Monday, December 18, 2006

Album of 2006

Victory For The Comic Muse - The Divine Comedy

No hesitation whatsoever on this one. Unlike many DC fans I know, who adore the early albums, I find a lot of them a bit too, you know, clever. What I want is perfect pop songs, and on something like Promenade, I'm forever skipping to 'When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe' and 'A Drinking Song' when I know I should be listening to 'The Booklovers'... I can't help it, I like tunes. Hummable tunes.

I thought that 2004's Absent Friends would be hard to beat - 'Our Mutual Friend' is still one of the best songs Hannon has ever written (and features utterly sublime strings, courtesy of arranger Joby Talbot) - but Victory For The Comic Muse is right on it's heals in my affections. It opens with what should become a gig staple, an immediate classic that should rank up there with 'Something For The Weekend' and 'National Express' - 'To Die A Virgin'. The lyrics are witty, of course, but it's saved from being simply a 'joke' song by the fantastic orchestration - the urgent violins, the booming horn section - and the sheer vibrancy of the song which can't help but make you smile, and dance around. It's got the same stomping quality of Ben Folds Five's 'Underground' and Rufus Wainwright's 'The One You Love', and it makes me just as happy.

On the other end of the 'subtlety' scale, but equally wonderful, is 'A Lady of a Certain Age'. I've heard this described, on several occasions, as Hannon's best song ever, and it's easy to see why - continuing the Rufus comparisons, this is Hannon's 'The Art Teacher'. It's poignant, but still funny, and beautifully simply, and acts a wonderful foil to the proceeding 'Diva Lady'. While the latter is a bitter indictment of a shameless, demanding popstar, this song follows a woman in her twilight years 'around the Cote D'Azur, as she looks back on her life - and tests out what age she can still pass for.

Yes, VFTCM may get a bit Promenade when we reach track 10, 'Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont', but that's a welcome sign - it seems he's finally able to accept the good point of all his various styles of writing, where once he famously threw away his suits, annoyed that he used to 'value the art above the humanity' (Too Young To Die). He's clearly settled and content, and rather than making for a dull album, it's brought us one of his best yet.


Dean said...

I'd probably agree on that choice (the Jarvis album, Ed Harcourt's The Beautiful Lie, and Ben Kweller's eponymous disc should have been in the running, but they were all a little dissapointing in some way or another. I'm not sure Supersunnyspeedgraphic is eligbile).

However, I found it to be a definate return to form after the mostly awful Absent Friends - yes, Our Mutual Friend is wonderful, and the title track is brilliant, while Come Home Billy Bird and Happy Goth are passable pop songs, but the other six tracks... not so much. It's the only Divine Comedy album that I actually pick and choose tracks from instead of listening to as a whole (other than skipping Eric The Gardender on Fin, but everyone does that...). Interestingly I initially had simmilar feelings about Regeneration, but it slowly grew on me over a period of about two years, in a way Absent Friends never has.
I am of course, one of those fans who still prefers the earlier work - it's no secret that looking at albums as a single work on thier own, and not a collection of disparat songs, Promenade is my favourite album period.

And so to Victory for the Comic Muse - it really felt like a return to the earlier albums, with just a couple of tracks that fit more into the style of the past couple of albums (argueably I think each of the tracks on VftCM could be placed into each of the earlier albums pretty much seamlessly... might try figuring out which fits which next time I get bored). The only track I really didn't get on with was The Plough, until I saw it done live, where it was truely magnificant. All that said though I'd probably drop Mother Dear or Snowball In Negative for the vastly unnapreciated Diva Lady b-side, Absolute Power, a song I've loved since hearing it live before even Absent Friends came out. Damn you Hannon for neglecting it to b-side staus to never be played live again...

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Great review and I love the Rufus comparisons!

AnnaWaits said...

Oh Dean, how can you say Absent Friends is mostly awful! I love Sticks and Stones *and* Leaving Home *and* Imaginary Friend *and* Charmed Life as well as the ones you mentioned :D

Haven't heard that B-side, will have to hunt it out!

Dean said...

Well I'm just happy we've found something musical we can disagree on for once! You were getting far too close to being my perfect woman! :D

I guess they're not bad songs, they're just... they strike me as a little dull.

Charmed Life doesn't go anywhere, just potters along, pleasent enough but it's far too heart-feltly twee to keep me interested. Ditto Imaginary Friend. Likewise Sticks and Stones... it's a really nice tune but drags on without going anywhere. Leaving Today has that wonderful 'I could stay if you ask me' crescendo at the end but it just takes sooo long to get there and then the song peters out again.

When I said awful I did mean in comparison to other Divine Comedy records... it just sounded like a lot of filler, the sort of thing I'd have expected more as b-sides than album material.

(Apparently I have a blogger display name...interesting...)

Beth said...

Probably joining this conversation far too late, but hey!

Have to say I pretty much agree with your assessment - I am one of the people who thinks 'Lady of a Certain Age' is one of the best songs ever. By anyone. And it sits so well alonside 'The Art Teacher' in a playlist!

AnnaWaits said...

Sticks and Stones was one I always skipped, until I saw it live in Cambridge. Absolutely stunning. And I know what you mean about Leaving Home - a bit slow, but a fantastic pay off.

And Beth, not late at all, gald you agree! Good of you to stop by :)