a short site about The Divine Comedy

Fin De Siècle

In this follow-up to last year's quick fix, A Short Album About Love, The Divine Comedy have presented us with a short album about a wide variety of subjects as diverse as unrequited lust, Armageddon, grubby tabloid hacks and a green-fingered swain named Eric.

As you might expect, Fin De Siècle is a series of orchestral manoeuvres, bitter-sweet symphonies and urbane hymns, haws, titters and ho ho ho's. So much so, in fact, that one could be forgiven for assuming that while his classmates huffed and puffed their way around the rugby field during PE, the young Neil Hannon stood shivering on the sideline, occasionally chuckling as he scribbled the pithy couplets, for which his name has become a byword, on the back of a forged sick note. Lyrically, this is bardcore.

Lofty disdain is Neil Hannon's stock-in-trade, of course, and nowhere is this more in evidence than the outstanding opening track, 'Generation Sex', a rich source of such silver-tongued chicanary."Lovers watch their backs," Hannon intones "as hacks/in Macs/take snaps/through telephoto lenses." Driven by strings, brass and percussion, it's the kind of jaunty tongue-in-cheek fare that Divine Comedy buffs have come to cherish.

There are other gems: 'Commuter Love', a heartfelt lament in which our hero bemoans his inability to woo an attractive fellow traveller on the train station platform; booming epics such as the murder ballad, 'Thrillseeker'; and 'Sweden', an intense eulogy to the home of Ingred Bergman. Then there's 'National Express', a hilarious, rhythmical chug-a-long, fuelled by brass and the able assistance of the Crouch End Festival Chorus: "On the National Express there's a jolly hostess selling crisps and tea/She'll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks for a sky-high fee/Mini skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle back in '63/But it's hard to get by when your arse is the size of a small countreeeeeeeee!"

Of the 10 tracks on offer on Fin De Siècle, a few lack The Divine Comedy's typically slick lustre. 'Eric The Gardener' is a loosely arranged melange of meandering digital beats that go nowhere slowly, while 'Life On Earth' and 'The Certainty Of Chance' are both unremarkable and ocassionally self-indulgent.

Thankfully the sensationalist, apocryphal choral excursion 'Here Comes The Flood' and 'Sunrise' - a song about the troubles which is made all the more poignant in light of recent events up north - ensure that Fin De Siècle doesn't end on a bum note.

Artists are generally judged by the standards of their finest work. Therefore, anyone who has heard Casanova will almost certainly concur that The Divine Comedy have produced better than this. Whereas that was a rich seamless tapestry, this is more of a musical patchwork quilt: sublime craftsmanship spoiled by a few too many frayed pieces.

The title of this album, combined with emphasis on the word 'secession', which straddles two pages of the CD's booklet, may confirm mounting industry speculation about the demise of Hannon's long and fruitful association with Setanta records.

If so, Fin De Siècle is a strong note to go out on, but not the meisterwork we might have hoped for.

Rating: 8 / 12

Barry Glendenning
Hot Press 05/08/1998