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 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 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 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 6 August 2006
Being a fan of The Divine Comedy since they released Casanova in 1996, I was really looking forward to their latest album. Much like a lot of previous releases by The DC, this album takes a few listens to fully appreciate it. When I first listened to it, I was disappointed with most of the early tracks and didn't listen beyond track 7. However, repeated listens have definitely added a great deal to my enjoyment of this collection. Track-by-track:
1. To Die A Virgin - Amusing lyrics, but the melody doesn't do anything for me. Opinion seems to be very divided on most of the tracks here, this being no exception. It sounds a bit flat to me.
2. Mother Dear - An unusual country track with a catchy melody, but a far too repetitive chorus. Musically it's great, but the constant repetition of "Mother Dear" quickly becomes tiresome.
3. Diva Lady - Not bad, but hardly the strongest of melodies penned by Neil Hannon. Annoyingly it sticks in your head - I'd rather it didn't!
4. A Lady Of A Certain Age - Beautiful melodies, wonderful instrumentation, and moving lyrics. I've always liked Hannon's voice, but this is the kind of track his singing is best suited to. Stunning.
5. The Light Of Day - A bright, upbeat melody, again with some beautiful instrumentation - strings and harpsichord really add to the classical rock style that the DC have always done so well.
6. Threesome - A charming 1 minute piano instrumental that provides a good break in the middle of the album.
7. Party Fears Two - I disagree with an earlier review calling The Plough pompous; if any track sounds pompous, it is this one. I haven't heard the original but the strings are overdone for a riff that isn't all that special. The chorus is better than the verse, but this just sounds out of place here.
8. Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World - This one's quite odd. I didn't expect to like it at all but it really grows on you. Great lyrics, a very enjoyable melody and plenty of decoration around the various melodies. Very well composed indeed.
9. The Plough - As I mentioned earlier, I couldn't disagree more with the notion that this track sounds pompous. It's an absolute masterpiece. A wonderful build-up in each verse and throughout the track. A similar feel to The Certainty of Chance or Freedom Road, this is one of the best tracks I have ever heard from the DC.
10. Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont - The opening melody links well from The Plough. Great melodies throughout, an unusual mix of spoken/sung lyrics, not dissimilar to The Booklovers - but much easier to hear more than a few times over. Very special, and unique!
11. Snowball In Negative - Yet again, the orchestral arrangements are superb. Interesting contrast between the vocal sections and the piano solos, showing that Threesome wasn't such an anomaly after all. The ending is a little unexpected and slightly drawn out, but this track wraps up the album well.
Apart from the first few tracks, this is possibly the best DC album I've ever heard. It's right up there with Promenade and Fin De Siecle and is a welcome reminder that Hannon is highly unlikely to lose his touch anytime soon. Beautiful!
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 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.
on 4 September 2006
An outstanding album. This is full of original, thoughtful music, and some particularly beautiful arrangements. Lady of a Certain Age is possibly the best track they have ever produced.
Neil Hannon's ability to create characters is second to none, and the lyrics are matched by his singing, which is the best it has ever been.
on 26 November 2006
As one of the previous reviewers have already stated, Victory for the Comic Muse came about as a direct result of The Divine Comedy's main songwriter Neil Hannon's jobbing collaborations with artists as varied as Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Laura Michelle Kelly. At the end of this stint it became apparent that he had collected enough unused material to record a new Divine Comedy album. As a result of this approach, 'Victory' lacks the distinctive sense of cohesion that had always been present on The Divine Comedy's best and most inspiring work... from the literary odes to sex, love and the playboy lifestyle on 1995's Casanova, to the darker material found on 2001's Nigel Godrich produced Regeneration. That's not to mention the continual joy of 1994's orchestral pop masterpiece Promenade, a concept album that just so happens to be a contender for the much coveted "greatest album of all time" tag.
