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Old 04-11-2022, 06:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's Tasters - Introductions and Beginnings


I thought this was a good idea - about ten years ago - and the time seemed right to give it a kick up the arse and try it again.

Basically, the idea is to pick an artist I like and give you guys a flavour of them, writing a little about their various albums and throwing a slew of videos at you, so you can, if you wish, see if you're interested in exploring further. I'm open to suggestions, but remember I need to know and like the artist in order to properly drivel on about them, so don't bother asking me to introduce you to, like, Napalm Death or The Fall or yer man with the heart made of meat, y'know?

Yeah, it'll just be the artists I know, so probably nobody cares, but who knows? Someone might. Maybe? Please? Ah sod ya then! I'm gonna go build my own forum! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the forum!


All right then, let's smash a bottle of inexpensive champagne over the bow of this hulking beast and let it slide into the waters where it WILL SINK? OH NO I KNEW I SHOULD NEVER HAVE USED CLUMSY STUDENT SHIPBUILDERS!




Okay then, let's try that again...
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Old 04-11-2022, 06:59 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Our first beginner's guide features the enigmatic and uncategorisable
The Divine Comedy

Like a lot of other people I suspect, I first got into the Divine Comedy's music through being advised that he was “that bloke who wrote the Father Ted theme”, and then being handed Casanova by a friend. Suffice to say, having listened to it I was, as Mister Brittas remarked on occasion, impressed!

Formed in 1989 by Neil Hannon, the Divine Comedy is, essentially, him. It's his brainchild, he writes the lyrics and music, he's the face of the band and while members have come and gone and lineups shifted and moved, the one constant in all of this has been Neil Hannon, the driving and creative force behind possibly the coolest music that should never have been. On the face of it, the Divine Comedy should not work. It can't work. Classical fusing with chamber pop music, rock and blues and soul and dance and, well, just about anything else you can think of, really. Add to that an upper-class sense of lyrics, with high literature, mythology and history, and surely it has to be music you can only hate?

But it works, and works superbly well. The disparate elements of the music, which should surely tear each other apart like two planets caught in the gravitational pull of a black hole, instead somehow combine, sort out their differences and meld together to form music that is, really, wholly unique. Here, I can give you a taste of what the Divine Comedy is about, but really, you need to go to the restaurant and order for yourself, because this guide is bound to leave you hungry for more.

However, 'twas not always thus! The first inception of the band enjoyed poor record sales and absolutely no acclaim or interest when they released their first album, the now-deleted Fanfare for the Comic Muse, with a style very different to that which would later characterise the very essence of the Divine Comedy, and bring them the fame and recognition they so deserved.

Fanfare for the Comic Muse (1990)


As it's deleted, this is the only Divine Comedy album I don't own, and so I can't tell you much about it, other than it's apparently quite influenced by REM, was radically different to the direction Hannon took the band in afterwards, and that after this album, the original lineup split - so I'm not going to bother naming them - leaving Neil to reinvent the Divine Comedy for the launch of their second, but first proper, album. The only thing I can find on YouTube is the opening track, it's called “Ignorance is Bliss”.
Spoiler for Ignorance is Bliss:


Liberation (1993)


The real Divine Comedy emerged in 1993, and released the excellent Liberation, which I consider their debut, given that it changes the musical direction and creative ideas behind the band in a major way from the original debut. Although acclaimed, this album nevertheless failed to garner any commercial success for Hannon, and it was only his hardcore French fanbase that bought enough copies of the album to enable him to record his second album.

It's hard, really hard to choose just two tracks from this album: indeed, it's going to be hard to do that for ANY of the Divine Comedy albums, as it's rare or even unknown to come across a bad song by Hannon, but I've decided to restrict myself to two tracks per album, and so the decision must be made.

I'm going to leave out “Timewatching”, as it appears in another form on one of the Divine Comedy's later albums, and is, essentially, “When I Fall in Love”. Similarly, “The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count” (how's that for a title?) was a single and in the charts, so probably reasonably well-known, and I want to get across here stuff newcomers to the music may not be familiar with. Oh, that only leaves, what, 11 tracks to choose from! Oh god! Right then, let's start off with the brilliant “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”
Spoiler for Berniece Bobs Her Hair:

and the equally excellent (superlatives are going to get so overused here!) “Queen of the South”. I actually had decided on “Europe By Train”, but the only video I could find had such terrible audio it just would have been pointless.
Spoiler for Queen of the South:


Undeterred by commercial failure, Hannon went into the studio and recorded his second (all right, third!) album the following year, with mostly a whole new band, and the result was Promenade.

Promenade (1994)


Again, it's a wonderful album, and again, the proles turned their noses up at it. Hey, back then, I probably was one of them, more interested in listening to Iron Maiden and shaking my rapidly-shortening hair than seeking out music of this quality! Anyhow, again it's a long album, another 13 tracks, this time it's based on a concept, of two people sharing one afternoon while in love. And again, it's hard to pick just two tracks, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Unfortunately, no men are available so you'll have to do with me.

