a short site about The Divine Comedy

Absent Friends

The Divine Comedy were close to imploding. After their last album, Regeneration, Neil Hannon - the only member actually paid by the record company as The Divine Comedy - disbanded his band of rag tag indie wannabies and orchestral nuts and decided to go it alone.

This is how the Divine Comedy began, with Hannon in his home studios creating masterpieces like Liberation and Promenade in the early nineties. But then fame and record companies got in the way, and Neil became disillusioned with what he had created.

This album was meant to be a classic 'back-to-basics' effort from the Irishman, but has he managed to turn back the clock? Well, yes and no. The orchestration has returned. The last album was berated (unfairly) by the music press for being too 'indie' (whatever that means) but this album has ditched the guitars for violins.

It is important to remember that the reason Hannon has enjoyed sustained success is his pop hooks. Tunes and whimsical content have enticed a band of rabid fans to follow him through the many stages of 'the comedy, but this opus is very lean on the catchy. And that is the overriding problem with the piece as a whole.

There are a few tracks which try hard to break from the mediocre to 'Hit single' ('Come Home Billy Bird', 'Charmed Life' and 'The Happy Goth') but for all these tracks there are two that go nowhere, and not very fast. It is of no coincidence that two of the better tracks are of a narrative nature, as this is often where Hannon writes his greatest hits (see 'Something for the weekend' and 'National Express')

The album begins in a promising fashion. 'Absent friends' sounds like an updated version of early 'comedy hit 'Tonight We Fly', but morphs into a boring orchestral plod. Second track 'Sticks and Stones' is instantly forgettable, 'Absent Friends' is a repeat of the first two tracks, and not even worth commenting on.

'Come Home Billy Bird' should be one of the singles released, forcing the listener to sit up and take notice of his writing ability. 'The Happy Goth' is an unfortunate title containing even more unfortunate lyrical content, a surmise of which is that all Goths are beautiful underneath the white face and beyond the depressing music. He really should know better than this tawdry rubbish. However, the musical quality of this track really stands out, and could have been a hit had the lyrics been thought through.

'Laika's Theme', the only instrumental on the album, is three minutes of - you guessed it - orchestration that does not really lead to any positive conclusion. The final track, 'Charmed Life' is another single contender and deals with the subject of Hannon's recent parenthood.

In conclusion, Hannon appears to have regressed to back before he was famous, and shunned his pop tomfoolery edge altogether. This will appease the hardcore 'comedy fans no end, but will not attract any new followers to the cause. I doubt any of the tracks on this album will bother the Top 20, and I frankly fear the worst for Hannon when this album is released.

He is an undeniable talent, who now appears to have a problem with writing songs that the masses will enjoy (ala National Express).

It appears the title of the album is inspired by Neil's realisation that life comes to an end at some point, and it is important to not forgot 'Absent Friends'. However, contrary to Hannon's other offerings, there is no pomp, but a lot of circumstance contained within these 45 minutes, all be it an existence of sadness, death and friends lost over the years. Cheer up Neil, it can't be that bad?

Can it?

David M Grain
Leaked Albums 02/02/2004