on 13 June 2003
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.
on 28 February 2008
A Short Album About Love was Neil Hannon's immediate follow up to the somewhat pompous, almost-rock-opera Casanova; which saw the format shift from lyrical, light-hearted tales of love and autumnal woe of previous records towards the darker, more socially aware concerns of albums like Fin De Siècle and the underrated Regeneration. The sound remains the same, with Hannon commandeering a full, 30-piece orchestra, as well as working alongside the same self-assembled band that would contribute to the two Divine Comedy albums that followed; giving us the repeat line-up of regular collaborators Joby and Ivor Talbot, Pinkie Bates, bandleader Chris Austen and new producer Jon Jacobs, all of whom help to create a swooning, swinging musical backing for Hannon to sing his tales of romance, lost and found.
The record is gloriously performed and produced, using live recording techniques to capture Neil and the band in a completely full-on mode; brimming with energy and exploding with a full-bodied bombast that brings to mind the oft-mentioned likes Scott Walker and Jacques Brel. The swagger and bravado of the orchestration (which is packed with shimmering horns and sorrowful strings) is used to perfectly offset the shades of downbeat melancholia that infuses many of Hannon's wordy lyrics; drawing more on the kind of bleak-desperation and kitchen sink humour made famous by the likes of The Beatles or The Smiths than anything approaching the clean, pop sophistication of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, etc. Some would argue that the concept is far too strange and self-indulgent to work; producing a record of downbeat love-ballads, live and with a full orchestra, but no audience - but as far as I'm concerned, it is pulled off impeccably well by Hannon and his band of merry-musicians. The mood is cohesive in its lulled detachment; with Hannon brimming with emotional-heartache and shimmering-pomp as he once again essays the role of the crooner to great effect. The album opens with the unassuming In Pursuit of Happiness, which many consider to be one of Hannon's best compositions, but for me, it's merely a sumptuous prelude to the six storming tracks that follow...
Everybody Knows (Except You) for example is classic Divine Comedy, and acts as a great introduction to the themes of the record as a whole. As a song, it is certainly a composition cut from the same cloth as some of the songs from 1996's Casanova such as Something for the Weekend or the Frog Princess, with Hannon juxtaposing morose innocence with a wailing libido as he metaphorically confesses his love to the unrequited object of his affections. Next track Someone takes things down a notch, drawing parallels with something approaching Becoming More Like Alfie, with Neil lamenting the kind of guys that get the girls with some great brass orchestration and those always devilishly witty lyrics. Meanwhile, If... has autumnal-like orchestration and lyrics that reference both the Kipling poem and one of Hannon's finest musical moments, that being My Lovely Horse from TV's Father Ted ("...if you were a horse I could ride you through the fields at dawn, through the day until the day was gone, I could sing about you in my songs, as we rode away into the setting sun").
This leads us perfectly into more of that sublime desperation with If I Were You (I'd be through with me), which has wonderful story book lyrics that brim with emotion; with Neil H hopelessly crooning the central refrain, "if I were you I'd ride away, to a pasture new where I could graze, on the green, green grass of virgin country, I'd live real fast and die real young..." before continuing with the kind of bitterness usually reserved for Luke Haines or Elvis Costello, with the closing lines "You see if I were you I'd end my days, in a field of stupid sheep just grazing, the grass so succulent and sweet... If I were you I'd be through with me". Meanwhile, the two final songs, Timewatching (a cover of an earlier DC song from the classic debut Liberation) and the belting and bombastic I'm All You Need, bring the album to a close perfectly.
For me, A Short Album about Love is one of the great records of the last decade, and although it lacks the beautiful, reflective whimsy of Hannon's all-time masterpiece Promenade (one of the greatest records of all-time, in my opinion), it's certainly up there with Liberation, Fin De Siècle and the recent Absent Friends. This is a joyous collection of full-blooded love-songs shot through with a real sense of heartache and performed by an ensemble of musicians who know a thing or to about creating perfect pop. Re-issue it now please, someone?
