The Divine Comedy is one of my more recent favourite bands. In many ways, it makes sense that I like them. Neil Hannon; the singer and only consistent member of the group, did the music for Father Ted and The IT Crowd which are two of my favourite shows. In many ways, The Divine Comedy is a lot like ELO, in some ways. Both have one consistent member, with classical influences in their music, and both of them were big Beatles fans. It’s about time that The Divine Comedy got its own Track by Track.
By now, you know the drill. I pick one song from each album and I talk about why I like it while including a link to it from YouTube or Spotify and adding some honourable mentions. Enough of that, lets do this thang.
1990- SECRET GARDEN: Fanfare for the Comic Muse
A parallel with ELO’s history is how different each of the band’s debut albums was different from their more well-known songs on their later albums. The Divine Comedy’s first album; released in 1990, is like Electric Light Orchestra in that way, with two major differences. While ELO’s first album had a distinctive baroque pop sound, Fanfare for the Comic Muse has a rock sound. Its almost as if it should be the other way around.
Secret Garden is a great song. The guitar riffs are brilliant, and there is obvious talent in it. For a first album, it is a good song, and this closing track is a testament to that. There’s one issue I have though, this album is not available to buy or stream. This album was deleted at some point, and there are no CD’s or MP3’s available to buy or download. You can still find them on YouTube, but the encoded digital sound is probably inferior to how it should be. Your only other option would be to buy the album from EBay. For 100 pounds. The physical album might be a now expensive rarity, but you can at least listen to is on YouTube.
1993- FESTIVE ROAD: Liberation
Honourable Mentions: The Death of the Supernaturalist, Europop, Timewatching, I was born yesterday
Now, this is more like classic Divine Comedy sensibility. The song’s simplicity and almost magical sound really aid in its appeal to me. For those not in the know, the song is about an old children’s show called Mr Benn, with Festive Road being the street that the shopkeeper’s costume shop is, where the character dresses in different costumes and goes on adventures. It’s a simple show, and this song, similarly simple, is a lush and apt way to start this album that nailed the sound which The Divine Comedy would make theirs.
1994- DON’T LOOK DOWN: Promenade
Honourable mentions: Bath, The Booklovers, Tonight we Fly
The sixth track on this particular album, a concept album no less (I love those) is one I love for many reasons. It builds on the sound set by Liberation, making it grander and lush as the album’s production got a higher budget. The song’s themes, which I interpret to be about anxiety and atheism, are ones I hold a lot of value to, and it rolls all those factors into a song which starts simple and builds up to a massive crescendo when we reach the top of this ‘ferris wheel’ of the song.
1996- FROG PRINCESS: Casanova
Honourable mentions: Something for the Weekend, Songs of Love, The Dogs and the Horses
Neil Hannon’s love of the French culture is best exemplified in this song. Casanova is a great album and was the watershed moment for the group, giving the group their biggest hit thus far with ‘Something for the Weekend’. Frog Princess is one of the songs that was released as a single, and has a wonderful Music video to accompany it. I think what I admire most about it is the almost whimsical sound it has, with the french sound. 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. The album’s concept is based around sex, so I think that this theory is pretty accurate. It is a lovely song to listen to.
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. It is in the name. The theme of the album is about horses…no it isn’t. This is a good little album to listen to, full of great songs about love, and 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. The ending is great, because the orchestra builds up, and gets increasingly louder, and the singer…I won’t spoil the lyrics, but it is a great song, regardless.
1998- THE CERTAINTY OF CHANCE: Fin De Siecle
Honourable Mentions: Generation Sex, National Express, Life on Earth, Sunrise
This album has already been reviewed in full on its own devoted Track by Track, and for good reason. It is a great album. Compared to the more lighthearted, European chamber pop feel of the last albums, this one is more emotionally complicated and sombre. National Express and Sweden notwithstanding. The Certainty of Chance is an example of this emotionally mature sound. Everything is still there from the previous albums, but it is more serious in its tone. This song is one my Dad recommended to me, and he did well in recommending it to me, because the lyrics are so wonderful, and the music is beautiful. 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.
