a short site about The Divine Comedy


You have to laugh when Neil Hannon asserts that his latest album is an attempt to be "a little less smart-arse than before". Hannon's arse couldn't be any smarter if it had been educated at home by PhD parents before graduating, aged thirteen, from Cambridge with a Masters in Irony. Hannon remains a smarmy git, and lest anyone think that that's a criticism, it's the opinion of this reviewer that his previous work, and in particular A Short Album About Love, is among the finest music ever produced by an Irish artist. Nevertheless, he has always worn his smart-boy status on the sleeve of his tailored suit, the eternal cheroot smoking, Nietzsche reading public schoolboy who also turns out for the first fifteen; the David Watts of his generation, if you will.

However, the suit is in mothballs and the schoolboy crop has been replaced by an almost Cobain-like barnet. Perhaps Fin De Siecle was indeed the end of an era - for on Regeneration, the baroque orchestration of which he's so fond is largely absent, replaced by sparse and precise guitar lines and complimented by keyboard frills that fall into the melody like dew from morning leaves. There's a minimalism and a delicate subtlety here, and were it not for Nigel Godrich's production (coming to Regeneration directly from Radiohead's Kid A) they could almost be bedroom demos.

Lyrically, Hannon attempts to communicate with his audience in a much more personal and direct way than hitherto, and at times it's almost as if he's apologising, as on the almost Bowie-esque 'Bad Ambassador': "It's just something I've gotta do/I'll try and make it up to you/Maybe some other time." Actually, he's got nothing to apologise for. This is marvellous stuff.

'Timestretched' is a gentle meandering number in which Hannon ponders what it is that makes us tick, while in the aforementioned 'Bad Ambassador' he takes the piss out of his "serious artist"' status, blatantly stealing a Beatles-circa Revolver tune in the process. 'The Perfect Lovesong' is indeed almost that, despite being saddled with a redundant middle eight; though by 'Note To Self' we're heading into darker territory, a theme continued on 'Eye Of The Needle', 'Love What You Do' and 'Dumb It Down'. It's not until 'The Beauty Regime' that we're redeemed, and even then it a quiet, resigned redemption. ("No matter how worthless you are/and if your life depresses you/just live it through your favourite movie star." Or through Mr Hannon himself?)

Regeneration is a difficult album; schizophrenic and indulgent at times, it will probably polarise opinions. Just for the record, I think it's the best work the boy wonder's ever done.

Rating: 11 / 12

Stephen Robinson
Hot Press 01/03/2001