So, what is 'Victory' all about? Well, in keeping with the manner in which it was conceived, Hannon has assembled an eclectic collection of highly literate and musically sophisticated songs that drift from pure pop - like the baroque pomp of opening track, To Die a Virgin - to the more abstract and esoteric pieces, like the swooning travelogue of Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont. However, whereas previous Divine Comedy albums had flowed with a sense of effortless cohesion, the mix between the two different styles is here far from seamless, with Hannon making the mistake of frontloading the album with his more obvious attempts at a pop hit (moving from that delicious opening track - with it's suggestive lyrics, driving bass line and playful horns - to the hallmark affection of the following cut, Mother Dear - a heartfelt B-side masquerading as an album track - right the way though to the not-so-obvious choice of a first single, Diva Lady).
Here we have a song that is not entirely without interest, rolling along as it does on a syncopated piano line and a samba like rhythm, with Hannon's vocal really capturing the mood and spirit of the song perfectly. It's a fine enough track in it's own right, but really seemed completely wrong as the first single (...it still does), largely because of the clichéd subject matter, which had already been hinted at by the likes of Elvis Costello as far back as Shabby Doll and The Other Side of Summer, and was previously covered by the anti-talent that is "Pink" just a few months before Diva Lady's eventual release.
It seems odd that the record company didn't plumb for the following track, A Lady of a Certain Age, as the album's lead single, especially given the almost unanimously glowing reviews from critics on both side of the pond, as well as throughout Europe. The song is, without question, one of the most sumptuous pieces of music that Hannon has ever created, gliding along on cinematic strings, no-nonsense production and an understated vocal, with the lyrics perfectly designed to tell a story that is rich in pathos, character, atmosphere and emotion. The song almost sounds like it could have come from the soundtrack to some highbrow BBC drama series, though, given the album's aforementioned back-story, this is probably not that far from the truth. Regardless, Hannon juggles the story perfectly, crooning about the titular character's fall from a giddy youth of high society escapades and through the decadence of a life without toil, to show the shallow despair left behind by an adulterous late husband, disenchanted children alienated by the reliance on nannies and tutors, and an empty come-on to a young man in a bar that is filled with resignation and self-pity.
It's one of 'Victory's...' main highlights, coming as a real work of genius on an album that seems mostly padded with B-side filler and songs that seem like shallow retread's. The real follies of Victory's comedy of errors would most definitely include the pointless cover version of the Associates track Party Fears Two. This is the first cover version to grace a Divine Comedy studio album and really, lets hope that it's the last! The tortured croon of Billy McKenzie has been replaced by Hannon's strangled imitation, as the alien synthesisers and layered production are replaced by shallow strings and an orchestration by-numbers. The reviewer who said this was better than the original needs their ears cleaning out.
Other disappointments include Threesome; a quaint, though utterly pointless piece of plinky-plonky piano nonsense that reminds me of Oscillate Wildly by The Smiths; the epic theatrical piece The Plough, which has fascinating lyrics, but ultimately, sounds like a poor man's version of The Decemberists circa Picaresque, and then finally, the drifting, though utterly dull Snowball in Negative, which is heavily reminiscent of the recent download-only track Guantanamo, only nowhere near as good. The rest of the album is mildly rewarding, sing-along MOR pop joyousness in the shape of the bouncing Arthur C. Clarke..., the grand piece of Divine Comedy by-numbers Light of Day, and the aforementioned opening track... all of which are a great deal of fun, despite failing to advance on the formula laid out by fantastic albums like Liberation, Casanova and Fin de Siecle.
With these songs intact, the album is certainly worthy of a three-star rating, but what really pushes it that little bit further is the inclusion of the remarkable Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont. Here, Hannon takes beautifully flowing lyrics that evoke the feeling of travelling cross-country in a hot hair balloon - whilst finding a middle ground between The Booklovers, Lost Property and Eric the Gardener - as gorgeous keyboards mix with haunting strings and an enchanting juxtaposition between the sung and spoken verses. It's a real jaw-dropping moment that ably demonstrates how vital a songwriter and performer Neil Hannon really is, when he casts of the shackles and really goes for broke! Here's hoping that the next Divine Comedy album will have more songs like THIS, and less of the shameless attempts to appeal to the Britpop nostalgic's, and the listeners of Radio 4.