A Short Album About Love is a great title for The Divine Comedys fifth album as it is , quite literally a short album ( It clocks in at 31.58) and every song is about love in all it,s trials tribulations and triumphs. What the album title doesn,t convey is quite how magnificently opulent, stirring, witty and downright enjoyable the album is.
The songs are framed by superbly fluid orchestral arrangements-recorded in New York and recorded live - and sung with real relish by Neil Hammond in his vibrant baritone. What really sets this album apart is Hannon,s exemplary song-writing. There are seven songs on the album and everyone is an absolute masterpiece of drama, fervent emotion, and consummate literacy.
"Everybody Knows (Except You)" is the only song off the album released as a single ,though i feel with the possible exception of the comparatively sedate "Timewatching " -a song from "Liberation" reworked , every song on the album could have been . A glorious paean to unrequited love it revels in lines like " I told the passers by/ I made a small boy cry/ But I,ll get through to you/ If it,s the last thing that i do". Opening track "The Pursuit Of Happiness" has tippling medieval style piano/keyboards and tells us that "I'm not the type to fall in love without good reason" though you suspect maybe he is Incidentally the middle eight was used as the theme for "Tomorrows World" for a short period. "Someone", a plaintive plea for love, has volumous and portentous strings ebbing and fluxing ,counterpoint guitar feedback and one of Hannon,s strongest vocal performances.
"If" changes the tone somewhat with a darker sting in the tail of the song, though some of the lyrics are priceless. " If you were a horse I,d clean the crap out of your stable/ And never once complain ". My favourite is the sublime "If I Were You(I,d be Through With Me)" a song about the idealisation of love where the orchestra blossoms magnificently and Hannon intones deadpan " If I were you I wouldn't need to always read the magazines that I do / That make me blue!". Final track "I,m All You Need" is a fitting conclusion with Hannon exhorting over juddering strings that he is the best option on offer though the lyrics are again slightly arch "Don,t look a horse in the mouth /Don,t let a frog get you down/Dragging you round like a dog on lead".
I never ever tire of listening to this album. Anytime that a song off it comes on my MP3 player is likely to be the highlight of the day (I lead a fairly dull sad existence it must be stressed)Not only is A Short Album About Love an artistic triumph it,s an immensely enjoyable one. It stirs the heart and the head at the same time .It will have you whistling and weeping "..an oddly ignored classic.
on 10 January 2003
This album would be worth having if the only track on it were "In Pursuit of Happiness". It is a truly fabulous track that drives forward, inexorably, with a catchy violins lick over some really fat bass trombone bass line. If you've watched "Tomorrow's World" in the last 1990s, you'll recognise the last few bars of the stringy/brassy bit as the show theme tune.
The rest of the tracks are a bonus, even though it may seem that there aren't very many. Well, it is called "A _Short_ Album...", so what do you expect? The tracks after "In PUrsuit Of Happiness" are much lighter and with the occasional low, twangy guitar which Neil seemed to favour at the time of this and "Fin de Siecle". "If" is just plain weird, lyrics-wise. You just have to listen to it. The other track worth a mention is "Timewatching". A very gentle, melancholy song about falling in love and being scared to do it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; this album, plus "Fin de Siecle" are a truly good introduction to the Divine Comedy. I can recommend both quite highly.
on 5 March 2014
A Short Album About Love is hailed as the masterpiece from DC. It is good, like all DC albums are. In my opinion, not their best, but still far better than so much of the musical mainstream of today. Neil Hannon is a tunesmith of divine proportions.
Neil Hannon is one of my very favourite songwriters and has consistently released superb albums for the last couple of decades. “A Short Album About Love” is one of my favourite of these albums and was released in 1997 between the superb “Casanova” and “Fin de Siecle” albums. I was in my early twenties when it was released at it was a really important album to me at the time – and still is. It was recorded in one day at the Shepherds Bush Empire (on 20th October, 1996), with a sizeable ensemble of classical instruments and a clutch of songs so beautifully grandiose that The Walker Brothers seem quite ordinary by comparison. Six out of the seven songs are original songs written especially for this project, the other one, “Timewatching” is a re-recording of song from one of The Divine Comedy's early albums, “Liberation”. Although it was recorded live, it isn't a “live” album, as such, as there is no audience, they merely used the Empire as a place to record the music. Although there is just over half an hour of music, every piece is excellent and proves that quality over quantity works every time.
