It might not quite be 'Regeneration', but it's not the death throes either.
Neil Hannon has never been one to shy away from the grand gesture. His previous, 1998 album (The Divine Comedy’s last for an indie label) was called ‘Fin De Siècle’; now a new millennium brings the equally confidently titled major label debut ‘Regeneration’. Yet all does not appear to be well in The Divine Comedy’s world. While Hannon’s lyrics earned him a reputation as one of the most bumptious men in pop, they now portray him as unsure and depressed. Where once were orchestras confidently blasting away, now stands pensive flu rock – produced by the guru of the genre, Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Travis).
Musically, the result is a strange compromise between Hannon’s natural urge towards cathedral-sized bombast and Godrich’s attempts to keep it intimate with his trademark electronic squeaks, bumps and echo-free production. Lyrically, ‘Regeneration’ replaces the roistering fop of old with
a troubled soul whose views wouldn’t look out of place on the letters page
of [I]The Daily Telegraph[/I], fretting about the decline in pop culture (‘Dumb It Down’), the pernicious effect of fashion magazines (‘The Beauty Regime’)
and – gulp – the silence of God (‘Eye Of The Needle’).
First single ‘Love What You Do’ is so downbeat it barely registers, while ‘Perfect Lovesong’ seems more sour than breezy, sarcastically promising a [I]”divine Beatles bassline and a big old Beach Boys sound”[/I] (which it doesn’t deliver). The most alarming moment occurs on ‘Note To Self’, the Bridget Jones flippancy of the title undercut by Hannon’s abrupt and heartfelt cry “What the fuck is happening?” There is, it seems, some mid-life crisis afoot, expressed most eloquently – and movingly – on ‘Mastermind’, which seems to conflate The Divine Comedy’s concerns about their place in a rapacious music identity with Neil Hannon’s memories of a teenage search for music which would “tell me that
All of which begs the question: exactly where do The Divine Comedy place themselves in 2001’s hyper-accelerated pop culture? On the right, the Britpop which they once complimented as an exotic and amusing side-dish has long since disappeared; on the left, their artistic achievements have been far exceeded by their old American allies The Magnetic Fields. Yet The Divine Comedy are much more appealing in their vulnerability than they ever were in full cry. It might not quite be ‘Regeneration’, but it’s not the death throes either.