Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...The Divine Comedy

It sounds mundane to say it, but sometimes extremely talented artists become constrained by the very things that make them famous. When they try to change direction, the fans and the critics howl. Enter "The Divine Comedy."

Frontman Neil Hannon was embraced for his theatrical, intelligent, somewhat prissy, turn of the century British wit; his songs were serious but had an underlying humour, a postmodern Victorian reflection that -- for many fans -- probably became "the point." But when he writes a song that ISN'T slyly humourous, it loses sales.

I'm saying this as a Divine Comedy outsider, however; I don't know any fans and I've never really followed the gossip. I was introduced to the group by a roommate (Angela) who only knew one song: the totally un-Divine-Comedy-like Noël Coward construction, "I've Been to a Marvelous Party." (This is not the official video, but it's a very capable film project that captures the spirit nicely)

How surprising to discover that The Divine Comedy does NOT dabble in electronica. Instead they were firmly within the Britpop scene, with overriding elements of Michael Nyman (thanks partly to multi-instrumentalist collaborator Joby Talbot).

Then one day the band reformed (ejecting Talbot), and Hannon released the gorgeous "Regeneration" album: dark, minimalist, slow, reflective, almost "Talk Talk"-ish, and also totally un-funny. But the fans didn't like it, and the latest album ("Victory for the Comic Muse") is pretty much back in the old style.

Here's to "Regeneration," and a song that always makes me cry for some reason: "Lost Property." It loses something in the live translation...but not too much.

Their albums aren't easy to stumble across here in Canada, but if you're out to buy one I highly recommend "Fin de Siècle" (over-the-top, cinematic, Nyman-esque). Albums to avoid? I don't much like the baroque style of "Liberation." For fans only? I have no idea, being a person who collects the material as I can rather than somebody who rabidly seeks it out.

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