Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy returns with his most Divine Comedy album yet
There are two ways of looking at Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy. Is he the smart alec-y author of irksome ditties that Richard Stilgoe might find too twee? Or is he pop’s very own Noel Coward, a debonair song-writing talent who has followed a unique lyrical and musical vision across ten albums of waspish chamber pop and orchestral heartache?
He’s a bit of both on Foreverland. It’s his first full recording as The Divine Comedy (after two concept albums about cricket with Thomas Walsh and The Duckworth Lewis Method) and it's his most Divine Comedy album yet.
The now 45-year-old Master Hannon doesn’t just throw in the kitchen sink on Foreverland; every facet of Hannon, the dandy boulevardier, is here - from the cavalry charge of an orchestra in full-flight to more of those mini chamber pop vignettes, many starring his fellow singer and paramour of seven years, Cathy Davey.
In fact, Davey - soon to release her long-awaited new album - is the real star of two of the songs here. She makes opener Napoleon Complex her very own with Kate Bush-like yelps and coos on a song dedicated to Hannon’s diminutive historical hero.
Nappy isn’t the only historical figure on Hannon's radar. On Catherine The Great (for which you can also read Cathy), he mischievously turns the despotic rule of the Russian monarch into a funny ditty with racing harpsichord and a brass section giving it maximum Ronnie Hazlehurst meets Gershwin. Thankfully, Hannon and Davey, who runs the My Lovely Horse animal-rescue charity, do not make reference to the Empress’ rumoured predilection for horses. Or maybe they do.
Davey’s vocal is also the perfect foil for Hannon’s boyish and uneven baritone (think the Listerine dragon) on Funny Peculiar, a dopey love song that you can imagine Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn sparking off each other with in My Fair Lady.
To The Rescue takes a semi-serious approach, a stately sweep that ends with a piccolo trumpet solo and arch lyrics (“I looked for Marilyn, I got Che instead”) while How Can You Leave Me On My Own is more straightforward vintage pop, reeling off some atypically sprightly Hannon couplets (“when you leave I become a dickhead, a couch-dwelling, beer-swilling dickhead”) as a piano trounces away.
What Foreverland lacks amid all the jollity and frippery is a stop you dead moment, like A Lady of a Certain Age or Our Mutual Friend. Hannon really is at his best when he’s tugging at heartstrings and not playing them like a harp but hey, that’s what love can do a man.
You may also begin to wonder how Neil Hannon can actually sing with his tongue rammed so firmly into his cheek but he has dreamed up nothing less than his very own belle époque on this giddy triumph of an album.
Alan Corr @corralan