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Absent Friends - worth the wait?
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David Booth



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 8
Location: Yorkshire

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 1:41 pm    Post subject: Absent Friends - worth the wait? Reply with quote

Have we really waited three years for this and does it take us any further forward? I'm not so sure.
Apart from the wonderful 'Mutual friend', which epitomises everything about The Divine Comedy, I think the new album's rather like an absent friend you don't miss all that much at all. Quite forgettable in fact.
What happened to back-to-basics? The lush orchestral arrangements? The unique melodies? All the things that make The Divine Comedy the band they are and the fans we are?
This is thin, lightweight and downbeat. Hardly the sort of stuff you'd recommend any of your non-absent friends to listen to, in the hope of converting them.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a criticism. Just the observations of a disappointed DC disciple.
Perhaps it's just me. I wonder...
I first got hooked around the time of 'Fin de Siecle' and really wanted 'Fin Mk II'.
I guess that if you're a member of the 'Liberation/Promenade/Casanova' generation, then you may find 'Absent Friends' quite charming.
Apart from a few classics (many of which are unbeatable live), they don't do a great deal for me. If Neil had produced another short album about love however. I'd probably have been delighted.
So is it just another perfect example of personal taste, or does anyone out there think likewise?
Because apart from 'Mutual friend', there isn't another track I feel like going back to and the CD won't be in the car for much longer.
Of the rest, 'Billy Bird' will doubtless take the pressure off 'National Express' for a while, 'My Imaginary Friend' is quaintly quirky and 'Freedom Road' scrapes through as just OK.
But tracks like 'Sticks And Stones' are just so dull and unimaginitive. As for 'Laika's Theme', who on earth voted for that?
I hope we all hoped for something rather more special. Neil Hannon is certainly capable of it.
Even 'Regeneration', for all that it took off in a different direction, was better than this.
So less weeping for Willow please Neil. Still love what you do, but more drinking songs please!
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Mr Nude



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 2205
Location: Skank Town

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 1:44 pm    Post subject: Re: Absent Friends - worth the wait? Reply with quote

David Booth wrote:
What happened to back-to-basics? The lush orchestral arrangements? The unique melodies?


There in abundance as far as I can hear! I love it with all my heart.
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StickFigureNinja



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 3975
Location: on the corner.

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Absent Friends - worth the wait? Reply with quote

David Booth wrote:
I first got hooked around the time of 'Fin de Siecle' and really wanted 'Fin Mk II'.
If Neil had produced another short album about love however. I'd probably have been delighted.


If you want those albums, then listen to them, but dont hope for Neil to replicate any of his previous albums.
For one I don't think he'd want to do the same thing again, but just move on and try and make something new and different to his previous albums.
Secondly, if he did attempt to recreate any of his previous attempts, they wouldn't be as good as them. He wont do another a,bum in the style of Fin as good as Fin, and the same goes for all the others. If that happened you'd just end up saying how he wasnt as good as he used to be
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airboy paul



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 3084
Location: londinium

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i reckon absent friends will grow on you.

i had kinda mixed feelings of it at first, but it's getting much better. really really loving it now.

and asking for albums to be like older albums is a bit stupid. whoever texted in to ken bruce (that his name?) on radio 2 when neil was there, asking when neil was going to make another album in the style of promenade, ugh, what a twat. must get on neil's nerves i reckon.

as stick said, if you want fin (or promenade) then listen to it. absent friends seems to have parts of all of them anyway, plus lots of new sounds and stuff that make it seem more current and relevant, which i love.
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David Booth



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 8
Location: Yorkshire

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PS: when I said I wanted 'Fin Mk II', I really meant lush, surround-sound, individual, progressive; something capable of making all those hairs stand inexplicably on end.
Just find this meandering, over-sorrowful, decidedly one-paced and rather morose.
Wish I didn't!
I'm all for progress, but this steps self-consciously backwards for me.
Let's hope seeing them live in Liverpool will convince me otherwise?
Thanks for the replies so far. Your views are much appreciated.
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airboy paul



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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Location: londinium

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

but it does sound progressive. there's lots of instruments/ noises on the album that neil hasn't used on previous albums, which helps make it sound much more fresh. and your 'Just find this meandering, over-sorrowful, decidedly one-paced and rather morose.' comment sounds like what other folk said about regeneration. obviously, you are both wrong
i definitely hope you'll listen to it a good few many more times before you give up hope on it anyway. at least for the banjo. you'll like it more, oh yes.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:33 pm    Post subject: Re: Absent Friends - worth the wait? Reply with quote

