- 18 Jun 19
It's an uneven 11th album from the baroque-pop king.
The break-up of the traditional music industry and major labels’ loss of power has been good for creativity, with many fringe acts able to afford to record and release records that probably would have been impossible a couple of decades ago. Independent doesn’t always mean better, however, and the presence of a critical outside voice could have benefitted Neil Hannon as he embarked upon his 11th Divine Comedy escapade.
There is a really good album within these 16 tracks, but unfortunately it’s struggling to break free from a record that’s weighed down with too many lesser tracks. He experiments with synths like a little kid let loose in the Roland warehouse, and – from my perspective – the results would have been better served as a limited edition curio for fanclub members. Hannon’s synth odyssey sits uneasily around the more traditional (and far superior) songs, and there’s little to love in the spoken word title track; the dark electro of ‘Infernal Machines’; the abrasive ‘Psychological Evaluation’; or the indulgent ‘The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale’.
Elsewhere, there is real quality. Lead single ‘Norman And Norma’ is old school Hannon at his best; smart and knowing, but with a healthy dose of humanity behind the arch humour. The easy listening ‘You’ll Never Work In This Town Again’ sees the Enniskillen man doing his best Burt Bacharach impression, while the hilarious ‘The Life And Soul Of The Party’ has enough disco-tastic sass to make Nile Rodgers jealous.
It’s also something of an album of two halves, with Hannon reverting to the kind of whip-smart songwriting that helped make his name for the latter stages, from the torch ballad ‘A Feather In Your Cap’ to the choral ‘Dark Days Are Here Again’, an off-Broadway musical come to life. The baroque pop of ‘I’m A Stranger Here’ and pathos-dripping ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ are similarly superb. ‘Opportunity Knox’, meanwhile, could be taken from his Setanta days, as the singer morphs into a modern day Brel for a wonderfully quirky knees-up.
Neil Hannon could easily have shaved six tunes from this album and ended up with a tight, smart, mostly brilliant collection, cementing his reputation as one of the finest pop songwriters this island has ever produced. Sometimes, less really is more.
You can read an interview with Neil Hannon with Hot Press's Stuart Clark in our latest issue.