Thursday, 20 December 2012

Desert Island Discs 79 Fin de Siecle by Divine Comedy

79 Fin De Siecle by Divine Comedy 1998

I'm not sure this one is going to be everyone's cup of tea at all. Neil Hannon is exactly the kid of person that would have my dad reaching for the "too clever for his own good" like comment. Whatever he does he does to extremes. When his eyebrows are arched they are off his head, when he writes catchy songs they stick in your brain like the worst novelty hits. When he does dramatic it tends to be with full orchestra and kitchen sink arrangements. His lyrics can be amazingly smart or annoyingly throwaway. His voice can go from pub singer croon to wanna be opera and everything in between.

Fin De Siecle combines all the best and worst of Divine Comedy in one wildly ambitious state of the nation address.

Preceding Generation Sex single managed to cover the death of Princess Di, evolving sexual morality, vivisection, the red tops celebrity obsession all in a jaunty 3 min pop song. The tone is set. 

What followed I think is one of those tracks that sums up why people love or hate the band. Jaunty , catchy, funny , annoying , throw away, irritating , sing along ......

This isn't the social comment of Billy Bragg , it is all a political , a social observation satire  a tale of the times covering the obsession with excess , stalking , the end of the world , hacking etc. If there is an overall theme it is about not looking back and living for today but not in a naff fortune cookie or self help guide way.

The instrumentation matches the lps ambitions , every songs seems to swell to an over the top orchestral climax.

My two favourite tracks come at the end of the lp . The first taps into the whole end of the century Millennium bug feeling and the second ends the lp on a hopeful note with the Irish peace process

Sunrise - Divine Comedy

I knew that there was something wrong
But I kept my head down and carried on

You can buy Fin De Siecle here


  1. Not my cup of tea? Maybe I've broken my own rule here regarding personality vs. artistic merit by discriminating against Hannon because of early impressions of him being a pretentious narcissist. However, watching the clips I'm still thinking... not my cup of tea.

    #79 - AMANDA MARSHALL - Amanda Marshall (1995)
    - Toronto born and raised, so there is bias here, but this girl is the real deal. She has an awesome set of pipes, but doesn't go for the vocal histrionics ala Mariah, Celine, Whitney, all those bimbo divas. Her debut was pretty big here in Canada, and for good reason. It was a great pop record. Record label squabbles have derailed her from recording for over a decade, which is a shame. She writes her own songs too, although my fave is the Marc Jordan penned "Fall From Grace"...

    Fall From Grace:
    If I Didn't Have You:
    Dark Horse:

  2. Hannon is what my old rugby mates would have called "a talented twat". All "on top" self serving bravado, seemingly empathetic but ultimately someone who was in it for themselves; the kind of 'team mate' who' give you the hospital pass.
    Yup, but what a talent; a reminder that modesty and limitations help define style; think Django with the 3 fingers on his left hand... imagine Neil at the club Xmas karaoke; they'd take him out in a body bag...
    I was taught an early musical lesson by Trevor Smith who was MM drummer in the early days. They always say that a band is only as good as its drummer and Trev is still one of the finest. Trev would find a groove and rarely deviate; no fills or frills; so that when he did do a 'duck billed platypus' or 'flats in Daganham' (his coding of types of fill for us dullards) it was always with devastating effect. We'd often turn up for sound checks to endure the support band/headliner's drummer massaging his ego with impressive/pompous élan. You always knew that it would fall apart as soon as he played with other folk. Hannon always strikes me similarly; too much talent, too many choices to make and too many wrong 'uns taken. I think the most affecting stuff he's done is when he swapped songs with Duke Special; he had to reign things in when playing someone else's chords.
    So, yup, a very talented twat; brilliant and unlovable.
    I bet he's brilliant at the sound check.
    I bet the drummer loathes him...

    And TT, you know I'm a sucker for a Marc Jordan ballad. I just know that he rolls the sleeves of his Armani jacket up Miami Vice style and wears sunglasses inside but... I can't help but love him.

  3. Blimey, a bit harsh that...
    I just wanted him to be... better.
    I loved the sound of Regeneration where he attempted a Radioheadesque reinvention but he forgot to write the songs on that one...
    There I go again!
    See what he does to me?

  4. You'll get no argument from me.

  5. Ay up Rol; you're new around these parts...

  6. interestingly the regeneration lp he tried a much more democratic band appraoch to writing and recording .. iguess some artists are just not meant to be in bands ...Tin Machine ???

    I agree he does try to over complicate (an lp of piano ballads i'm guessing isnt on the horizon) however there are still more hits than misses and I kind of like the over the topness of it all (same thing with the associates from an earlier time)

    his latest 2 lps where he has settled into that "wont be troubling the charts again , smaller but dedicated fan base phase" that alot of the people I like seem to be entering has resulted in some great tunes and without the budget to go kitchen sink and everything else thrown in , the songs can breathe more easily.

    Still it is the glorious failure of this lp that is part of its attraction

    Hi Rol hope you are well

  7. I think Hannon has developed this persona of 'a bit of a know-it-all geek' to go along with his music that is often over the top or tongue in cheek. Hard to know who is the real Mr.Hannon.
    Anyway ,his antics don't distract me from the music ( for once!).
    He's recorded some excellent material, but it is, as everyone seems to agree, very hit and miss, but I'd also say more 'hit ' than 'miss'. I thought 'Bang goes the Nighthood 'was a cracking album and probably his best to date, and 'A Secret History' shows just what he is capable of.
    #79 The Pernice Brothers - 'Yours mine and ours'. This was my introduction to the songwriting talents of Joe Pernice and has remained my favourite

  8. I agree Phil would the real Neil Hannon please stand up - not sure what is real and what is a persona.

    Pernice brothers consistently good lps without for me one being a stand out

    1. I like 'Overcome by Happiness' but I think my fav' Pernice album is under the name of 'Chappaquiddick Skyline'.
      He also recorded a fine album under The Scud Mountain Boys...
      I believe that Pernice and Hannon are recording an album together provisionally entitled 'I'm Spartacus'...


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