a short site about The Divine Comedy

French version

Absent Friends – UK / Ireland

Absent Friends

Since Parlophone was part of EMI, the release of Absent Friends had to follow EMI’s policy regarding piracy which included several warnings on the album’s sleeve notes, as well as protection systems, especially for pre-release copies. These systems included targeted promo copies for journalists, with watermarks so they could be blacklisted if there were responsible of a leak. The other was the Copy Controlled system, preventing CD-ROM drives accessing the audio tracks and ripping the disc. The system was present in promo copies of the album, which lead to several speculations and criticisms among the fans. Finally, even though we can’t be sure they played a part in that decision, the band announced that the UK (and probably Ireland?) release of the album through Parlophone would not feature the Copy Controlled system. On the other hand, the band having probably less control over EMI’s global distribution system involving other sub-labels such as Labels or Capitol; and EMI targeting come countries where not only online piracy, but also counterfeits is an issue, the Copy Controlled system would be featured in copies destined to all other countries. Hence a different print of the album, which anyway didn’t prevent the existence of a Chinese counterfeit! And of course the UK privilege didn’t actually last long, and after a few years, probably because the original print went out of stock, the regular version of the album would be Copy Controlled version.

The CD album

The UK version has a different serial number than the Copy Controlled edition: 7243 5 96280 2 8 (instead of 7243 5 77260 2 3), which helps when ordering the disc to figure out which version it is. If you can see the object, it’s easy to spot, the left part of the inlay visible from the front does not feature a Copy Controlled advertisement, and the back cover has not the big EMI frame with the technical requirements, and all information regarding general distribution. Therefore, the positioning of all elements above is a bit different in comparison to the other version.
On the back cover, this version only has a regular bar code at the top, and the bottom features a small Parlophone logo and an EMI copyright notice with the catalogue and serial numbers. The spines also feature the serial numbers.
Image Image

The other side of the inlay, has got, nonetheless, a note, which was present on all EMI’s albums at the time, about their concern over piracy, and advertising their new platform Music from EMI.
The booklet has got the same pages as the other Absent Friends releases, but on the last page features the UK-specific serial number on the bottom-left corner.

Image Regarding the booklet and front cover, there might be some suspicious differences between versions of the album. If we refer to the official album cover being the one which is nowadays available through all digital outlets (let’s note by the way that a few digital stores may show off a corrupted version of the cover) which you can see at the top of this page, the UK release is the closest to it: showing the maximum of details at the bottom of the picture… On the other hands, the Copy Controlled version or the limited edition both have a different cut. However, it may not really be the case, since some copes in the UK can also have a more cropped bottom than others. So, these differences perhaps have nothing to do with a difference of design between the various prints, and may just be a random difference during the manufacturing process; but in general the UK version seem to be biased to feature more details at the bottom.
Some copies were released with a black sticker on the box. It features some extracts from press reviews and stars ratings; and therefore, as for Regeneration it is unsure if it was already there on the first-day copies, or was edited a few weeks later. Any testimony is welcome! At the bottom of the sticker, the serial number is also printed; making sure this was only for the UK market.

Image The CD is designed to evoke a blue plaque. The top features the titles, and the bottom ‘Written and Recorded 2001-2003’. Then there is a small Parlophone logo. The left and right feature copyright notes, publishing information with a reference a Bel Biem, the label code, and the serial number. The CD is ‘Made in EU’ and indeed on the other side, we can read: IFPI L047 EMI UDEM 5962802 @ 1

The promo CD

Image Image

Released a few months before the official release date, the promo CD was controversial because it was Copy Controlled. On the other hand, it is quite understandable that the record company did not want to have the album leaked before the release… The album was actually leaked anyway.
The promo comes within a card sleeve, which features the album cover art with a different presentation though: the titles are in the middle of the cover, and like the Billy Bird promo the title ‘The Divine Comedy’ is bigger and fits in two lines. This difference would lead for a long time to confusion between the proper album cover and the promo album cover, many sites using the promo version to refer to the album in general. Nowadays, that seems to have passed.
The back cover has some information over a white background. The tracklisting first (which is the correct album tracklisting), and below a Parlophone logo followed by information: writing and production credits to Neil, plus the guests appearances (Yann Tiersen, Lauren Laverne). Then, engineering (to Guy Massey and Nigel Godrich), publishing and photo/design credits are documented. The rest is a copyright note, and finishes with the catalogue reference ABSENT 001.
Finally, there is the standard EMI frame regarding the Copy Controlled system. It features technical information, and once again the catalogue reference.
Some copies were sent with a press release. Others were distributed by Alan James PR and feature a sticker with the following description: “The Divine Comedy release new album Absent Friends through Parlophone Records on March 29th. Long-standing collaborator Joby Talbot scored the arrangements for this beautiful record, which featured the single ‘Come Home Billy Bird’, and sees The Divine Comedy revelling in their sumptuous brand of orchestral pop. The Divine Comedy will be touring the UK with a 16 piece orchestra and play the London Palladium on 26th April. Recommended tracks: 1, 4, 8 & 11
Image Image Image

Image The CD has a similar design to the non-album releases from that era… It has a white background, on which the Copy Controlled logo is engraved. The titles have the same design as the promo cover.
At the bottom there is a long copyright note, which features a reference to Bel Biem, and once again the catalogue reference.
On the other side, we can read it again: EMI UDEN ABSENT 01 @ 2. The matrix is the same as the Copy Controlled commercial release, both are exactly the same print, apart from the design.

