immaginary friends are uplifting whilst the stand out tracks are the forthcoming single Come Home Billy Bird and The Happy Goth, a wonderful and catchy tune about a girl, dressed in black, all alone with worried parents but actually loves her little world.
The album leaves it's best tracks to Our Mutual Friend and Charmed Life, the albums finale. The former deals with a tale of lost love and is backed by superb orchestration that will leave you breathless. Charmed Life on the other hand looks to the future of Hannon's recently born baby girl and is a wonderful inspired song.
Absent Friends on the whole is both personal and detached but it glows from start to finish. Beware Neil Hannon is BACK
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on 2 May 2004
Lets get this straight from the beginning. I really liked Regeneration. Unlike a lot of people who were put off by the reviews I actually listened to it and like all the best albums it grew on me very much like the Divine Comedys albums always do. I can gaurantee you that every review of Absent friends you will have read will mention 'after the disappointment that was Regeneration blah...blah...Sounded like Radiohead..blah blah..wish Neil Hannon would go back to what he does best...blah blah...I wish he would try something different instead of the same string laden irony ..blah ..blah. I hope to god that Mr Hannon doesn't read the reviews of his albums or he would never be able to write another song for thinking about what so-called-music-fan from Nowhere would like him to do. Luckily for us he doesn't give a damn and the world is a better place for it. I think Absent Friends is a charming album. In fact its disarming in its honesty which must upset the fans who would rather he sing with the voice of a different person as he has done many times before. I liked those songs too but its time a lot of his fans realised that we're three albums away from Casanova. Like a musical version of dog years 3 albums is a lifetime in the music business. Its a privilege to hear songs that talk so intimately about his feelings about his family and fatherhood. To mix these songs with a mixture of the humorous and somber should be applauded. If you want to hear the same old guitar indie-shoegazing stuff then quite simply don't buy this album. If you have any imagination at all then this is the one for you.
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