Album Review: The Divine Comedy – Foreverland

By on Wednesday, 31st August 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

The Divine Comedy Foreverland album coverNeil Hannon is often referred to as an “unlikely pop star”, and that’s fine by him. At the age of 45 and with an incredible 10 wit-filled albums under his belt as the guiding light of The Divine Comedy, not to mention his notable association with the incomparable Father Ted in the ’90s, the Northern Irish singer/songwriter should be allowed whatever sobriquet he wants. His most recent records have allowed him the latitude to lambast the rich (2010’s ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’) and indulge in his love of cricket through The Duckworth Lewis Method’s two albums in 2010 and 2012.

With ‘Foreverland’, which will be available starting this Friday, he’s chosen to focus in on his now domesticated life in Dublin. In Hannon’s words, “it’s about meeting your soul mate and living happily ever after… and then what comes after happily ever after”. The album seems to begin on an inexplicable note with ‘Napoleon Complex’. The catchy little number can’t be mistaken for anything else but a jab at himself for being a genius despite only being 5 foot 7. However, I like this as a start to an album, as it signals to the listener that you’re in for an enjoyable time and things aren’t likely to ever get too serious. Or are they?

There are two things that Neil Hannon has always done well with the Divine Comedy: a gentle grace, often accompanied with humour. The sweet-sounding title track follows the wee little Frenchman, the lilt in Hannon’s voice accompanied with restrained piano and flute and backing vocals, taking things down a notch in tempo. Hannon’s ‘Foreverland’ isn’t so much a physical place but a mental one you can reach when everything finally falls into place. For Hannon, this means living in a nice house with his wife Cathy Davey and enjoying being a dad. The journeys in life we take often prove arduous but in this song, Hannon offers solace that it does indeed exist: “everybody thinks it’s all lies / until they can see Foreverland”.

‘Funny Peculiar’ is an engaging duet between him and Davey, its simplistic nature managing to strike just the right balance of lovey-doveyness without being cloying. Of a similar disposition, ‘My Happy Place’ is a strange, albeit sweetly inoffensive entry. You’re left imagining Neil Hannon in the lotus position, trying to achieve zen. Do the Irish meditate? It’s difficult to picture. ‘Other People’ allows him a more believable angle. In his unique storytelling way, Hannon sings in this understated, soothingly orchestrated Broadway-style number the facts of being in a relationship later on life. There’s a resignation that partners have had lovers before and but this is for the best, as past lovers have made said partners better. Oh, and jealousy is an absurd waste of time.

As mentioned previously, this album has droll wit down pat too, though perhaps in insufficient amount for the casual listener. In tuneful lead single ‘Catherine the Great’, he describes one of Russia’s greatest monarchs with the hilarious lyrics “She could defeat anyone that she liked / and she looked so bloody good on a horse / that they couldn’t wait for her to invade”. Exhibiting ELO and 10cc’s influences on this record, you can’t deny the silliness of stomper ‘How Can You Leave Me on Your Own’. Without his better half and left to his own devices, he’s useless, lost and prone to eating too many biscuits, and he’s not afraid to admit it.

There is also additional heft to this album that might be missed in a cursory listen of it. While ‘The Pact’ could be viewed as a lightweight nod to the bond of marriage, I became convinced after reading this interview with European arts channel Arte that the song and the resolute ‘To the Rescue’ might have a political meaning. Last November, Hannon won the Oh Yeah Legend Award as part of Sound of Belfast 2015, noting in the interview that it was terrible what should have been a great day and honour was tainted by the Paris terror attacks that occurred the same day. While he’s not known to tackle heavy subjects regularly, I doff my cap to him.

While ‘Foreverland’ might not chart as highly as its predecessor ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’, this LP is Neil Hannon’s collective ode to finding ‘The One Who Loves You’. The person who will hold your hand into the sunset, while a banjo gaily jangles in the background. And Neil Hannon, firmly in the grip of middle age, is okay with that.

7.5/10

‘Foreverland’, the 11th Divine Comedy album helmed by Neil Hannon, will be released this Friday, the 2nd of September, on his own Divine Comedy Records. The tour to support this new album will begin in early October, on the 7th of October at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and continue through the end of the month, then start up again in February 2017 with a short run of dates that includes 2 nights at the London Palladium. Tour dates are listed here; for more of TGTF’s coverage on The Divine Comedy, follow this link.

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