a short site about The Divine Comedy

Liberation

Any album that devotes its opening track to the cross-dressing antics of cartoon character Mr. Benn must have something going for it and as 'Festive Road' takes you strolling through the leafy streets of sixties' London suburbia, it soon becomes apparent that what we're dealing with here is songwriting of a vastly superior quality.

This pure pop adventure is made all the more intriguing by the fact that Neil Hannon, leader of the one man 'band', hails not from 'ammersmith or 'ackney but Derry, where the sound of Bow Bells is reputedly rather muffled. Still, that didn't disqualify him from spending his formative years listening to The Kinks, and Ray Davies' whimsical influence is evident on at least three-quarters of Liberation's perfectly formed contents.

Hannon's masterstroke is forsaking traditional rock'n'roll posturing in favour of a melancholic approach which is underpinned by a full string section and a lone French Horn player who parps away so frantically that you can't help but wonder what sort of divilment these classical types get up to when they're not blowing, plucking or banging things.

Yer man is not, it has to be said, the happiest of campers. In fact, the likes of 'Death Of A Supernaturalist' and 'I Was Born Yesterday' are downright miserable but unfurl their tales of woe with such eloquence that Morrissey and Marc Almond comparisons are, I'm afraid, unavoidable.

'Bernice Bobs Her Hair', meanwhile, documents that most traumatic of adolescent experiences - a truly crap haircut: "Her hair was long, her hair was dark, her hair fell down her back and now it's on the floor/ The mirror tells of her mistake, her heart is fit to break." We were so distraught here in H.P. Central that we nearly chipped in to buy the poor lass Gazza-style hair extensions but, hey, why add to her problems?

'Europop' is laced with not entirely bitter irony, a Casio-driven ode to the pros and cons of Smash Hits stardom which has already gatecrashed into the indie top 10 and, with a bit more promotional zeal, could do the same in the grown-ups chart.

Hannon isn't adverse to a spot of constructive plagiarism either - 'Timewatching' is a gloriously flamboyant re-write of 'When I Fall In Love' while 'Lucy' takes Wordsworth's 'A Slumber Did My Spirit Steal' and turns it into the lushest of love songs. The moral here, I think, is that if you're going to rip something off, do it with a sense of panache!

'Europe By Train' is one of the few occasions when Liberation abandons its quasi-Englishness, a cheeky Zorba The Greek parody which is redolent of sunkissed Mediterranean islands and a severe overdose of Ouzo.

It might be argued - and I'm sure many of my colleagues will - that The Divine Comedy are a little too weighty and intellectual for current tastes but artistry shouldn't be limited by the marketplace and if this LP only sells half-a-dozen copies, it'll still be a triumph.

Ray Davies, I suspect, would wholeheartedly approve.

10/12

Stuart Clark
Hot Press 25/08/1993