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A Secret History - The Best of the Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

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Album Review

For those who want lyrical bones to chew on, there's no denying Neil Hannon's sly appeal. To dismiss him as "baroque" would be as misleading as pegging him as the missing link between Noel Coward, Anthony Newley, and Scott Walker. But Hannon's highly evolved song constructions, grandiose orchestral pretensions, and baritone crooning seem as much quaint classicism as a bicycle built for two — even as his deft, complex, ambitious arrangements are contemporary. (He's no Leon Redbone.) In the end, his consummate skills as a writer come across most. You hang on the surprise of every wily word, wrapped around venerable melody. Distilled here to a best-of, Hannon makes one of his strongest cases for his dashing, romantic charm. It's this sweeping romanticism, the thick violins and pianos like spectacular sunsets spurring his yearning singing, that transcends his occasional lapses into naughty schoolboy leering. One listen to Fin de Siècle's triumphant "The Certainty of Chance" or A Short Album's cascading "In Pursuit of Happiness" is to open the blinds in a dark room that emit bursts of blinding light; the sweep of the orchestra playing madly, as if running to catch a train, and Hannon's voice bawling along, carried away, shedding its sporadic smugness. Today's Divine Comedy is a lot sweeter and emotional than Dante's. As a word of caution, the uninitiated might find the opening "National Express" and the so-so "Generation Sex" tough going. But with the early help of Hannon's first English hits "Something for the Weekend" and "Becoming More Like Alfie," one can get hooked into Hannon's passion play without realizing it. Pop can mean something more than momentary, torpid trifle again, if only those stifling blinds can be lifted.

Biography

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 Britpop and Pulp's popularity. "Becoming More Like Alfie" and "Something for the Weekend," both pulled from Casanova, became...
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A Secret History - The Best of the Divine Comedy, The Divine Comedy
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