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David Booth



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 8
Location: Yorkshire

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 2:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, OK, I really do hear what you're all saying. Don't take it so personally! I love DC too you know.
But if 'Absent friends' is really what you've been waiting for, show me the 2004 stablemate of 'Alfie', 'Frog Princess', 'Tonight we fly', 'Something for the weekend', 'Daddy's Car', 'Lucy', 'Generation Sex', 'Sweden', 'In pursuit of happiness', 'Songs of love', 'A drinking song' and even our old, old, old favourite, 'National Express'?
Even though we're all still getting familiar with it, does the new album have what it takes to be the best yet, or even one of the best?
Be honest...
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cjmacs



Joined: 22 Nov 2002
Posts: 280
Location: danbury, connecticut, usa

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i wish i could say. i still haven't heard it. Sad
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Absolute Power
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 3:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think it has the edge of previous albums, but the songs are fantastic and that's after a fair few listens. It's an collection of damn good songs and there isn't one I dislike. As for your question about which tracks will sit alongside the live favourites you mentioned I'm not too sure.

Apart from Our Mutual Friend thinking about it.


Last edited by Absolute Power on Thu Apr 01, 2004 3:05 pm; edited 1 time in total
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airboy paul



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 3:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

come home billy bird is totally amazing, and absent friends, and happy goth, and my imaginary friend, and mutual friend are all also brilliant, and all potential singles i think.

and the wreck of the beautiful and freedom road are both nicely different and atmospheric, along with laika's theme, which i really like. makes me wish that 'this side of paradise' was on a divine comedy album also, as that was beautiful too. and charmed life is excellent also- nice and happy and uplifting, and then the semi-crazy ending of it which is nice and not really expected.

i think i would maybe have preferred it without the orchestra, and more electronic/weird instrument gubbins, but it all does seem to work and fit together. it has the differentness of casanova and fin, but fits together like regeneration. fin de siecle is brilliant, but i don't listen to it as much as it just seems like a collection of songs rather than an album. but i can cope with that, as when i return to it then i love it again. but i do think absent friends is a good progression, so long as neil doesn't feel he has to apologise/ feel sorry about regeneration/ the 'band album'.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 3:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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prj45



Joined: 22 Nov 2002
Posts: 56

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't actually like at the moment.

Always a good sign

First impressions though (mostly bad): -

- not enough tunes (by that I mean melody, not track countage)
- bit of a step backwards
- some arrangements a bit samey and bland, like a special effects film that's overdone the special effects, missed the point and just isn't exciting
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 1809

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 8:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm going to be all controversial and say that I think that Charmed Life rivals Tonight We Fly as a song to end an album with.
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Mr Nude



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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Location: Skank Town

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

blue circles wrote:
I'm going to be all controversial and say that I think that Charmed Life rivals Tonight We Fly as a song to end an album with.


Ooh, I agree! It's perfect. I'm glad they changed it from being the opening track. It's feel-good and optimistic and great to sing along to.
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Chordmeister



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 809
Location: Leafy Berkshire

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What's with all the line breaks?

Now I think Absent Friends is great, and compared to Regeneration, it's more what you might predict a new DC album to sound like.

The problem for me though, is the songs off the album that Neil played live previously, he did with a small/'unplugged' lineup, and they worked brilliantly, but as with most of his albums, once he's in the studio, he can't seem to resist the temptation to put down layer upon layer of stuff on what is underneath somewhere, a great song.

I think that's one of the good influences Nigel Godrich had; 'scraping away the layers of cheese' (as I think Neil put it) until the essence of the song is captured without any 'excess baggage'.
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Mr Nude



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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

But I love all that 'excess baggage'! It makes it all a much richer experience. Well, for me anyway.
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And I wasn't overkeen on most of them when played live.
Orchestration makes them more rounded, and less...erm...a bloke and his guitar-y.
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Billy Bragg-y.
How about that.
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cjmacs



Joined: 22 Nov 2002
Posts: 280
Location: danbury, connecticut, usa

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i wouldn't know. i still haven't heard it. Sad
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You need to go and buy it, young man.
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cjmacs



Joined: 22 Nov 2002
Posts: 280
Location: danbury, connecticut, usa

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i ordered it weeks ago but for some reason amazon has changed the date for shipping to next week! Sad
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alan!



