This is one of our first trips down what's destined to become a well-rutted path ...

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For All The Beautiful People

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For All The Beautiful People

THIS IS ONE OF OUR FIRST TRIPS down what’s destined to become a well-rutted path. An album concerned with the imminent arrival of the millennium, ‘Fin De Sihcle’ is a witty, sideways glance at the 20th century and… Sorry? Did you doze off there for a second?

It’s hard to believe that The Divine Comedy would commit such a crime against originality, but there you go: Neil Hannon himself has already confessed that this album includes songs about such knotty issues as The Troubles in Ireland and Diana’s death last August. All of which seems improbably dry and serious – not to mention, crushingly naff.

Still, lest we fall into blind panic, we should also point out that this high seriousness is also offset by songs celebrating nationwide coach travel. And Sweden. But even these point to a shedding of the Casanova-persona of his last two LPs, and a move away from a more personal line of songwriting – making this not so much a short album about love as a lengthy album about… well, everything.

It isn’t such a dramatic break with the past. ‘Fin De Sihcle’ is just a continuation on the theme of [I]every [/I]Divine Comedy album: it’s about Hannon himself, and the constant struggle within him between the sophisticate and the twerp. So despite at first appearing less autobiographical, it’s just as revealing as anything else he’s ever written. Only with less memorable tunes.

Hannon’s never quite sure who or what he is. One minute he’s a European[I] bon viveur [/I]singing the praises of Swedish literature, the next he’s writing some awful lyrics about the [I]”jolly hostess selling crisps and tea”[/I] (‘National Express’). Similarly, moments of sublime romance (the touching piano-led melancholy of ‘Commuter Love’) are forced to mingle with inconsequential whimsy like ‘Eric The Gardener’.

Unfortunately, this schizophrenia also infects the music. By turns toweringly ambitious and painfully preposterous, it lurches from the insubstantial to the melodramatic in the blink of an eyelid. Not that there isn’t plenty to admire – the Orbital-esque atmospherics that comprise the last minutes of ‘Eric The Gardener’ and the orchestral extravagance of ‘Certainty Of Chance’ are both outstanding – it’s just there’s an equal amount here to make you cringe. Just like those early Divine Comedy albums where Hannon would include a Euro-disco number “for a laugh”, here we get a disastrous stab at a Lloyd Webber musical (the terrible ‘Here Comes The Flood’) and the jaunty seaside canter of ‘National Express’.

‘Fin De Sihcle’, however, does at least conclude with its best song. A mountain of chiming crescendos, ‘Sunrise’ is both a meditative account of Hannon’s childhood in Enniskillen and an optimistic view of Northern Ireland’s future that does nothing to reconcile the contradictions at the heart of both ‘Fin De Sihcle’ and Hannon himself. And regrettably, while that might make him a consistently intriguing individual, it also makes for a frustratingly inconsistent album. Still, at least it isn’t really about the millennium.