The Divine Comedy
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
Absent Friends, the new orchestral pop effort released under The Divine Comedy moniker, is Neil Hannonís most grandiose and ambitious outing to date. A massive string section coupled with poetic lyrics and Hannonís lounge-worthy voice would ordinarily make the album the perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine by the fire. However, as is customary with The Divine Comedyís work, only a handful of tracks have the mass appeal of a single worthy of repeated airplay.
Since the release of 2001ís Regeneration, Hannon has taken his solo show on the road as the opening act on Ben Foldsí tour, a booking that raised his profile among American fans of smarty-pants pop, and it was during that window of time that he crafted the 11 songs appearing on Absent Friends. The album begins with the amazing title track, which blends piano, acoustic guitars, and a full orchestra over a chugging stagecoach-driving Western beat. Itís the type of song that will grace many a compilation CD for years to come. The other rewarding moment is Come Home Billy Bird, which romanticizes a day in the life of an international business traveler rushing home to watch his sonís football game, and itís tremendously enhanced by the guest vocals of Lauren Laverne of U.K., teen girl, punk-posters Kenickie. Unfortunately, the remaining songs all suffer from fatal flaws which add up to an album that aims high, but ultimately collapses under its own weight. For example, My Imaginary Friend has a great musical accompaniment, but itís hard to get past the weird lyrics. Elsewhere, Leaving Today has intelligent lyrics, but the tune itself never takes flight. As for The Wreck of the Beautiful, it loses its steam on a lousy chorus and Hannonís monotone delivery. And so it goes for the rest of the disc.
At the very least, one must respect The Divine Comedy for carving out such a unique sound in todayís far-too-uniform pop landscape. When Hannonís songs flop ó as most of the tracks on Absent Friends do ó at least they flop with style, flair, and ambition. Contrarily, when they hit ó as they do on the title track and Come Home Billy Bird ó Hannon not only knocks the ball out of the park but also loses its cover in the process. Ĺ
Absent Friends is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box