The promo misprint

Image Another version of the CD promo exists. We would call it the ‘inverted’ version, because a few things are inverted. First, there is the Copy Controlled logo: instead of being on the left, it’s on the right, and mirrored. It’s likely a print error, caused by background template.
But the most notable difference is the tracks order: on this disc ‘Absent Friends’ and ‘Charmed Life’ are permuted. On the other hand, the cardboard sleeve is exactly the same as the regular promo; although some (at least one) of those copies come with a stickered tracklisting so it can match the disc. More generally, it looks like there was some confusion at EMI’s regarding the album tracklisting: see the acetate CD-Rs below.
Near the label we can read EMI UDEN ABSENT 01 @ 1, instead of @ 2, which means it was a first print, that had to be corrected.

Image Image

Acetate CD-Rs


The acetate CD-R of Absent Friends are even more confusing. Even though they do not feature the Copy Controlled system, those discs are watermarked, which means that from any leak, the original copy could be identified, and the original recipient blacklisted from EMI or even more.
Image Each disc comes with a folded white insert and within a PVC sleeve which is closed by an EMI seal. That seal is to ensure that no intermediary copied the disc before, and it reads “If this sticker has been broken when received please contact the person who sent it to you immediately” over a background featuring the transparent letters VOID. When sealed, the white glue fills those letters, but once opened those letters become transparent.
The watermark in itself consists of various little differences around 3kHz. Unnoticeable when listening, they are like a code to identify the copy’s number.
Image The insert features on the back the condition of use for such pre-releases. While the other side features the album title and tracklisting. Below there is the copy number and the name of its recipient, plus the indication whether it is someone at EMI or someone external, and the country. There is also a logo, and the mention “Please see reverse for conditions of use”.
Therefore each copy is theoretically unique. Practically, many copies are almost identical, with just the watermark itself and the recipient name that differs. But this is not exactly true, and some copies have other differences.
Image Image

Image First of all, there are many copies with the same number; perhaps was sent by Parlophone, and one sent by EMI’s External service (?). For example numbers 1 were targeted to famous journalists: Jude Rodgers from The Guardian (strangely her name is in lowercase on that copy), and Colin Martin from BBC Radio 2. Also, these numbers 1 were the only disc from that series to have the correct tracklisting starting with ‘Absent Friends’ (on both printed sleeve and CD’s music): all subsequent copies have the permutation with ‘Charmed Life’. The reason of such a permutation is unsure: did it happen intentionally? by mistake? because the tracklisting was originally planned as such? Whatever it caused much confusion since the inverted tracklisting was announced by the NME in December 2003, and subsequently many other media.
Image Image

External copy number 2 was sent to somebody at EMI Colombia, where later non-watermarked copies were distributed.

Image Image Most of the next copies are equivalent; but there is an exception with number 4. Strangely, instead of just having the printed information on it, the disc has a white background. Like this, it looks very likely to the non-watermarked copies of the album. Then, number 13 strangely has an EMI logo on the insert instead of the Parlophone logo. But this is not the case of copy number 15.
Image Image


EMI Sync’s Instrumentals CD-R


Image Different versions of the instrumental album came as CD-R, depending of who released them. The most ‘official’ version would be the EMI Sync version, distributed to TV or radio producers for use of instrumental pieces. Over the recent years the British and Irish TV have done many uses of such songs from the albums.
It features a design similar to other EMI Sync releases, although it does not come as a digipak, but as a promo: within a PVC sleeve with a printed insert (on heavy paper though).
The CD is actually a CD-R with a stickered white background featuring the album’s titles and the EMI Sync info. It features the words ‘Promo use only’, and the insert tells ‘Not broadcast quality’ despite the sound quality on the disc is not degraded. It is likely to mean that the music being watermarked, it is not supposed to be used for production.
Unlike the Parlophone watermarked version (below), there is no regular pattern to distinguish the copy from another, and the difference is more subtle, in the mastering. On the other hand, like the other versions of the instrumentals, it opens with ‘The Wreck Of The Beautiful’ which is permuted with ‘Absent Friends’, unlike what the printed tracklisting tell us.

Instrumentals CD-R


Image A similar acetate CD-R to the album exists with instrumental versions this time. Like the acetate album it comes within a sealed PVC sleeve and informs us about a watermark. Each copy is numbered and featured the recipient’s name.
The printed tracklisting is the same as the regular album, but once again does not suit the real disc’s tracklist: both ‘Absent Friends’ and ‘The Wreck Of The Beautiful’ are permuted.
If we compare to the version below (Abbey Road mastering promo), the watermark consists only on subtle differences at different position of the album, but not on the whole recordings, so it’s definitely not a different mastering.

Abbey Road Instrumentals


Image Another version exists of the instrumental: edited by Abbey Road Studios (later to become Abbey Road Mastering), the disc is dated from February 12th 2004. The version/mastering of the songs is exactly the same as the Parlophone version, but this time does not feature the watermarks. Like the others, the tracklisting is wrong, since ‘The Wreck Of The Beautiful’ and ‘Absent Friends’ have been permuted.

The version pictured here came within a PVC sleeve with a photocopied insert, and is a handwritten Sony CD-R, which may not be from that time. It is likely this copy is not an original, although it is impossible to say whereas it was duplicated for a professional aim or not.
A copy of those instrumental versions went leaked on the Internet a few years ago. Same tracks, without the watermarks. However, be aware the version of ‘The Wreck Of The Beautiful’ was badly ripped on that fileset. Moreover that the version of ‘Sticks & Stones’ from the BMG 2007 sampler is technically the same version as this very CD too (so without any watermark). We also note that all instrumental releases of this song feature a little intro not present in the album version of the song.

In-store ad


A 12”x12” in store advert was printed to promote the release of the album.


Image ]Image

The record company’s posters are a bit different than the fan-club/merchandising poster edited by the band. They feature extracts from reviews.

Let’s add also that a mega-huge backdrop was displayed on Dublin HMV the day the band played at the Gaiety Theatre.

Promo pictures