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The Divine Comedy | Regeneration (Parlophone)
With the praise being heaped on Stephen Merrit and his 69 Love Songs opus, and the critical disregard for Fin de Siecle, The Divine Comedy¹s epic masterpice from 2 years back, it is no wonder Neil Hannon is feeling hard done by. And, boy, does it show on this record - not only has Neil changed his public appearance (out with the suits, in with the dirty jeans and shaggy hair), but the whole mood of the band has changed dramatically. Regenertaion, the band's sixth record is a pretty somber affair; downbeat both musically and lyrically. Gone are the wacky songs about frog princesses and and National Travel, and instead we get love-lorn ballads of regret and loss. There is a real feeling of claustrophobia to it; there are few big string crescendos and horns, the orchestrations and arrangements much more subtle. Songs have maybe four or five instruments, each picking out singular melancholic lines. In anyone else's hands this could¹ve ended up depressing, and a self-gratifying exercise in the macabre - the backlash to the pop success. But Hannon is no such fly-by-night - his success having come about merely as a by-product to his masterplan. The same masterplan which makes Regeneration the finest and most definitive statement of his career so far. His lyrics are much less 'bookish', sometimes resorting to the very simple (the list of lost items on the beautiful Lost Property echoing the things the song's protagonist has lost in his life) to the downright blunt; on the standout track Dumb it Down he asks desperately "does anyone feel the same as me, is anybodying listening?" Musically it reminds me of Air in their more reflective moments, even Watertown-era Sintatra; so don't worry - there are still tunes! Of course, those who have been with Hannon for a while will no this album is no fluke, and there have been hints on previous albums that he was capable of a record such as this (the song Timewatching especially). Regeneration, however far exceeds the expectations of even the most optimistic of fans, and is quite simply his best work, and one of the finest releases so far this year.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001