The Divine Comedy
Victory for the Comic Muse
All the great dramas aren't about the plot, the setting or the content, they're about the characters and the way they interact with what is placed around them. Such rich characterisation is rare in a popular music dominated by self promotion, self deprecation and the stereotyping of social strata. It is against this backdrop that Neil Hannon, the Divine Comedy's mastermind, launches his sixth opus with a seeming will to follow in the socially critical lineage of Wilde, Bernard Shaw et al rather than his songwriting contemporaries.
It is a departure for man who, until the arrival of his 'magnum miserablis' Regeneration (an album which takes proud place amongst this writer's all time favourites) was seen to share the 'nudge, wink' humour of a pier end entertainer. A reputation galvanised by that horse song from Father Ted. 'â¦Comic Muse' follows in the musical tone set by it's predecessor Absent Friends, trading as it does in orchestral backed major key symphoniettas. Opening track 'To Die a Virgin' sets a heady pace, seeing Hannon sidestep but nod towards his smutty past with a rye musing on the woes of the song's central character, it's slide guitar and xylophone backing is a fair old treat while it makes the best (only?) reference to Handy Andies I've ever heard in song.
The character studies begin more earnestly with the chiming single 'Diva Lady', a sarcastic ode to the Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez backed by ditty so charming and light that each of the above mentioned would most likely set the other's hair on fire to get their hands on it. The excellent 'Party Fears Two' a first for me in a pop song, seeming to use a high tempo string instrumental in place of chorus, it is certainly this rather than the words I find myself humming. This is merely another example of the polish applied by Hannon's production which adds an air of the furniture shop, rather than the Mr Sheen of many similar records.
The albums dual highlights come through 'A Lady of a Certain Age', a paean to a cheeky Cote d'Azur trotting granny and 'Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World', which studies the 'afflictions' of the narrator's significant other. Each of the characters in the songs are from a different age, yet Hannon is able to evoke the period, the position of the character within it and social comment attaching to them through his duo of weapons; a profound turn of phrase and an ascetic wit.
In his characterisation and the tools he uses to achieve it we can see how Hannon wishes to emulate the auteurs and raconteurs I have mentioned. His musical style and notation may add to that list Gilbert and Sullivan, indeed it is this writers feeling that Hannon could be the man to re-invigorate the musical theatre genre & it's time we added Hannon to the lineage to which he now truly deserves to stand within.