Album: The Divine Comedy

Absent Friends, Parlophone
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The Independent Culture

2001's Regeneration wasn't so much a sharp left turn as a gentle swerve away from The Divine Comedy's signature mode of lavishly-arranged, literate crooning, in favour of a more sombre, Radiohead-style melancholia. Which makes this instant reversion to that earlier mode all the more baffling - particularly since Neil Hannon has dumped the rest of the band (bar arranger Joby Talbot) in the interim. Those who found Regeneration more satisfying than previous Divine Comedy albums will be disappointed, though old fans will probably be delighted with the move. The opening "Absent Friends" certainly pulls out all the stops to secure their approval - the noble sentiment, the suitably wistful orchestration, and the admiring references to Jean Seberg, Steve McQueen and Oscar Wilde. Elsewhere, the characters are less famous, but likewise trying to stake out their own distinctive emotional territory, such as "The Happy Goth" trying to persuade her parents she's quite content in her glum solitude. The figure of Scott Walker looms darkly over everything, especially "Sticks And Stones", a walnut of a song cracked with a sledgehammer arrangement. It's hard to break through the melodramatic orchestration to the heart that's supposedly at the song's core.