a short site about The Divine Comedy

Curtain closing on Divine Comedy?

Still, simpler Regeneration set is a hit for U.K. major Parlophone.

Neil Hannon sure knows how to make an exit. After more than a decade of indie success with his U.K. group Divine Comedy, the singer/songwriter has decided to retire the group’s moniker – for now, anyway – just as he seemingly is taking the act to a new level, at least commercially.

Following five studio releases (three of which have been certified gold), a greatest-hits compilation, and a handful of hits singles and EPs for U.K. indie Setanta, Divine Comedy – which, over the years, has essentially been Hannon with an ever-changing group of sidemen – recently inked a deal with U.K. major Parlophone, through which it issued Regeneration, recently certified silver (60,000 units) by the British Phonographic Industry.

The next target of Hannon’s hit list was set to be the U.S., where he hoped to build the act’s American fan base with a Nov. 6 release of Regeneration (issued Stateside via Nettwerk America). But instead, the now seven-piece group is calling it quits after its current tour in support of Regeneration, which is to arrive in the States early next year. Hannon will remain signed to Parlophone in the U.K. and Nettwerk in the U.S.

The group is bowing out just as U.S. listeners are getting a chance to absorb what Hannon seems a brighter Divine Comedy. Despite a downtempo bent, Regeneration - produced by Nigel Godrich – sees the band ridding itself somewhat of the dark outlook of its last studio effort, 1998’s Fin de Siècle. Although people have called it melancholic, Hannon intended the disc to be optimistic.

Fin was all end-of-century angst with silly moments of pop,” he explains. “On each song now, generally, I’m trying to tell myself to get things off my chest, and I find complaining quite positive.”

Hannon has toned down the witty, but archly obscure nature of his past lyrics, such as that for the group’s fun ’98 track ‘National Express’, a top 10 U.K. hit; he is replacing the irony with a more accessible message. “I wrote the tunes quite simply and tried to make them more understandable than past records.”

Helping lighten things up was the fact that Hannon found himself writing material for the new album in his ‘studio-cum nursery’. The 31-year-old was expecting his first child during the writing stage of Regeneration, the first Divine Comedy album on which he sculpted the songs first on acoustic guitar. These days, Hannon sayd he simply plays guitar until “something happens”.

Hoping for “solid, strong tunes and maybe words that mean something”, Hannon, as he wrote, realized that he’s ‘finally developed the ability to know when to stop, the keep in your mind [the reason] why you’re writing a song.”

Past Divine Comedy efforts showcased the group’s knack for a wide range of musical styles, which Hannon believed may be too vast for mass consumption. “We must be confusing to the general public. I wouldn’t know what to make of us – one moment, “60s orchestral pop, almost easy-listening tunes, and sometimes harder indie rock.”

By teaming with Godrich on Regeneration, Divine Comedy could draw fans of both Radiohead’s chart-topping Kid A, as well as Brit-pop fans in the U.S., notes Marie Scheiber, head of marketing for Nettwerk.

Regeneration should stand a chance of being embraced by U.S. listeners right now, says Marlon Creaton, manager of Record Kitchen in San Fransisco: “There’s a fairly large faction of young adults who are looking for music that is a little smarter and more complex than what’s been out there for the past year.”

With Godrich, the group created an album with a stronger sense of unity than past efforts, perfectly – if superficially – exemplified by the seamless segue between set-opener ‘Timestretched’ and ‘Bad Ambassador’.

Hannon notes, “We always had singled which stuck out, but on this album, we tried not to think about that. As a result, we’ve made a more cohesive record.” The track ‘Perfect Lovesong’, however, does stand out, sounding reminiscent of the mid-1960’s harmonies of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. That song “slipped through the net,” Hannon admits. “I refused to let Nigel ditch it from the album. It was very hard to perform to avoid pastiche, but we steered clear of the pitfalls.”

‘Perfect Lovesong’ is one of three songs on the Divine Single sampler, which has been circulated to triple-A and college radio and also includes ‘Love What You Do’ and ‘Bad Ambassador’. Nettwerk started working the project to modern-rock specialty shows in late October and modern-rock programmers in November.

Videoclip of all three songs have already been produced for U.K. markets and serviced to MTV2, Scheiber says. She thinks the clip for ‘Perfect Lovesong’ has a fun, whimsical side, while ‘Love What You Do’ shows Divine Comedy’s more sober side.

The act is managed by Natalie DePace and booked by Marty Diamond at Little Big Man in New York City and Charlie Myat at 13 International in the U.K.. Its songs are published by BMG Music.

Eric Aiese
Billboard 15/12/2001