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Fin de Siecle

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Album Review

The songs on Fin de Siècle, though pleasant, don't quite scale the heights Neil Hannon has before: nothing is as arresting as A Short Album About Love's "In Pursuit of Happiness," though "Commuter Love," the grandiose, wind-swept "The Certainty of Chance," and especially the rainy-day funeral song "Life on Earth" make attempts, as does the song that jumps out at you the most, in line with Hannon's past work, "Sweden." Its '60s-movie oom-pah pomp and bombast that introduces each verse is fabulous. But otherwise, Hannon's done better. More unfortunate, Jon Jacobs' engineering seems fine, but his mix is convoluted, muted, as if Hannon's wry voice and the various lugubrious blends of sounds Jobi Talbot scores — of woodwinds, brass, strings, guitar, and timpani-like drums — were all trapped in a sandwich bag, fighting to get out where ears are. Where such mellifluous tones should tickle, tease, dazzle, and sometimes outright startle, outside of those yelping parts of "Sweden," it's all a little muffled. Still, it's hard to stop laughing at Hannon's suit-wearing, minor send-up of the storied English gentleman, like a man who is a playboy jet-setter but also affects uptight, fastidious manners. And there's still much to swing on here. Talbot is a fabulously imaginative arranger — surely the LP's biggest saving grace — and Hannon's songs thus seem to spiral toward dramatic conclusion no matter what. Best of all, Fin de Siècle largely diminishes the Scott Walker whispers that have shadowed his every move, if not actually erasing them. In the end, Hannon is the one you want at your party, sitting at an end table, smoking, drinking your most expensive booze, slyly winking at the ladies, and sizing up the crowd like an international spy. Give the man his due, style is his middle name. You can bet he's got unbelievable chat-up lines.


Formed: 1989 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The Divine Comedy is the alias for Neil Hannon, a British pop singer/songwriter with aspirations of becoming a new wave fusion of Scott Walker, Morrissey, and Electric Light Orchestra. During the early '90s, he built up a strong cult following with a pair of idiosyncratic, critically acclaimed records before his third album, Casanova, became a mainstream success in the wake of Brit-pop and Pulp's popularity. "Becoming More Like Alfie" and "Something for the Weekend," both pulled from Casanova, became...
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Fin de Siecle, The Divine Comedy
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