The Divine Comedy debut new material from their forthcoming album 'Regeneration'...
“Tonight we’re going to play mainly songs from our new record. In fact, we’re going to play all the songs from our new record, and you will like it,”
Neil Hannon firmly announces. And with tonight’s audience made up largely of The Divine Comedy’s Irish fanclub, no one is protesting the opportunity of a preview of their major label debut, ‘Regeneration’. The album is very much about renewal, new beginnings, the evolution of The Divine Comedy as a band, as opposed to The Divine Comedy as the charming fop at the core of it all. Yet the crowd hang on Hannon’s every word, never issuing a moment of discontent or allowing wry comment to pass by without a smitten giggle.
In fairness to Hannon, he’s gradually become an altogether more engaging persona over the last ten years and five studio albums. The rapport with his audience now emanates a lovely cosiness. His once stiffly dapper appearance has dissolved down to basic t-shirt and jeans and a shaggy barnet. And the sound that reached a theatrical cabaret pomp on 1998’s ‘Fin De Siecle’ has been deflated to a lush cruise on the Nigel Godrich-produced ‘Regeneration’.
The opening ‘Timestretched’ is piloted with the gentle poise of synths and xylophone, the seven-piece band concentrating on a heavily-laden tapestry that never really leaps out and smacks you on the lips. It seems that The Divine Comedy have buried their most comical instincts.
Of course, tonight wouldn’t work without the scattering of some old favourites. ‘Tonight We Fly’ does indeed soar in this wholly tender new canvas, sliding in nicely alongside the sprinkling piano and acoustic guitar-led elegance of ‘Lost Property’ (“A song about losing things”) and the chiming string-stretched flight of new single ‘Love What You Do’. But perhaps the most affecting of all the new material is ‘Mastermind’, a distant companion piece to Blur’s ‘This Is A Low’ with its building lump-in-the-back-of-your-throat balladry.
Hinting at a forthcoming single, Neil introduces ‘Perfect Lovesong’ as “Our first number one, or so we’d like to think”. Although clearly wishful thinking, this dinky little pastoral muse will become a cheery sing-a-long in time. It all ends on the album’s closer, ‘The Beauty Regime’, a somewhat funereal finale, but a seriously poignant excavation of inner anxieties. The Divine Comedy may have moved on from the bold impudence and the slap’n’tickle comedy of yore, but this honest new outlook certainly becomes them.