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Old 11-28-2011, 10:39 AM   #541 (permalink)
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Little shop of horrors OST --- Cast recording --- 1986 (Geffen)


Movie soundtracks are not something I review very often, but this one is pretty special. Not only is the film itself great, clever, funny and entertaining, the music forms a perfect backdrop to it, and every time I hear it I can see the movie running in my mind's eye. Possibly all the more surprising as it stars two people I really do not rate, they being Rick Moranis and Steve Martin (although the latter has something of a supporting role). Moranis annoys me because he always seems to play the stereotypical geek-become-hero figure, which for me reached an unacceptable peak with the “Ghostbusters” movies, and Martin I used to like but lost faith in him after he made “Roxanne”: for me, it's been a steady slide downwards for him from there, as far as my appreciation of him goes. Don't anyone even mention Sergeant Bilko!

But the movie is great, a remake of course of Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie, which was made into an off-Broadway musical and from thence to a movie. For any who hasn't seen it, the basic plot runs thus: Seymour Krelborn (Moranis) works in a flower shop as a dogsbody and unappreciated genius with plants, admiring from afar the beautiful but dizzy blonde who works in the shop with him, Audrey Fulquard, played by Ellen Greene. One day he brings in a “weird plant” he has bought, and when his boss sees it he decides to put it in the window, to attract interest, which it does. After a while, the shop, which had been struggling, is making lots of money and Seymour becomes famous as the owner of the plant, named Audrey II, in honour of his unattainable love.

However, things soon take a turn for the worse, when Seymour scratches himself on one of the plant's thorns and the Audrey II SPEAKS to him, demanding blood. Turns out it's an alien lifeform, and needs human blood and flesh to live. Cue black humour as Seymour first feeds Audrey's abusive boyfriend, dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello (Martin) to the plant, but this is not enough and once Audrey II has a taste of blood it wants more, leading to a comical trail of corpses making their way to the evil plant.

Along the way, Audrey (the girl) and Seymour declare their love for each other, and then Seymour has to take down the alien plant in a final showdown...

The plot isn't that important, but it does help to know it as the musical numbers basically narrate and advance the script. But it's the music that makes the movie, and this being a music forum, that's what we'll be concentrating on in this review. The above was just to give you a grounding in the film, so that what follows will make some kind of twisted sense.

It opens, as most musicals do, with an overture, or prologue, with narration to introduce the plot, behind dramatic music which suddenly breaks into bright, rock-and-roll piano to introduce the theme, sung by three girls who act as a kind of ongoing narrative device as the movie goes along. They're known as Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal, but I'll just refer to them as the Trio for handiness' sake. They only feature a little in the movie anyhow. What is essentially the title track is a rock/soul romp, very fifties in nature, with lots of piano and brass, but it's not one of the better tracks on the album.

It fades into one that is, that being “Skid Row (Downtown)”, a gospel-like opening that catalogues the horrors of living “downtown”, in the lowest of the low neighbourhoods, known colloquially as “Skid Row”. The song introduces the two main characters, Audrey and Seymour, the latter of whom bemoans his fate as he sings ”Poor, all my life/ I've always been poor/ I keep asking God what I'm for/ And he tells me gee, I'm not sure/ Sweep that floor kid!” It's a real soul track, building in intensity as the characters (mainly Seymour and Audrey) declare their determination to get out of this place. It goes totally Hollywood, ending on a big finish. In the movie, it's really clever as after the big finish someone throws slop out on the sidewalk and a tramp shuffles past, somewhat ruining the atmosphere.

The arrival of the alien plant is introduced in “Da doo”, with Moranis as Seymour detailing how he came to buy the Audrey II from an old flower shop run by “a Chinese guy”, as the Trio rip off a perfectly-balanced ”To-tal-e-clipse-ofthe-sun!” Ah, you have to hear it. It's very fifties again, like most of the music: lots of piano, doo-wop singing, close harmonies and the like. So with his plant bought, Seymour then begins to think he's been sold a lemon, as the plant refuses to grow, no matter what he does. In the next song, “Grow for me”, a parody of an old fifties love song, Moranis begs the plant to grow, detailing all he's done to try make it grow, and at the end snaps ”Whaddya want from me? Blood?” Of course this is the spark, and when he discovers this is what's needed, he squeezes out a few drops, eyes closed, but this will never be enough. Still, the plant does begin to grow when he leaves in frustration, as the dramatic finale to the song denotes.