Joined: 29 Nov 2002
Posts: 424

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i disagree with everyone! it's not that i'm one of those who thinks that everything neil does is wonderful, but 'absent friends' is an absolute stormer, 'leaving today' is better than 'timewatching', 'charmed life' is the best closer since 'tonight we fly', and if you think 'the happy goth' has been arranged soupily with strings slapped on top just for effect, then you're plainly daft. mad, farting saxophones, anyone?

the only song i'd say lacks definition in bits is 'sticks and stones', where the outro does sound a bit under-written and over-layered, if you see what i mean... but given the intricacy of the start of it, that's forgivable. if you want crap string arrangements, buy richard ashcroft's solo work.

'fin' won't happen again unless neil becomes a paranoid megalomaniac some time soon, and 'promenade', full as it is of the lovely joys of youth, is an album no world-weary 33-year-old could write... neil has a really really strong back catalogue, which leads people to under-rate him or expect too much of him. i genuinely think this is the best he could have done.
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badly dressed boy



Joined: 02 Dec 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wasn't sure at first. It is slowly growing on me.

Mum loves Freedom Road, sounds a bit MOR country for me. Happy Goth is fantastic, so weird and varied even for DC. Our Mutual Friend is obviously the highlight of the whole album.

Wreck of the beautiful, I may grow to love, but at the moment, i cannot stand it, sooooo dull. Absent friends and sticks and stones are good.

I like the orchestration, and the new sounds he has used, esp in Happy Goth and my Imaginery friend.

On the whole, a bit downbeat, would have liked a couple more 'up' songs, esp as it is about willow, meant to be happy surely?

Quite pleased, will prob grow to love it, tho at the moment, not among my faves.

Sounds to me in places like a modern version of liberation or promenade.

wish i wasn't on teaching practice when palladium gig happens. Why not Saturday neil?? can't do Monday.

My friends, and all going to gigs, i envy you, with a live orchestra, these songs will sound fantastic.
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alan!



Joined: 29 Nov 2002
Posts: 424

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

teaching practice? where are you doing your pgce/education qualification? teaching practice is the main reason i can't go to any of these darn gigs either.
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 1809

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

stilton cheese wrote:
i disagree with everyone! it's not that i'm one of those who thinks that everything neil does is wonderful, but 'absent friends' is an absolute stormer, 'leaving today' is better than 'timewatching', 'charmed life' is the best closer since 'tonight we fly', and if you think 'the happy goth' has been arranged soupily with strings slapped on top just for effect, then you're plainly daft. mad, farting saxophones, anyone?

the only song i'd say lacks definition in bits is 'sticks and stones', where the outro does sound a bit under-written and over-layered, if you see what i mean... but given the intricacy of the start of it, that's forgivable. if you want crap string arrangements, buy richard ashcroft's solo work.

'fin' won't happen again unless neil becomes a paranoid megalomaniac some time soon, and 'promenade', full as it is of the lovely joys of youth, is an album no world-weary 33-year-old could write... neil has a really really strong back catalogue, which leads people to under-rate him or expect too much of him. i genuinely think this is the best he could have done.


I agree with all this.
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blue circles



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 1809

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

badly dressed boy wrote:


On the whole, a bit downbeat, would have liked a couple more 'up' songs, esp as it is about willow, meant to be happy surely?


Only Charmed Life is actually "about" Willow. The rest is merely "for" Willow.
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Mr Nude



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

See, to me, Absent Friends doesn't feel downbeat at all. I suppose it's all down to personal interpretation, but I find it quite a happy, optimistic album in its own special way.
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badly dressed boy



Joined: 02 Dec 2002
Posts: 10
Location: Brighton

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wow. this is quite an active forum.

thanks for the clarification on the willow thing.

I am doing my PGCE at Brighton Uni, my final practice is in a village called Lancing, just outside of Brighton.

Hows about you?
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alan!



Joined: 29 Nov 2002
Posts: 424

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm being very very posh and teaching Latin at the Perse Boys' School in Cambridge... hard, hard work... more paperwork than sense... *dies*
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Paul



Joined: 14 Dec 2002
Posts: 137

PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2004 11:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this album is absolutely everything I could have hoped for. It's wonderfully eclectic (sp?) and there isn't a track on it that I don't love. And there aren't many albums I can say that about.

It's not Liberation, it's not Promenade, it's not Casanova - they all represented different parts of Neil's life. This album is different. As much as i love it, I didn't want another Liberation, I wanted something different. So I can have a Divine Comedy album that fits every mood. And this one fits so many moods. I can see it being wonderful to listen to on a summer evening (Liberation), on a dark thundering winters night (Fin), or any number of different occasions in between.

I had a good feeling about this album, and I was right to do so.

