a short site about The Divine Comedy

Shepherd's Bush Empire

There's always something a bit suss about the 'image change'. Obviously, it's understandable, and perfectly OK, for a band to grow sick of their songs, their style and their sound - they have to put up with them for a lot longer than we do, after all - but, usually, in the hurry to make a break, the audience is forgotten.

The few thousand who ensured that tonight's gig sold out in a few days bought their tickets due to an affection for 'Secret History', the compilation that detailed The Divine Comedy's work for Setanta. For many of them - if the swell in the audience is anything to go by - the band was a new discovery, and they're eager to hear those songs live. Unfortunately for them, Hannon and co. have moved on without them.

New album 'Regeneration' is both a skilful and tender affair, with a subtlety that repays repeated listening, and a record from which they can progress; by contrast 'Fin De Siecle', the last of the fanciful, orchestral, Scott Walker-emulating albums, showed that the formula was already wearing thin. But there must be easier ways to make a transition...

Tonight, they blend 10 of the 11 new tracks with a smattering from the back catalogue. In keeping with 'Regeneration's lack of flourishes, the earlier material has had its showier sides pruned (or removed altogether), which does few favours to songs like 'Tonight We Fly', 'Lucy' and 'Your Daddy's Car'.

'Sweden' still sounds fantastic, as does 'I'm All You Need' (though perhaps it shouldn't have morphed into Wham's 'Last Christmas'), but it's telling that the only point the otherwise patient and polite crowd show real enthusiasm comes an hour in, when Hannon performs acoustic renditions of 'The Frog Princess' and a foolish but fun 'National Express'.

'Regeneration' is a fine record, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And its sly charms will unfold for those who care to listen, particularly for the diehard crowd here tonight. But bands really do, whether they like it or not, owe something to their audience - it's the bond that makes buying an album different from buying soap powder - and tonight, The Divine Comedy left the stage still in debt.

David Kelly
Launch 26/03/2001