Out went the suits, out grew the hair and out went the enormous orchestra. Sort of. As the decade began, Neil Hannon had decided that it was time for him to do something a little different with his band, The Divine Comedy. In came increasingly important producer, Nigel Godrich, and a revamp in the band’s sound. It wasn’t for everyone, including Hannon himself. Eights months on from launching the different sound of The Divine Comedy, he sacked the rest of the band and went back to base camp for a rethink. The result of that rethink was the somewhat over-familiar retread of all that had gone before, ‘Absent Friends’.
‘Regeneration’ does not deserve to be little more than a footnote in Hannon’s discography as it contains some of his finest songs and some genuinely masterful lyrics. ‘Perfect Lovesong’, while a deliberately cheesy pastiche of mid-sixties Beach Boys and Beatles sounds, is a cracking little pop song. ‘Bad Ambassador’ is one of my favourite Divine Comedy songs of all time, featuring Neil’s voice at full pelt on the ludicrously grand chorus and a musical backdrop which foregrounds the guitars and pares back the orchestra to great effect.
It is in delicious use of understatement where this record really excels and it is something that Hannon hasn’t been known for at any other point in his career. Album closer ‘The Beauty Regime’ is a decent piece of social commentary set to a magnificent tune while ‘Mastermind’ is an indie epic with suitably wry Hannon lyrics, commenting on the bizarre world around him. “We all need reassurance, as we play life’s game of endurance” he sings plaintively over a suitably severe backdrop and yet it hits a charmingly optimistic final note with the lines, “Tell me what the hell is normal and who the hell is sane. And why the hell care anyway? All the dreams that we have had are gonna prove that we’re all mad and that’s ok.” It’s easy to forget how great that one song alone is, tucked at the back of the album, surrounded by other notable tunes.
Likewise, ‘Eye Of The Needle’, which proceeds at the pace of one of the services offered by the institution it critiques, is one of the great lost Hannon classics. The world needs to be aware of this rhyming couplet at the very least:
“The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German
Completely at odds with the theme of the sermon.”
Tremendous stuff. Musically, it’s one of the most interesting things he’s ever done and, while some fans have complained that this is a heinous crime, it features plenty of Godrich’s trademark ‘wooshing’ noises, making it something of a one-off in the context of songs like ‘Something For The Weekend’, ‘National Express’, ‘Come Home Billy Bird’ and ‘Diva Lady’.