The Divine Comedy- Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time

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Three years ago, I released my original Tracklist on The Divine Comedy, and it covered the bands albums from 1993 to 2016, including their deleted 1990 debut, ‘Fanfare for the Comic Muse’. In 2020, The Divine Comedy has released a huge boxset ‘Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time’ which basically includes everything the band has released, written, and recorded. This gave me the idea to cover the albums again, as well as the album they released in 2019, ‘Office Politics’.

Just on a tangent, I wish I could buy this boxset on CD, but alas I cannot. It’s £125 of money I can’t afford to treat myself with. However, most of the music (barring the exclusive CD with the first album and early recordings) are on Spotify, which is where I am listening to all the albums on again, because they’ve been remastered. Some of my song choices will change from the original Tracklist, but some won’t.

1990- The Rise and Fall: Fanfare for the Comic Muse

The Rise and Fall

The band will tell you that their first album was ‘Liberation’ in 1993, but that is a lie. Their first album was released in 1990 and was called Fanfare for the Comic Muse. This album has since been put out of print and is now exclusive to the boxset. You could buy the CD on Amazon if you really wanted…though it would set you back £70.

I listened to this album exclusively on YouTube, and it’s a good if otherwise standard indie rock album from the time. The album is only a curiosity because the music is unlike that which the band have released since, and it’s disowning by the band. There is an obvious talent to the songs on display, with The Rise and Fall being a standout. Otherwise, the music is a blandly enjoyable debut for The Divine Comedy.

1993- FESTIVE ROAD: Liberation

Honourable Mentions: The Death of the Supernaturalist, Europop, I was born yesterday

This album is more akin to the music that The Divine Comedy would release and become famous for. This is an album littered with literary and classical influences. Songs like Lucy, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Three Sisters are based on books and plays by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Wordsworth.

What makes this album stand out to me, however, is the songs like Europop and Festive Road. One song is an out of genre throwback to the last album, with a bit more creative flair, while Festive Road is a reference to the cartoon ‘Mr Benn’, which is the song I’d like to highlight. This album is punctuated by youth and the proto-classic DC sound. The instrumentation is notably quite sparse in parts, due to a low budget. I’d love to hear this music re-recorded with the current band line-up and experience that Neil Hannon has.

Festive Road

1994- DON’T LOOK DOWN: Promenade

Honourable mentions: Bath, The Booklovers, Tonight we Fly

Promenade is my favourite Divine Comedy album, because its the first one that gets the formula right, it is a concept album (which people who know me know how much I love). The musical compositions are more complex, helped by the more generous budget, and higher production values. The album tells the story of a couple enjoying a day together, and it works. It just works.

The sixth track on this particular album is frankly the best song that The Divine Comedy ever released. It builds up from being quite a simple piece, increasingly becoming lusher and lusher, with the actual singing by Neil Hannon just going into another level of ability. That crescendo will get you thinking, as will the sudden turn in the song’s theme.

1996- FROG PRINCESS: Casanova

Honourable mentions: Through a Long and Sleepless Night, Songs of Love, The Dogs and the Horses

Casanova was The Divine Comedy’s breakout album, and it is a strong one at that. A lot of bands have break out albums that don’t really appeal to me, but this one does. I think its because a lot of them compromise on their sound. I don’t think that The Divine Comedy has. Its not my favourite of theirs, but it is a strong one. The theme of love and sex works on this album so well, because it basically covers all aspects of it.

Neil Hannon’s love of the French culture is best exemplified in this song. Frog Princess is one of the songs that was released as a single and has a wonderful Music video to accompany it. . The music actually sounds quite cheerful, but the actual lyrics are a little less so. My interpretation of this song is that it is about a hopeless romantic trying to win the affections of someone who just wants a casual relationship.

1997- IF…: A Short Album about Love

Honourable Mentions: In Pursuit of Happiness, Everybody knows (except you)

A Short Album about Love is a short album about love. This is a good little album to listen to, full of great songs about romantic and platonic love. A lot of the songs are earnest and not cliched. ‘If…’ is perhaps the best on the album, and the best love song ever. The song is about unconditional love, and about the singer’s devotion to someone, and that’s the beauty of it. It isn’t specified whether it’s about a girlfriend, a wife, a daughter, even if you were a road or a drink, you’d be their favourite. It also helps that the song is also quite funny.

1998- THE CERTAINTY OF CHANCE: Fin De Siecle

Honourable Mentions: Generation Sex, National Express, Life on Earth, Sunrise

My full review of Fin de Siecle is already on the website, so a lot of what I said there can really be summarised here. The album is symbolic of the ‘end of an era’ for both the band and the century which The Divine Comedy found its popularity. This album is much more somber and emotionally mature, but still has the stellar orchestration and swelling vocals.

The Certainty of Chance is an example of this emotionally mature sound. It really is a wonderful, beautiful song. The string section near the end really encapsulates what I am describing when I talk about this song and this album. I cannot say more than that.

