Mail On Sunday: Foreverland

Album Of The Week

The Divine Comedy - Foreverland ****

The first Divine Comedy album in six years carries a simple message on its sleeve: ‘written by Neil Hannon’. At a time when more and more music is cobbled together by committee, it’s refreshing to find anyone who can do it by themselves.

And even better when it’s a Northern Irish boulevardier with an effortless baritone, a stash of good tunes and a witty turn of phrase.

Between 1996 and 2006 The Divine Comedy had a dozen hit singles with their laconic orchestral pop, but these days they would only get a sniff of the charts if Hannon – the band’s only permanent member – were to hand the microphone to Rihanna.

He has gone back to being a cult figure, albeit one who has written the theme tune for Father Ted, recorded a duet with Tom Jones and shone at the recent David Bowie Prom, where he sang Station To Station and This Is Not America and captured some of Bowie’s soulful grandeur.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, Hannon was presented with the Oh Yeah Legend Award, which, inevitably, made him laugh. Now, on Foreverland, the tenth Divine Comedy album, all his talents are on display – except his ability to sing about cricket, which is reserved for his side-project band, The Duckworth Lewis Method.

There are history songs so light and catchy they could be wowing audiences on Broadway, like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning show Hamilton. If you’ve ever wondered why there wasn’t a single about Catherine the Great, this is the album for you. Apparently, ‘she had great hair/ and a powerful gait’, and ‘looked so bloody good on a horse, they couldn’t wait/ for her to invade’.

There is social comment: in How Can You Leave Me On My Own, Hannon comes up with a pumping pub-rock number about what men are like when their women are away. The joke is firmly on him – ‘When you leave, I become a moron, a beer-swilling, time-killing moron… I curl up with the dogs, I think they’re starting to resent me’. On his forthcoming tour, the audience won’t know whether to laugh or wince.

Best of all, there is feeling. As good as he is at the gags, Hannon knows they’re not enough, so half the tracks home in on the heart. To The Rescue is a sweet ballad that sails along on a swell of horns; The Pact is a sly anthem that uses the language of diplomacy to rewrite the marriage vows.

There’s the odd piece of cheese along the way but the album culminates in two expert love songs that work as a pair. Other People deals adroitly with sexual jealousy, before The One Who Loves You rounds things off on an unashamedly romantic note. ‘I love you, I love you, I really love you,’ Hannon sings, and these well-worn words mean more because you know he’s resisting the urge to crack another joke.

Tim De Lisle
Mail On Sunday, August 2016

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