As the title of the album suggests, the theme running throughout this piece of work is love, in all its guises. The opening track, “In Pursuit Of Happiness”, is nothing short of genius, a superb composition with a jaw-droppingly brilliant Joby Talbot arrangement that builds into a magnificent crescendo and always leaves me slightly breathless by the end of the song. “Everybody Knows (Except You)” was the single from this mini-album and it's not difficult to realise why; it's an exceedingly catchy, funny piece, pathos with an orchestral punch. “Someone” is slightly more serious in tone and could easily be a Scott Walker classic; the instrumental ending is powerful, magnificent and utterly spellbinding. Even seventeen years later, I can't quite decide whether the lyrics of “If...” really work; sometimes I find them charming, sometimes a little mawkish. If you had to identify the weakest track on the album, this song would be it, even though it's really pretty good. “If I Were You (I'd Be Through With Me)” is an absolute gem, though, the self-deprecating, melancholy lyrics balanced out by a beauteous, melodic soundtrack. The climax of the song is terrific, the punch of the brass, Neil's impassioned vocal delivery – it's stirring stuff.
“Timewatching”, the only song on the album which was previously available in a different form, borrows heavily from Nat King Cole's “When I Fall In Love”, lyrically, but has a more pensive, minor key musical theme; the arrangement and instrumentation means that it is an improvement on the original. The last track, “I'm All You Need”, is one of the best on the album, a smile-inducing, rousing, brilliant song that brings the record to a close on a very high note. Of course, as the album is so good, it is over all too soon and leaves you wanting more, however, as a side-project, a mini-album to keep the fans satisfied until Neil's next “proper” studio album, it is incredible. It would be a crime if Divine Comedy fans overlooked this album purely because it is little more than an EP – it is every bit as essential as the most well known and loved of Neil Hannon's albums. In fact, some of the tracks on “A Short Album About Love” are amongst the most outstanding and accomplished songs that he has ever written and the orchestral arrangements by Joby Talbot are intricate and sensational. It is, quite simply, a magnificently written and performed collection of songs unlike anything else in The Divine Comedy's catalogue and deserves just as much recognition as the rest of Neil's work.
After Casanova Neil Hannon changed direction to further develop his love of Scott Walker style big ballads with a seven track mini album simply about love.
The word simple is not something that should be attributed to these songs, however. They aren't exactly torch songs but little love vignettes. As such they are more straightforward in feel. Gone is the leering "dirty raincoat" feel to be replaced by something altogether more mature and that's how this mini album should be approached. It's not groundbreaking, just a pleasant album of well produced material. In reality just six songs as Timewatching original appeared on the Liberation album.
on 19 November 2011
The Divine Comedy - A Short Album About Love (Setanta)
Recorded last year at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, with an orchestra (The Brunel Ensemble) in tow, The Divine Comedy's "A Short Album About Love" is a seven track collection of songs they were unable to place onto their three previous outings.
Neil Hannon has a wonderful gift of bringing late `60s classic easy listening pop chic into the `90s without making it sound twee or in any way forced. Comparable to Scott Walker or Harry Nilsson in feel, neither sang lyrics as funny as those on "If...", though the latter came close on a couple of occasions.
"A Short Album About Love" is a genuinely impressive collection and anyone who enjoyed the previous record ("Casanova") should do themselves a huge service and invest promptly. It comes in a nice box and it'll make your day.
on 5 September 2009
This was purchased to replace a copy my sister seems to have given to the charity shop after I leant it to her... thanks PT !! Just as good as I remembered and hints at a stage musical. It can't be long before he writes one.
on 6 February 2001
This man really shows what love songs are all about.......Take a back seat Justin Hayward, Colin Bluntstone and all the others.....this is how it's done. Put it in your CD player and melt.
Nuff said. This is class! The last of a Genre?