7 September 2016

The Divine Comedy - Foreverland

I have always thought that The Divine Comedy were a very under-rated band, they got dealt the hand of being a novelty band when they have always been one of the cleverest, wittiest and original acts to come from the Emerald Isle across the Irish Sea.  Even at their height of fame, they were more famous for songs like "National Express" then the genius that is "The Drinking Song"; it is not that songs such as "National Express" or "Becoming More Like Alfie" are not great numbers, but there is also been much more below the surface with The Divine Comedy and Neil Hannon.  But they have still kept going, releasing some joyous albums, creating theme tunes for a few of my favourite T.V. series (Father Ted, The I.T. Crowd) and even having time to release albums about cricket with Thomas Walsh of Pugwash under the name The Duckworth Lewis Method.  'Foreverland' is the eleventh album to be released as the Divine Comedy and was produced by Mr Hannon himself, it was recorded between 2015 & 2016; I think it is obvious I am a bit of a fan before I even start this one, but I am also a realist when it comes to a good album and as such, I will sing its praises and if it sucks the big one, I will say that just as loud.  So, let explore 'Foreverland' and see what bounty we can find....

"Napoleon Complex" starts off the album is a song about the legendary military leader who had dreams of world domination and ended his days banished from his home country of France on the isle of Saint Helena, stripped of his title, his love and would eventually succumb to stomach cancer.  The music is a luscious orchestral pop number, Neil Hannon's vocals are restrained, but with power and confidence, the tune is a dream to these ears and it starts the album on the right foot.  The title track "Foreverland" which chronicles the desires of a person to reach the fabled 'Foreverland', the determination to reach this tropical isle and the joy that will felt once the shores are insight.  It has a feel of a song from a play, one that would be set on a boat with the crew singing in harmony and the main protagonist looks forlornly to the crowd as he fears the destination might not be real.  It is a beautiful song, one that touches all the heartstrings and lays in your memory long after the final note and wave has faded.  "Catherine The Great" is the third song on the album and the first that was released as a single, it is a song about the Russian leader who was also known as Catherine the II and it told from the side of a man who is in love with Catherine and would do anything for her.  There are some humorous lines about horses, but there is also hints at how powerful and domineering she was whilst she was alive.   It is a clever song, one that we have come to expect from the Divine Comedy and it has such a majestic sound that it is difficult to ignore.  How this song did not even make the UK Top 75 is a mystery to me if I am honest?  "Funny Peculiar" is a duet with Cathy Davey (who is Neil Hannon's partner) and it is done in the style of Cole Porter without any sense of irony or sounding like candy floss, over sugary pop.  It is a sweet, whimsical song about the strange way that you fall in love with a person and it is all strange and it is never how you would imagine it; it is not the sort of song I would normal go for, but I have found myself singing it over the last few days and I think in years to come it might be my song of the album.  For now, it is just a strange and wonderful song.

"The Pact" is a song that compares a union to famous military accords and that the two sides will unite when the world acts either of them.  It is a simple song, a gentle string section and the baroque-pop number is over all too soon for this man.  It is a gentle, but firm statement of intent and is another whimsical number that could not fail to raise a smile.  The halfway point of the album is marked with "To The Rescue" is one of the moments on this album which pulls at the heart and showcases the songwriter-in-chief that Neil Hannon is, it is a sentimental piece that in the wrong hands would sound overblown and tacky.  But Mr Hannon is a master at this craft and can make the sugar-coated lyrics sound like manna from heaven - one of the best songs off this album and it could be used as the theme music of a love film where everything is in the rain.  The next song is called "How Can You Leave Me On My Own" which is a funny song, about how a man will fall into stupid ways if he is left on his own.  It is how men really have no self-control, that men are incapable of being healthy and making the right choices when their partner is away from the home.  The sound of a jackass laughing is used throughout the song and it is the song on the album which leaves me a little cold to be honest.  It is a charming number, but it does not quite work for me as it is in the same league as "Becoming More Like Alfie", it is one that will make other people happy and it is not a bad number, just not one I would return to very often.  Starting with a round of applause, "I Joined the Foreign Legion (To Forget)" is a mournful song about joining the Foreign Legion to forget a lover, it is a classic tale of heartbreak and starting a life in the sands of Africa to allow the pain to be swallowed up by the desert.  It is back to whimsical side of Mr Hannon's writing and it is where is true strength lies, singing about the tortured and forgotten paths that love sometimes must tread, handling it with a kind and slightly mocking tone. 

"My Happy Place" is the ninth song on the album, a song which holds double meaning and could be seen to be about a physical location and also to be about a lover, gentle valley, rising mountains and all that sort of thing are very symbolic or they can be taken at face value as well.  But even the happy place is in danger when everything goes to shit at times, so there is a hint of fear mixed into the reflective and horny little song.  It is a great number, one that works on wordplay and can truly be innocent as well, apart for the word shit at the beginning of the song, kids would still hear that one and know what it is.  "A Desperate Man" follows on and it is the song of a man who has escaped captivity and is trying to return home, to make the journey back to his sanctuary.  This song is a tense number, it has an energy that give it a suspenseful edge and the orchestra is used to full effect on this song with the strings and brass giving the sound of a journey, the drums creating the pace and the drama of the song is all centred around Mr Hannon and his lyrics which are spot on.  The penultimate song of the album is called "Other People", it is a song musing over past partners and the thoughts that can run through people's head and the jealous that can arise from it.  It starts off with Mr Hannon singing alone and slowly the orchestra joins ins and the song starts to reach a high peak......and then the song ends with a blah, blah, blah.  It could have been a beautiful coda but the blah, blah sort of ruins it to be honest and it feels like a wasted song.  Ending the album is "The One Who Loves You", a song about the difficulties in finding a lover and how rare an occurrence this can be in the world.  It does have a simple pleasure feeling at the core of the song, it is a gentle number that could be used for a summer walk in a movie.  Another song which I am sure will grow on me over the years, but it still has a charm and it is a drop of sunshine at the end of this album.

Can we just knight this man already? He has done a lot for music and I think on this album, we can see a showcase of a mature and (if possible) more dashing and debonair version of The Divine Comedy than we have seen in the last few albums.  It has love at the core of the album, with some historical figures added for good measure and a superb set of numbers that will make any Divine Comedy fan rejoice for their return.  There are a few numbers which do not really make the grade, but this is next to the high standards that the man has set over the years with his own back catalogue of gems.  It is an album that knows its own audience, it does not go mad and have guitar solos or Zappa jazz-signatures (although I would pay good money for that to happen) and Neil Hannon continues to deliver his own brand of pop with wit, charm, grace and with the voice that would tempt angels and demons to join him in a choir; once more he has won and 'Foreverland' is definitely an album I would recommend to anyone who has even the slightest interest in The Divine Comedy.  Well played sir, well played.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart.

Top track - To The Rescue

You can purchase Foreverland on Amazon here.

You can visit the Divine Comedy website here.

You can follow the activities of The Divine Comedy on Facebook here.

You can stream Foreverland on Spotify here. 

You can stream Foreverland on Deezer here. 

You can stream Foreverland on Tidal here. 

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