Another standout then in the lovely “Somewhere that's green”, as Ellen Greene in the role of Audrey sits and sings of her dream life, married to Seymour with kids in a house with a white picket fence. A beautiful fragile piano melody carries the song, about halfway getting more forceful and desperate as the strings come in, then fade away as Audrey realises this is just ”A picture out of / Better Homes and Gardens magazine”, and the piano slowly leads the song to its sad conclusion. Greene's dizzy-blonde voice is a little hard to put up with, but she does have a lovely singing voice, and it's a really nice song.

“Some fun now” reintroduces the Trio, but I could live without it. It's a sort of caribbean styled/limbo song that really goes nowhere as far as I can see. But then we get “Dentist”, which introduces the mad character played by Steve Martin, Orin Scrivello, a dentist who gets off on pain. Not his, other people's. He's in the right business then, as he gleefully sings that his mother told him when he was a child ”You'll be a dentist/ You have a talent for causing pain/ You'll be a dentist/ People will pay you to be inhumane.” It's a kind of a play on the old “Leader of the pack” song, with lots of echoey drum and guitar, and to be fair, Martin makes the song with his insane persona of the sadistic dentist.

Then it's time to hear Audrey II sing, and her voice (his voice: the plant is male, despite Seymour's having given it a female name) is provided by Four Tops legend Levi Stubbs. “Feed me” is a real rock/soul tour-de-force, as the plant promises to give his owner anything he wants if he will feed him some human flesh. Seymour comes in on the song, unsure: ”I don't know/ I have so many strong reservations/ Should I go and perform mutiliations?” and the rock vibe goes up and the two join as Seymour realises that Audrey's dentist boyfriend could be a victim: ”The guy sure looks like/ Plant food to me!”

And so the stage is set, and the plant has the first of many victims. With the abusive dentist gone from her life, Audrey is free to fall in love with Seymour, and they duet on the lovesong “Suddenly Seymour”, with nice piano and strings which, like “Somewhere that's green”, starts off quietly and gentle but gets more operatic and powerful as it heads towards its, ahem, climax. On this song Greene really shows off her singing prowess, and to be fair, Moranis can carry a tune, but the girl is without question the star of this song. Reminds me of Sam Brown at her best.

That's the end of the lovey-dovey stuff though, as “Suppertime” brings back in Levi Stubbs and encourages Seymour to kill his boss, who has discovered what he's been doing back late at the shop. A great funky number, it also features the Trio, who function in this song as a backing group for the Audrey II,

Seymour's life starts to spiral out of control as his fame rises, as “The meek shall inherit” tells us, with the Trio and Seymour singing as Moranis tries to make up his mind whether he should allow Audrey II to live, or finish it off and so kiss goodbye to his new fame and riches. Almost a tango in style, it slows down near the end as gentle strings and piano sway his mind back as Seymour reasons that without the Audrey II and the fame it brings his own Audrey might not love him, and the song ends on a somewhat confused crescendo.

Stubbs' piece-de-resistance then is “Mean green mother from outer space”, where he rocks and funks it out like there's no tomorrow, laughing in Seymour's face: ”I'm just a mean green mother/ From outer space/ And I'm bad!/ Just a mean green mother/ From outer space/ And it looks like/ You been had!” The climax both of the film and of the soundtrack, it rocks along and gets really frenetic near the end as the plant is destroyed --- great guitars and brass, excellent percussion and rollicking piano all mesh to make a fine almost-closer, but the last word is reserved for “Finale (Don't feed the plants)”, a rocker with great backing vocals, kind of a reprise of the opening theme which brings the curtain down really well.

Like most soundtracks, it helps if you've seen the movie, but even if you haven't, you can still enjoy this album on its own merits. There's some great music on it, some fine vocal performances, and hey! Levi Stubbs! I mean, come on: what are you waiting for?

TRACKLISTING

1. Prologue (Little shop of horrors)
2. Skid Row (Downtown)
3. Da-doo
4. Grow for me
5. Somewhere that's green
6. Some fun now
7. Dentist
8. Feed me
9. Suddenly Seymour
10. Suppertime
11. The meek shall inherit
12. Mean green mother from outer space
13. Finale (Don't feed the plants)
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Old 11-28-2011, 05:51 PM   #542 (permalink)
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Who doesn't like a bit of ABBA, from time to time? Here they are with one of the worm's favourites, this is “The winner takes it all”.
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Old 11-28-2011, 06:04 PM   #543 (permalink)
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Tuesday, November 29 2011
Transfiguration --- Virgin Steele --- from "The marriage of Heaven and Hell, Part II" on T&T


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Old 11-28-2011, 06:07 PM   #544 (permalink)
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Bad English --- Bad English --- 1989 (Epic)


What do you get when you put together the likes of John Waite, Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon? Journey II? No, you get Bad English, a supergroup who released two albums in the late eighties, of which this was the self-titled debut. As you might expect, it's chock-full of power rockers, faultless playing, great songwriting and some lovely ballads.

