4 Star Review
The Divine Comedy - Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time ****
Eventually becoming a de facto alias for Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy has been a watchword for smart, literate chamber pop for decades now.
Indeed, this mammoth 24CD compilation marks 30 years since the debut album Fanfare For The Comic Muse, though Hannon has long disowned its mundane copycat R.E.M. indie. That album is part of a 2CD compilation of early work exclusive to the boxset, punningly entitled Juveneilia.
After a rethink, Hannon re-emerged with 1993's Liberation, suddenly fully-formed as a bright and inquisitive singer, reliably funny and wistful with orchestral arrangements used to enhance his gift for melody rather than as mere window-dressing. There's a suspicion of Hannon's literacy, lyrical wit and classical instrumentation, a reverse-snobbery that sees ambition and humour as traits to be derided in pop music.
Such folly also overlooks the sincerity in The Divine Comedy, for few are able to be as both as celebratory as Tonight We Fly and as beautiful as If.
Running up to 2019's synth-inflected Office Politics, the boxset demonstrates Hannon has rarely let standards slip, though he struggled to be at his best after 1998's commercial breakthrough Fin De Siècle for a couple of albums. The nine LPs from Liberation to 2010's Bang Goes The Knighthood are also available separately as vinyl or 2CD sets, where the extras exemplify that Hannon's throwaway ideas are generally just as succulent: superb B-sides like the opulent Girl Least Likely and vulnerable The Songs That We Sing are hidden away almost carelessly.
A headstrong character, Hannon is impervious to fashion, knowing that time will prove he was right all along. This exemplary boxset shows he's right to ignore trends, and that it's time for the doubters to get wise.
Pop needs people like Neil Hannon: aside from Lloyd Cole and Stephen Duffy, few smuggle in so many bright ideas.
John Earls, Classic Pop Magazine, September/October 2020