Monday, 18 April 2011

Best Irish Albums: ONE

THE DIVINE COMEDY –Promenade (1994)

Best song: “Tonight We Fly”

My introduction to Neil Hannon’s music was through the hugely popular Casanova. But Casanova never really clicked with me – the songs sounded heavy-handed and didn’t have an edge, which made me wary of looking for other records by The Divine Comedy. But then I decided to have another go, and I’m so glad I did. It was the band’s absolutely charming, delicate, melodically brilliant second album, Promenade.

Promenade, perhaps even more so than Hannon’s other releases, sounds like a true work of art – suffice it to say that on the cover of the album Neil is shown in front of the Louvre. So the refined lushness of the music comes as no surprise: expressive strings, stirring and delicate piano lines, violins, lots of dramatic vocals… The mood is gentle, pensive, romantic. But it is not as if this baroque, elaborate form prevails over substance: the melodies are uniformly fabulous, be it the dreamy, melancholic, (almost) self-consciously literate “Booklovers”, the gorgeous, decadent “When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe”, or the riotous, overdramatic, hilarious beauty of “A Drinking Song”.  

Promenade does not sound like a simple collection of songs. It’s a journey, a promenade – call it what you will, but it does create its own world. There is no unifying theme here – although quite a lot of these songs seem to deal with water, this way or another. “Neptune’s Daughter”, “Bath”, “A Drinking Song”, a couple of others. But it is not as if you care about any kind of concept here – with songs being that great.

One brief, dramatic epic after another. And then the closing, breathtaking swirl of “Tonight We Fly” brings the whole thing to a halt, and you are left with the realization that you’ve just heard one of the most perfect pop records of all time.  

A true classic of chamber, baroque music. What can I say. If you do accept the world Hannon creates here, Promenade will become a truly special record for you. And, quite frankly, I don’t see why one wouldn’t be engulfed in this piece of luxurious, poetic, beguiling beaut.

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