Bad English really don't put a foot wrong, from explosive opener "Best of what I got" to low-key closer "Don't walk away", and in all, five hit singles were released from the album, which went double-platinum. Unlike some supergroups, who make it obvious that they're only getting together for the money, Bad English always feel like they're in it for the music, and there's no hint of either boredom, by-the-numbers playing or even one-upmanship.

I really can't fault this record. I bought it, not knowing who was involved, and I loved it. Standouts would be, for me, "Price of love", "When I see you smile", "Forget me not", "Ghost in your heart" --- ah, hell, just the whole album! If there are weak tracks, maybe (maybe) "Ready when you are", but even then it's a close-run thing.

Bad English? Great album!

TRACKLISTING

1. Best of what I got
2. Heaven is a four letter word
3. Possession
4. Forget me not
5. When I see you smile
6. Tough times don't last
7. Ghost in your heart
8. Price of love
9. Ready when you are
10. Lay down
11. The restless ones
12. Rockin' horse
13. Don't walk away
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Old 11-28-2011, 07:00 PM   #545 (permalink)
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Tracy Chapman --- Tracy Chapman --- 1988 (Elektra)


It's seldom that a debut album will receive seven Grammy nominations, three of which it actually wins, but that's how good Tracy Chapman's self-titled debut was when it was released. A real breath of fresh air, it's almost like Robert Cray got a sex change! The music is powerful and has a lot to say, the guitar work flawless, and the whole thing rather understated, despite the fanfare. Rather surprising in a way then that although she has since released another seven albums, Tracy has somewhat faded from the glare of the music spotlight, perhaps by choice. She has certainly been heavily involved with charities and social causes, and has built up a solid following of loyal fans, but the huge commercial success that the first single garnered for her has not been repeated.

Most of the album is quite sparse and low-key, and opener “Talkin' 'bout a revolution” is no exception. With acoustic guitar joined by organ, the song looks to the day when ”Poor people gonna rise up/ And take what's theirs”, and in some ways we've seen that recently --- over twenty-five years later, admittedly --- in the popular uprisings across the Middle East, as well as the Ninety-nine percent movement in the US. We're still a long way from world revolution though. It's a boppy enough opening, but with a serious message, like the next track, the hit single “Fast car”, carried on mostly single guitar and bass, the story of one woman trying to get out of the rut her life is in. It's a song about the problems many suffer: poverty, homelessness, unemployment and responsibility for others as she sings ”My old man's got a problem/ Lives with the bottle …/ Someone had to take care of him/ So I quit school and that's what I did.”

Despite the dreams and plans the woman has, she knows things will never change, and in the end she's forced to tell her boyfriend to sling his hook: ”Take your fast car/ And keep on drivin'.” “Across the lines” is another tale of trying to break out and make something of your life, rise above your social status, with a strong anti-apartheid message in the lyric: ”Across the lines/ Who would dare to go/ Under the bridge/ Over the tracks/ That separates whites from blacks?” A triumph of acapella singing, “Behind the wall” is under two minutes of domestic violence which ends in tragedy, decrying the inaction of the police and the result of such refusal to get involved in a domestic dispute.

Sadly, just about everyone knows the next track due to its being covered by Boyzone, but that doesn't stop “Baby can I hold you” from being a classic love song. With lovely acoustic guitar and lonely keyboards in the background, it's fragile, tense, frustrated and yearning, a sincere wish to heal the wounds, any way possible. Like just about every track on this album it's short, just over three minutes, and indeed there are only two tracks on the whole album that exceed the four-minute mark. Chapman does not need long, meandering, complicated songs to make her point and get her message across: every track is short, concise and hits the right note in exactly the right way.

