a short site about The Divine Comedy

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Fin De Siècle

Fin De Siècle

HistoryEuropeUnited KingdomIrelandFranceFNAC FranceJapan
26/08/1998Release
31/08/1998Release
01/09/1998Release
06/09/1998#9 #23 #9
13/09/1998#25 #52
20/09/1998#31 #63
27/09/1998#39
04/10/1998#67
24/01/1999#56
31/01/1999#48 #24
07/02/1999#36 #24
14/02/1999#26 #15
21/02/1999#33 #15
28/02/1999#40 #19
07/03/1999#44 #22
14/03/1999#59
21/03/1999#73
23/05/1999#81
30/05/1999#100
06/2005Digital release

Hot Press' Best Album: 4

Hot Press' Best Sleeve: 6

>>> See credits...

 
Fin De Siècle (end of century) marks a shift in The Divine Comedy's discography. The album is more sombre than the previous ones. For once, it doesn't deal with love or sex, but with society. The Divine Comedy takes the pretence of the nearing end of century and millennium (and of the world?) to look at us.

Neil says about the album: « It was 1977 and Jubilee fever had gripped Mr. Lindsey's heart.
"Now children, we're going to get a big box, put lots of stuff in it and bury it", proclaimed the excited headmaster. The 'time-capsule' was dutifully filled with Swap-Shop T-shirts, Grease soundtracks and assorted 70' tat, pisced in a hole and covered with wet Derry earth.
I was seven and the idea of coming back when I was thirty meant nothing to me.
The fact that by then it would be the year 2000 made my heart sink with the impossible vastness of time. Of course I would never be thirty - I couldn't even imagine being ten.
I am now twenty-seven and time suddenly seems impossibly short. I'm already planning my return to Londonderry in 2000. I long to see exactly what rubbish we thought future generations would find so fascinating. I can almost hear the gasps of astonishment as the first mouldy coupy of 'Speed and Power' is brought to the surface.
I have tried with 'Fin De Siècle' to learn the lessons of history.
If you take the best bits from the past and aim resolutely for the future you might just end up with something that lives in the present. After all, no one wants a bunch of retro-crap... do they?  »

The phrase "fin de siècle" is actually used in art to designate the period around the end of the...19th century. This period is characterised by decadence. If in Britain and Ireland we may think of Oscar Wilde (educated in Enniskillen, at the Portora Royal School), it is more relevant to cite Austrian artists, and especially Gustav Klimt. This Austrian painter pictured the decadence of his society and portrayed many prostitutes. One his painting appears in the album's sleeve. The photographs were taken in Vienna, because this city was the centre of the Fin de Siècle movement. Besides Judith I, the snapshots show a monument at the memory of Otto Wagner, an Austrian architect; and not Richard Wagner as some would have expected (Richard Wagner was indeed German).

Yet, musically, the album is reminiscent of Richard Wagner. It was recorded with an orchestra and a choir. Neil Hannon chose the producer Jon Jacobs for this album because he had worked with Jeff Lyne from Electric Light Orchestra and was used to working with orchestras. The result is indeed very convincing.

As always, the structure of the album is not gratuitous. It starts with 'Generation Sex', which introduces the theme. The album is going to deal with our society and criticise us. The theme is no longer sex and the song is a transition between Casanova and Fin De Siècle (A Short Album About Love should not be counted as it was not recorded as an album really).

The next song, 'Thrillseeker' deals with the fashion of extreme sports, which Neil Hannon doesn't seem to like. 'Commuter Love' is more than a love song. It is a criticism of how our society annihilates all communication between people. 'Sweden' is the Wagnerian song of the album. Sweden, as a country, is usually described as a model for other countries.

'Eric The Gardener' is one of the most difficult song of the album I think. It was co-written with Joby Talbot. It makes a parallel between Eric, a man who found a roman treasure, and Julius Caesar, and subsequently a parallel between past and present. The conclusion of this is that Julius Caesar, however important he was, is dead now, just as any human being.

'National Express' is the silliest song of the album - which doesn't mean it is a bad song. On the contrary, it has been the best Divine Comedy success in the UK charts! It is true, though, that among the other songs it sounds light. It marks a pause before we arrive at the end of the album.

The second part of the album begins with 'Life On Earth', probably the saddest song on it. Its message is that how difficult life may be, you still have to live till the very end of it. 'The Certainty Of Chance' tells us that there is only one thing we can be sure, it is that anything can happen. This is two-sided: either the worst can happen, or the best. Placed as it is, after 'Life On Earth', it sounds a bit as if Neil Hannon was telling us, hang on, don't lose hope, everything's bad at the moment, but you don't know what may happen.

But as I said, everything can happen. So why not the end of the world? The end of the 20the century triggered many fears that we might all die pretty soon. Neil Hannon doesn't take that belief seriously and made a parody out of it: 'Here Comes The Flood'. We have reached the end, the apocalypse. Things can't be worse, because we are all dead now, the world doesn't exist. But you must forget that Neil Hannon comes from a religious family. In religion, the Apocalypse doesn't just mean the end of the world. It is a cleansing of everything so something new and better can begin. After the night, the sun rises. Hence 'Sunrise'. With the end of the 20th century, we can expect that the 21st century will be better. At least, that's what they can expect in Northern Ireland.

As always with The Divine Comedy, the last song is a transition towards the next album. With Fin De Siècle, Neil Hannon declared to have reached maturity. Many have seen a sign of change with the theme of the album. With the century, something of The Divine Comedy was dead and we could expect something new (and better) for the next century.

Reviews

“A record dangerously close to being a masterpiece, the best DC record yet.” – Melody Maker

“Dangerously close to being a masterpiece… funny, sad, melodically compelling and obsessed with the themes of numbness, death and public transport.” – The Times, Metro