Fin De Siecle, by The Divine Comedy
Suggested by Nick Hall
I knew one thing about Neil Hannon, of The Divine Comedy, before I listened to Fin De Siecle. It was that Neil Hannon hated his oft-requested theme for the hit sitcom Father Ted.
I don’t know where I heard this fact, but it was unassailable. Apparently, Hannon tossed off the theme tune as a favour for his writer friends, and was incensed when Ted, Jack, Dougal and Mrs Doyle made it big. His concerts were hijacked by a sub-Freebird crowd chanting that he play the theme instead of his (presumably) more worthy output. “What a humourless asshat,” I thought, filing him away in the Musical Bellend Cabinet alongside Bono, Jedward, and Mick bloody Hucknall.
I was wrong.
While verifying this notion through Google today, to form this review’s opening salvo, I found zip-diddly-squat to confirm this outlandish claim. On the contrary, I discovered that he was a prolific collaborator for the show, writing both Father Dick Byrne’s typical Eurovision entry “The Miracle Is Mine” and Father Ted’s incredible counterpoint “My Lovely Horse,” alongside every other musical output from the show’s three-series run. He’s co-writing Father Ted: The Musical with the creators, and is a patron of the Irish animal charity My Lovely Horse Rescue.
So, with my eyes opened and apologies on my mind, I fired up Fin De Siecle. It stands as the band’s sixth studio album, of a glorious twelve to date. It’s also their most successful, aside from their Best Of compilation. As for genre, it’s something called Chamber Pop, which is new to me. Chamber Pop is a rock style characterised by a focus on melody and texture, with strigs, horns, piano and vocal harmonies, drawing on orchestral and lounge pop from the Sixties. Exciting stuff!
The album’s opener, Generation Sex, sets the band’s stall out in a clear and considered fashion. Musically, it’s a rocking orchestrated sound, layered and intricate, warm and delicate, but with enough pace and power to breeze you through. It starts with a sassy spoken work sample and progresses to rather hedonistic lyrics with a darkly humorous underbelly. Hannon’s voice is an assured acquired taste, but it fits the conceit of the song (And album) perfectly, and presents his ideas alongside the music with equal weight on both.
Generation Sex gives way to Thrillseeker, which is my standout song. It kicks off with a trilling woodwind spy-like sound, and has an unsettling demeanour throughout its building brassy bluster. Then comes the emotional and resonant Commuter Love, the stabbing and classical Sweden, the twittering quirk of Eric the Gardener, and the outright poptastic National Express. Life on Earth brings the melancholy, The Certainty of Chance is a sweeping symphony, Here Comes The Flood is a chorus-line apocalypse straight from the West End, and Sunrise is an exultant and rousing fist to the sky.
I loved every second of this album. Every damn track was a standout, full of wit, and warmth, and wildly creative twists. Each song is beautifully shaped and breathless, offering a cool drink in the desert of tired cock-rocking blandness. I like the genre, I like the songs, I like the album, I like the sound.
Fin de Siecle gets a well-deserved 9/10. Sorry I misjudged you, Neil. I look forward to hearing the rest of your work.