Neil Hannon’s latest album ranks as one of his best as he continues he traditional and original sound.
Artist: The Divine Comedy
Album: Victory For The Comic Muse
Despite the dozens of artists who have performed in The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon has always been the distinguished leader. Hannon has been producing excellent melodic orchestra pop even before the band broke out with 1996’s Casanova. The range in songs is often stunning, despite using the same instruments repeatitively for many of them. Hannon has always had the talent to shift flawlessly between slow love songs such as ‘Commuter Love’ to agressive sexual charges such as ‘Woman Of The World’. But this is just what Hannon is, he is one of the talents in the genre who progresses his musical standards each time he releases an album. Last year’s Absent Friends was one of his more mature sounding efforts, as songs with such lyrical prowess as ‘Our Mutual Friend’ were highly enjoyable. Victory For The Comic Muse is their ninth album, with a typical Hannon name and sound.
One trademark typical of Hannon is to kick an album off with an audio sample of a conversation, usually about sex. From ‘Something for the Weekend’ on Casanova to ‘Generation Sex’ on Fin de SiÃ¨cle. The typical ten to twenty seconds seem to only be popular in hip-hop these days, but Hannon implements it ever so simply as it usually gives the listener something to get excited about. This time around, Hannon starts the album with ‘To Die A Virgin’, which is pretty much self-explanatory. It details a sexually frustrated young man who may have finally caught a break due to a promise of his girlfriend. A nice mood is set, as the audio sample is two couples talking about the valuability of virginity. The standpoints of the male and female are humorously typical. The song has a boastingly catchy chorus with a twanging guitar that makes it all the better. Hannon’s vocals are key to these sexually driven songs, because much like Jarvis Cocker or Morrissey, his vocal style delivers particulary well for the situation.
Two of the more amusing songs on the album are ‘Diva Lady’ and the excellent cover of The Associates’ ‘Party Fears Two’. ‘Diva Lady’ is an obvious jab at the superficiality going on in the media for pop stars and the like, and since the song is their first single, Hannon has not lost his lyrical wit one bit. “She’s got thirty people in her entourage, just in case her ego needs a quick massage,” is just one example of the fun words that Hannon creates. While some artists undeliberately ruin songs by trying to be witty in such a fashion, Hannon excels the song. The rhythms and melodies are catchy most of the time, but Hannon’s vocal delivery and lyrical wordplay make it even the better. While the emotion lacks in some songs such as ‘The Light of Day’, it is probably due to the fact that his vocals do not fit such an upbeat melody at times. He does a surprisingly commendable job on ‘Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World’ though.
The song that will go most overlooked may be ‘A Lady of a Certain Age’. Simply put, the song is stunning. I will go as far to say it may be my favorite Hannon song. The tempo and mood fit his vocals perfectly, and the story he tells is simply irresistable. Hannon chronicles an old English widow who is left alone, visited rarely by her son “who lives back in Surrey, flys down once in awhile, leaves in a hurry”, and left by a husband whose “hollow heart gave out one Christmas, he left the villa to his mistress in Barcay”. A vivid depiction of an old women sitting in an English pub is fantastically revealed as beautiful strings cascade over a beautiful chorus. The song is Hannon at his best.
He takes a similar storyline approach in ‘The Plough’, and though the song is enjoyable, it isn’t one of the stronger points. The particular key change four minutes in is great fun though. In usual fashion, Hannon ends the album with a few songs that are slow-paced to wind down the mood. Neither are very infectious, but they do their justice in leaving an effective afterthought. Hannon’s vocals throughout the album remain to be emotional and aware, even when trying to mimick the great and late Billy Mackenzie on the cover of ‘Party Fears Two’, which turns out very well, like most of the album.
01. To Die A Virgin
02. Mother Dear
03. Diva Lady
04. A Lady Of A Certain Age
05. The Light Of Day
07. Party Fears Two
08. Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
09. The Plough
10. Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont
11. Snowball In Negative
= Track Recommendation