a short site about The Divine Comedy

Intricate Pop With A Twist Of Humour

The Divine Comedy's final album for Setanta is set to be their most successful yet - and not only likely to herald a turnaround for the label but also propel the act into the Top 10. The band have spent the past year not only working on Fin De Siècle (released on August 31) but talking to major labels as they approach the end of their contract with Setanta.

And although music pundits would have you believe that with the industry in a state of flux this could be an incredibly difficult time to sign with a major, manager Natalie de Pace believes it could work to her advantage in deciding between a handful of labels. "All the changes are intriguing and can be worrying, but it doesn't mean we can't do a deal," she says. "It means it's difficult to forecast what will happen at a label but it also means that it will put off fair-weather friends and that the people we sit down with will really want the band and appreciate their quality and longevity."

Clearly the Northern Irish band haven't done badly at all on Setanta. Although their last proper album, Casanova, peaked in the album chart at number 48 in May '96, it has sold 110,000 copies to date. The long shelf-life points to the anticipation for more material, which has arched through frontman Neil Hannon's various side projects, not least on the theme music to Channel Four's Father Ted and on Twentieth Century Blues - The Songs of Noel Coward (forthcoming collaborations include a stint as backing vocalist on Robbie Williams' new album).

Moreover, Setanta believes Casanova's follow-up has the potential to sell at least four times as many copies, which will come as a relief to MD and A&R man Keith Cullen who earlier this year was forced to scale down his workforce to five staff after releases by Edwyn Collins, Guy Chadwick and Future Bible Heroes failed to take off. Sony is credited with ensuring this record was made following the licensing deal struck with Setanta last year. "Fin De Siecle sounds really good, I'm really pleased. It sounds quite ambitious. But you can't predict how big things are going to be any more - it's better to go ahead with the fullest belief in it," he says.

As with Casanova and last year's curt follow-up, A Short Album About Love (which reached number 13, selling 60,000 copies), Cullen says the new album will be released ahead of any singles. The aim is to confirm Hannon's status as an "albums rather than hits" artist in the tradition of a Van Morrison or Tom Waits. Listening to Fin De Siècle during final mixing at West Point studios, it's clear that many will find the record more accessible than previous work. Hannon says that A&R involvement has been minimal. "I've always looked at it as if we created our own demand. We do exactly what we want to do. My theory is if I like it there are likely to be other people who like it," he adds.

Production values have been taken to a greater height and, while no doubt plenty of copy will be written about Hannon's louche and dilettante style, it's an album which will lead many to recognise his abilities (along wit September. By then The Divine Comedy are likely to have secured their new deal and Cullen, who has stuck by them for seven years, says he wishes them well. Certainly it's clear that Setanta's next projects - The Catchers, Pelvis, and The Frank And Walters - can only benefit from the success of Fin De Siècle.

Sarah Davis
dotmusic 21/06/1998