I want to go for “Tonight We Fly”, but I have a feeling it was used in some commercial enterprise (an ad, or jingle, or promo, or suchlike) so I'm going to resist the temptation and instead go with the beautiful, haunting and ethereal “Neptune's Daughter”
Spoiler for Neptune's Daughter:

and the hilarious “A Seafood Song”, with hints coming through in the intro to what we would later hear on Casanova.
Spoiler for A Seafood Song:

This was the first album to feature a man who would become a longtime collaborator, arranger and conductor with Hannon, Joby Talbot, who would feature on the next five albums and compose two songs with Neil.

1996 was the breakthrough year for Neil. Having written the theme music to TV series Father Ted, and later the hilarious “My Lovely Horse” for an episode of that series (and, I remain convinced, the song entered in that selfsame contest by Father Dick Byrne, but I can never get it either confirmed or titled!), he produced the stunning Casanova, which gave him his first hit singles.

Casanova (1996)


Now, as there were singles off this, I'm going to ignore them in this guide. My favourite track on this is without doubt the closer, “The Dogs and the Horses”, but I've featured that at least twice in my journal already, so instead I'm going to go for “Middle Class Heroes”
Spoiler for Middle Class Heroes:

and the frenetic, almost apopletically angry “Through a Long and Sleepless Night”.
Spoiler for Through a Long and Sleepless Night:

Note: the only version I could find of this is a live radio session. The album version is a little different.

A Short Album About Love (1997)

In 1997 Hannon released a sort of mini-album, something to keep fans going, as it were, till the release of his next full recording. This featured only 7 tracks, but yielded one of the Divine Comedy's biggest hit singles, “Everybody Knows (Except You)”. It also was the album on which 1993's “Timewatching” was resurrected from Liberation and re-recorded and mixed. These two tracks I will, therefore, you will probably have sussed by now, not be featuring. Instead, here's the dramatically powerful “Someone”
Spoiler for Someone:

and the weird “If I Were You (I'd Be Through With Me)”
Spoiler for If I Were You:


Fin de siecle (1998)

The next full album didn't hit the shelves till the next year, and when Fin de siecle was released it gifted Neil another huge hit, in “National Express”. No, you won't be hearing it here, that's right. How about the Tom Waits-like “Sweden”?
Spoiler for Sweden:

And the tremendous “The Certainty of Chance”.
Spoiler for The Certainty of Chance:


Fin de siecle marked a hiatus of three years before the Divine Comedy's next release, 2001's Regeneration.

Regeneration (2001)

Three more singles were lifted from this album, so I'm featuring “Eye of the Needle”
Spoiler for Eye of the Needle:

and also the acoustic triumph “Mastermind”.
Spoiler for Mastermind:

Regeneration, as its name somewhat implies, is a return to the original stylings of Hannon's debut and now-deleted album, Fanfare for the Comic Muse. There's less orchestral and chamber music, and he uses a full band, giving his sound a different dimension while still retaining the unique character of his music. A step backward, two steps forward.

Absent Friends (2004)

Three years later and Neil had dispensed with the band, releasing his eighth album, Absent Friends under the Divine Comedy name, but with just himself and Joby Talbot with some session musicians and guests. This album goes a little back to the Fin de siecle sound, and from it came two singles. I'm looking here at the almost bluegrass “My Imaginary Friend”
Spoiler for My Imaginary Friend:

and the sad and haunting “The Wreck of the Beautiful”.
Spoiler for The Wreck of the Beautiful:


Victory for the Comic Muse (2006)


Neil Hannon has said that the title of this album has nothing to do with his ill-fated debut, but come on! They're virtually the same, with the replacement of one word. Either way, Victory for the Comic Muse goes back to the practice of using a full orchestra, and although it won the Irish Choice Music Prize, it contained no hits, though two tracks were chosen to be released as singles.

I haven't heard this album all the way through, so I'm guessing a little here, but I'll try “A Lady of a Certain Age”
Spoiler for A Lady of a Certain Age:

and any track called “Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World” has to be worth including!
Spoiler for Arthur C. Clarke:


Bang Goes the Knighthood (2010)


The last, so far, album was released last year and I've only had the chance to listen to it the once up to now, but I already like the title track
Spoiler for Bang Goes the Knighthood:

and I love “When a Man Cries”. Not literally, you understand!
Spoiler for When a Man Cries:

This album is already shaping up to be one of my favourite of his, and I see in it a return to the Casanova era, with much tighter songwriting, powerful yet understated performances and an economy of instrumentation.

There's little doubt that Neil Hannon, as the Divine Comedy, is a unique act, and there's no-one I can think of to compare him to. He's one of those artists that defies an answer to the question, well, what's their music like? You might as well try to describe how Tom Waits or Philip Glass sound. You can't; it's impossible to tell anyone what sort of music they play, as it just doesn't fit in with any of the normal conventions of music. You simply have to listen to the music to understand and appreciate it, and more than likely you'll love it unreservedly. Or hate it. But one thing is certain: it will definitely make an impression.

So, like I said at the beginning, this has been but a tiny taster of the delights available from the artist known as the Divine Comedy. To really understand what he and his music is all about though, you need to experience it in full, so book yourself a table now and tuck in!
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