2001- LOST PROPERTY: Regeneration

Honourable Mentions: Bad Ambassador, Perfect lovesong, Dumb it Down, Mastermind

Regeneration is an album which is challenging. It continues the sombre sound and more serious tone of its predecessor, but with a stripped back sound, resembling Radiohead…which makes sense, considering their producer made this album with the band. I am not a big fan of Regeneration. Its too glum, and has very existential lyrics, with the music being very cold and depressing. Not to say that its all that way, you do have ‘Bad Ambassador’ and ‘Perfect Lovesong’ which are both great songs in their own right.

I like that in moderation, but the album just doesn’t click with me in the same way as others did. I like Lost Property, as I think that song works and feels quite relatable to people. The amount of stuff that I have lost in my time is embarrassing. I get the feeling that Neil Hannon was lost writing this album, as he would abandon this sound for his subsequent albums.

2004- OUR MUTUAL FRIEND: Absent Friends

Honourable Mentions: Absent Friends, Sticks and Stones, Charmed Life, The Happy Goth

A much warmer album, and my second favourite by Neil Hannon. Hannon broke the band up after Regeneration, and now releases music under the band’s name, sort of like Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Musically, this is The Divine Comedy’s most mature album yet, very adult and sophisticated. Absent Friends as an album is a very balanced album in its sound and themes, and Our Mutual Friend is a great example of this.

The song, about a mutual friend hooking up with someone that the narrator meets in a night club. To me, it sounds less like a recent recounting of the tale, but a reflective one, a bit like a grown-up man recounting the tale, and it does a great job balancing all the sounds and themes of the last few albums together.

2006- Snowball in Negative: Victory for the Comic Muse

Honourable Mentions: Threesome, Diva Lady, To Die a Virgin

In 2017, I never gave this album the opportunity to wow me, and I don’t really know why. I think it was my own bias, in that I don’t see many people talk about this album. Victory for the Comic Muse is a transitional album. Musically, it plays around with the formula a lot, while making a few call-backs to older albums, eg ‘To Die a Virgin’.

Snowball in Negative is one of the most unique songs on the album, in an album of more diverse songs. Its a well crafted, fragile song, and a really good album closer that I highly recommend.

2010- DOWN ON THE STREET BELOW: Bang goes the Knighthood

Honourable Mentions: Bang Goes the Knighthood, Assume the Perpendicular,  The Lost Art of Conversation

Bang Goes the Knighthood is an easy introduction for new fans of The Divine Comedy. If you are reading about the band for the first time on this blog, this is the album I would tell you to start with. It’s not my favourite, but it is a perfect first listen, a bit like Casanova and Absent Friends, both of which are also acceptable albums to start off with.

Down on the Street Below is a charming song to listen to. It has a magical quality to it, as does a good chunk of this album. The song constantly changes tempo from slow to fast to slow and back to fast, but not in a jarring way. The piece is tender, and is piano, rather than orchestra driven

2016- Funny Peculiar- Foreverland

Honourable Mentions: Catherine the Great, Foreverland, I Joined The Foreign Legion (To Forget), The Pact

While I enjoyed Foreverland, it is an album that, today, I only like. The first half of the album was brilliant, but the second half fell a bit flat to me. That said, there is a lot to like: The Continental European flair is strong on this one. it is a really nice return to the sound that I loved in the earlier albums. Each album seems to take elements from its predecessors and make them the primary sound of the album, e.g. rock in Regeneration, orchestral in Absent Friends, etc

Funny Peculiar is a nice duet between Neil Hannon and his girlfriend, Cathy Davey, about looking through each other’s peculiarities and finding that you love that person unconditionally, in spite of their flaws. Its a really sweet song

2019-When The Working Day is Done- Office Politics

Honourable Mentions: Dark Days are Here Again, The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale, Infernal Machines, Life and Soul of the Party

Where do I start with Office Politics? All I can say is that this is an excellent album, and it is the best album that The Divine Comedy released in the 2010s, out of the three that were released. It is 16 tracks of biting satire on the state of the working class, with a lot of 80’s synth and new wave elements that make this a new part of The Divine Comedy’s canon.

The album closer ‘When the Working Day is Done’ is a large, grand closing number on the untold stories of the hopes and dreams of the working class, the sort of people with zero-hour contracts, who have/had hopes and dreams but are lost in the grand scheme of things. It’s a haunting closer and a fantastic song.

The Divine Comedy: Conclusion

Happy 30th Birthday to The Divine Comedy. Throughout three decades, the band, led by Neil Hannon, has kept its finger on the pulse of music and has become a musical chameleon, akin to David Bowie and his evolving sound over his career. From the highlights to the lowlights, the band has continued and made some fantastic songs. Check out the boxset, or alternatively, buy the vinyl re-releases of the individual albums. They contain the remastered albums, and the bonus tracks separately, meaning you can pick your favourite album, without buying the whole boxset.

More from If you ask Ben

Fin de Siecle: Track by Track

Original Tracklist on The Divine Comedy

Buy my Books

Buy the Boxset

About the author

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Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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