2001- LOST PROPERTY: Regeneration
Honourable Mentions: Bad Ambassador, Perfect lovesong, Dumb it Down, Mastermind
Regeneration is an album which is very intellectually challenging. It continues the sombre sound and more serious tone of its predecessor, but it is a completely different sound. The Divine Comedy had Radiohead’s producer, and it has a very Radiohead sound. The emotional maturity is mixed with a certain amount of existentialism. Perfect Lovesong and Lost Property serve as my two favourite songs on the album, but I will only discuss the latter for this spot because it is the song which is perhaps the coldest and most existential of them all. The music is just as beautiful, but sounds much less orchestral, and more like a typical band, with drums, acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass, etc. It gives it a more organic sound but lacks the warmth or grandiose nature of the orchestral sound the earlier albums have. The song’s lyrics are very deep, and this is what attracts me to it. If you like Radiohead, you will probably really love this album. I like this album, but I don’t know how I feel about it.
2004- OUR MUTUAL FRIEND: Absent Friends
Honourable Mentions: Absent Friends, Sticks and Stones, Charmed Life, The Happy Goth
A much warmer album. A hybrid between the structure of 2001’s Regeneration, in that it is a collection of songs, and the sound of Fin de Siecle. This album is a lot more cheerful, and the orchesteral sound is back in full force, while keeping some seriousness. I can view the last 3 albums as sort of a growing up period for The Divine Comedy, and this album symbolises the singer, Neil Hannon (who is, as a sidenote, the only original member left, using the name like Jeff Lynne’s ELO, but he doesn’t play all the instruments) shows he has grown up and the sound of the music has grown up.
Our Mutual Friend, to me, sounds like a grown up man recounting a tale from his wild youth, and it does a great job balancing all the sounds and themes of the last few albums together. 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.
2006- TO DIE A VIRGIN: Victory for the Comic Muse
Honourable Mentions: Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, Mother Dear, A Lady of a Certain Age
I have probably listened to this album much less than the others on this retrospective, so I really cannot give the best, most full review of the album, but I love the opening track. It has the quirky, slightly cheeky sound of the earlier albums, with the orchestra, which appears less often on this album, but still appears here and there, but it is more of a background thing. I should listen to this album a lot more, as there are some good songs on this album.
2010- DOWN ON THE STREET BELOW: Bang goes the Knighthood
Honourable Mentions: Bang Goes the Knighthood, The Complete Banker, The Lost Art of Conversation
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. It is largely good-natured, and very piano driven, rather than the orchestral sound, which is a nice change of pace, as it keeps that warm sound that I love in The Divine Comedy’s albums. This song is 5 minutes of wonderful music about the classic DC theme of love, though the love of this song is about a specific person, the singer’s lover. The song constantly changes tempo from slow to fast to slow and back to fast, which really is how love is, in my opinion. A great song and I would recommend this album as an easy introduction to The Divine Comedy.
2016- FOREVERLAND- Foreverland
Honourable Mentions: Catherine the Great, Funny Peculiar, I Joined The Foreign Legion (To Forget), The Pact
The European sound is back, and 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. Foreverland is a charming song about trying to find paradise, finding heaven on earth, and it does so beautifully, but I also get a sense that the song is written in the knowledge that there is no heaven on earth and that the search is fruitless. Foreverland itself is a great album, but it suffers from having a great first half, and a weaker second half, but the strong first half makes it overall, rather good.
Really not much to say, as I think I have discussed all the factors here which, in my mind, make this group good. The music is beautiful and consistently good. the sound and themes are constantly tweaked with, in big and small ways. Neil Hannon is a suave, charming frontman, and even after 27 years of performing, they are still going strong. I hope they continue to make good music in the future. But before I leave, I will give some links to some B Sides, rarities, and bonus tracks which you may like. All titles link to a you tube video of each song: