I have to preface this with the fact that I never was the biggest fan of The Divine Comedy. While Neil Hannon's opera-meets-David-Bowie vocals never failed me, the music was something hard for me to get behind. Yes, that even applies to 2001's Regeneration, with Nigel Godrich on deck. Needless to say, I really wasn't expecting much from the newest effort, Victory For The Comic Muse, if anything at all. Holy shit was I wrong. (Seriously, write it on the calendar. I'm not wrong that often.)
Victory For The Comic Muse, his ninth album, is one for the books. Personally, I think it even beats 1996's Casanova. The title is a play on words with title of Divine Comedy's debut album, Fanfare Of The Comic Muse, as well as giving reference to E.M. Foster's A Room With A View. It was also written for the most part back at Hannon's Dublin home after coming back from touring 2004's Absent Friends. During this time Hannon found refuge in other projects: from working on soundtracks to TV theme songs. It was this variety of work that helped fuel Hannon's creative juices to complete Victory For The Comic Muse. As a matter of fact, each song was recorded in one take, capturing the whole essence of each track. It probably wasn't an easy task considering there were up to 28 musicians working together to make the record.
The record kicks off with the punchy Blur reminiscent "To Die A Virgin," a song that has everything from horns and strings to clips that sound like they are swiped from a film. This is the most in your face song, and makes for a great opener. However, it's really with the next song, "Mother Dear," that the landscape of the album is laid out for all to see; soaring vocals from Hannon, layered on top of strings and a banjo added for a countryside feeling. Up next is "Diva Lady," the first single. This song really, really grew on me. Probably do to the repeated listens and campy chorus taking me back to the '70s or '80s.
"A Lady Of A Certain Age" is when things start to turn from good into great. The song tells a sad tale about a young socialite that has the world wrapped around her finger, only to realize that as age comes so does failure and she is in fact just like everyone else. Beautiful melodies, meticulously crafted instrumentation and Hannon's classic lyrics make this track nothing short of stunning. The same goes for "The Light Of Day," albeit more upbeat than the before mentioned, it continues on the path of huge chamber pop and even features a harpsichord. This is Divine Comedy at its finest.
One thing that Hannon has down to a pat is amazing lyrics. He tells stories rather than singing about random things and trying to make them rhyme. There are characters, epic tales and even tragedies. As "Threesome" comes in, it marks an intermission of sorts before boldly breaking into the more theatrical songs such as "Party Fears Two," "Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont," and "The Plough." Then there is "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World," a funny little ditty that is catchy and bright.
Victory For The Comic Muse is something that everyone should listen to without a doubt. If you are a closet fan, or even someone that never really got into the older stuff, or someone who has never heard of the band at all, check this album out. What I can say is that this has not left my sound-blocking earphones since it arrived on my desk, and if I was a betting woman, I would bet once you hear it you will be in the same boat as I.
"Diva Lady" video
The Divine Comedy