“Mountains o' things” is very Caribbean influenced, dulcimer and kettle-drum-like percussion giving the whole thing a relaxed, lazy feel, bongos tapping out the rhythm as if the whole thing was recorded on some island paradise somewhere. I have to say, though, it's my least favourite track on the album, just does really nothing for me. Not mad about “She's got her ticket” either, a reggae styled track I feel is more filler than anything else, but things settle down again with “Why”, which asks the questions we all want answers to, backed by electric guitar and wailing keyboards: ”Why do babies starve/ When there's enough food to feed the world/ Why when there's so many of us/ Are there people still alone/ Why are the missiles called Peacekeepers/ When they're aimed to kill?”


“For my lover” is a country/folk-styled ballad, and then comes one of the other standouts on the album, “If not now...”, a tender, piano-driven semi-ballad, almost in Al Stewart territory, where Tracy declares sharply ”If not today/ Why give your promises?/ A love declared for days to come/ Is as good as none.” The album ends on the brittle “For you”, a very low-key and somewhat muddy ending to an album which, while not perfect and which has its flaws, is still an impressive debut.

TRACKLISTING

1. Talkin' 'bout a revolution
2. Fast car
3. Across the lines
4. Behind the wall
5. Baby can I hold you
6. Mountains o' things
7. She's got her ticket
8. Why
9. For my lover
10. If not now...
11. For you
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Old 11-29-2011, 05:36 PM   #546 (permalink)
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When he was younger the worm hated new romantic music (still does!) but even he has to admit there were a few good songs from that genre, and this is one of them...
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Old 11-29-2011, 05:44 PM   #547 (permalink)
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Wednesday, November 30 2011
Crow Jane --- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --- from "Murder Ballads" on Mute


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Old 11-29-2011, 05:47 PM   #548 (permalink)
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Well, before the month closes I need to get some more new sections going, otherwise those sexy little NewsFoxes will be all over me … wait a minute...!

Anyway, as promised by those sultry vixens in their first Journal News segment, here's the first of at least two new features. This is called “Epics”, if the graphic hadn't already made that clear, and as reported by Kate, it will be concerned with tracks which are long with a capital L. As a baseline, I'm trying not to include any tracks under seven minutes (though the odd one may slip through, if I feel it's worth breaking the unwritten rule for!) and really, anything after that is fair game. Don't expect to be able to whizz through these selections: they're all going to be long and need some time devoted to them.

As already hinted at, the nature of prog-rock does mean that this particular genre will feature fairly strongly here, but I'll be trying to get long songs from other types of music too. In fairness, I won't include classical, as they are covered on the “Get the Culture Bug” section, nor long instrumentals --- again, they have their own place --- but other than that, anything is fair game.

Going to start off with one from a metal band, Rainbow in the Ronnie James Dio era, a great track from “Rising”, clocking in at a respectable 8:13, this is “A light in the black”.


And now for a REALLY long one! This is IQ, with the opening track from the album “Tales from the lush attic”. The only way to get the full version though was to take a live performance, so here it is. The live version, like most of its sort, is in fact longer than the studio, the latter working out at 19:57 (yeah, I know!) and the live version comes in at a massive 22:08! Sorry the sound is not perfect, but that's what you risk with live recordings...


And THIS one is so long it had to be split into two YouTubes! This is Redemption, from their self-titled debut, a track that runs in total for 24:29, and it's called “Something wicked this way comes”.


Couldn't really have an Epics selection without Marillion, so here they are with their recognised epic, the studio version of which runs for 17:18, this is “Grendel”.


33:54. Did someone say thirty-three minutes fifty-four seconds?? Yeah, that's right. This is Salem Hill, with the closing opus from their album “Not everybody's gold”, this is “Sweet hope suite”.
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Old 11-29-2011, 06:08 PM   #549 (permalink)
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I know a few people have been waiting for this, and sorry for the delay, but these guides should not be rushed. Our third beginner's guide features the enigmatic and uncatergorisable
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”.


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 decided when opening this section some months ago that I would 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”

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.


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.

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”

and the hilarious “A seafood song”, with hints coming through in the intro to what we would later hear on “Casanova”.

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”

and the frenetic, almost apopletically angry “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”

and the weird “If I were you (I'd be through with me)”


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”?

And the tremendous “The certainty of chance”.


“Fin” 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”

and also the acoustic triumph “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”

and the sad and haunting “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”

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


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

and I love “When a man cries”. Not literally, you understand!
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 artiste 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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Old 11-30-2011, 04:59 PM   #550 (permalink)
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Ooh yeah, it's a new month and we have the ultimate earworm today! Go on, try not to hum this to yourself --- you can't, can you? Just give in (or watch the video)...
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