a short site about The Divine Comedy

Absent Friends

Neil Hannon's been going through a transitional period since 2001's "Regeneration" LP. The Divine Comedy leader has had a child, split from his band of eight years and left London to live in Dublin. No wonder Hannon reckons the songs on "Absent Friends" are about "coming, going and not quite being where you want to be."

That said, musically there's very much a feeling of coming home to "Absent Friends". For, where "Regeneration", as wonderful as it was, had a solemn, stripped back and downbeat touch of the Radioheads, the new album returns to the lavish orchestration, romance and tongue-in-cheek humour of previous outings.

In fact, it's just like Britpop never went away as the crisp strumming and stirring spaghetti western strings usher in the opening title track - a namecheck of dead heroes including Jean Seberg, Steve McQueen, Oscar Wilde and Laika, the first dog in space.

Hannon's witty way with words is still thankfully intact with lines like "You and I go together like the molar and the drill" from "Sticks & Stones" - which features the evocative, jittery Parisian accordion of 'Amelie' soundtrack composer Yann Tiersen.

The distinctive soulful croon has seldom sounded better, soaring especially effectively on "Leaving Today", a heart wrenching, dreamlike operetta about leaving wife and child, albeit perhaps just to go to work.

"The Wreck Of The Beautiful" is an eerie, trancelike epic cloaked in mist; "Our Mutual Friend" (boy meets girl who snogs his best mate) has goose pimple-inducing Nyman-esque strings, "The Happy Goth" is sublimely catchy and "Charmed Life", with its perky, piano powered nostalgia sounds like its from a feel-good '40s movie.

Indeed, it's pretty much all fantastic. The only downer comes with the more obvious formulaic pop of recent single "Come Home Billy Bird". Featuring Lauren Laverne on backing vocals, this self-conscious ode to an international business traveller who rushes home to see his son's "football game" sounds like a revamp of "National Express". Cleverly worded perhaps but uninspiring.

That's just nit picking though Mr Hannon, it's great to have you back.


Gary Crossing
Launch 06/04/2004