I love it. I really do.
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far too mutual for you



Joined: 28 Jan 2004
Posts: 6
Location: Sheffield

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 12:28 am    Post subject: Absent Friends Reply with quote

Spot on Paul,

Everyone is entitled to move on both musically and emotionally. To say you are looking for more of the same, begs the argument. why aren't we all still listening to nursery rhymes, or at the least indie inspired versions of nursery rhyhmes from the early 1990s. The Divine Comedy have always gone against the flow. Well thought out, imaginative pop that challenges you.

This album strikes me as something that Regeneration wasn't. It is a summary of everywhere, everyone and every person neil has ever been. The ideal platform to move on. Buying a divine comedy album is a vote against standard, formulaeic music. Music changes - so does neil, and we are all better for it.

Absent Friends - Here's to them
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luvly horse



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 6209
Location: wondering what the hell she did wrong

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 12:57 am    Post subject: Re: Absent Friends Reply with quote

far too mutual for you wrote:
Buying a divine comedy album is a vote against standard, formulaeic music.


that sire/madam is one of the best things ive ever seen written on this bb

it should be etched in stone for the benefit of future generations
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Bubbles In My Beer



Joined: 14 Jan 2003
Posts: 418
Location: Knocking back mojitos at the cocktail bar

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 9:06 am    Post subject: Re: Absent Friends Reply with quote

luvly horse wrote:
far too mutual for you wrote:
Buying a divine comedy album is a vote against standard, formulaeic music.


that sire/madam is one of the best things ive ever seen written on this bb

it should be etched in stone for the benefit of future generations



It's like you're reading my mind man,,,precisely what I was thinking!!
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Chordmeister



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
Posts: 809
Location: Leafy Berkshire

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 9:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What do you mean by formulaeic though?

Neils songs still feature verses, choruses, bridges, repeated sections, instrumentals, intros, outros. So in that respect they're still formulaeic, but they are pop songs by design, so this is inevitable and makes the songs what they are.

Some tracks more than others obviously; 'Everybody Knows' is almost a pastiche of a 60s love ballad, couldn't be more formulaeic really.

I guess what you meant was more in respect to subject/lyrics/musical style?
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far too mutual for you



Joined: 28 Jan 2004
Posts: 6
Location: Sheffield

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 10:52 am    Post subject: Formulaeic Reply with quote

Thanks for the kind comments guys! Thought I might get savaged!

Music is by its very nature formulaeic, to clarify, most pop music nowadays follows the pop idol model of auditioning and manufacturing bands. The music is then composed to a set formula, using mostly well crafted hooks and riffs.

The harmonic structure of Neil's work is noticeably different, whereas pop music tends to use plain chords and the set chord progressions, neils tend to be unpredictable in some instances and very cleverly crafted in othes. Charmed life is a particularly good example

Agreed "Everybody Knows" also follows a formula, in fact, it almost mirrors "grrovy kind of love", but what it doesn't do is use the same arrangements that pervade almost all pop (manufactured) music, nor the simplistic ballads of the sixties on which it is clearly based.

His music was once described, in the times I think as, "intelligent pop", and for me harmonically is where the biggest impact can be seen, also the structure of his songs is not always in the pop song/strophic form - leaving today/freedom road/note to self and all of this makes him different.

Lets hope EMI keep him on board
Smile
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drykid



Joined: 16 Dec 2003
Posts: 2217
Location: On the boundary

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 1:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

blue circles wrote:
stilton cheese wrote:
i disagree with everyone


I agree with all this.


Ahh but if you agree with him, then he can't be dsagreeing with everyone, so you can't agree with him after all... stop it, my head hurts. Sad
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Chordmeister



Joined: 21 Nov 2002
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 1:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with everything far too mutual for you said in his last post, especially about the cleverly crafted chord progressions.
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David Booth



Joined: 01 Apr 2004
Posts: 8
Location: Yorkshire

PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, thanks for all your replies. What an intelligent, passionate (and compassionate), lot we TDC fans truly are.
However, I still feel the need to add a few further postscripts:
i) I DID NOT simply want another version of 'Fin'. Instead, with 'Regeneration' effectively out of the equation, I expected something more... not just more of the same.
ii) Despite the increasingly warm glow of familiarity (I've played the album at least six times now), I still find it cold and sterile.
iii) If this was your first taste of TDC, you would not find it easy to appreciate all the things we so clearly love about them. Indeed, I do not think I would have given it a second listen.
iv) I fervently hope that seeing them live in Liverpool later this month will prove me wrong.
v) For me, 'Laikas's Theme' typifies the whole album. Yes, it's an instrumental... yes there is a precedent ('Europe by train', 'Theme from Casanova'), but come on... It really is lacklustre isn't it, which, at this stage, the whole thing still appears to be? Neil sounds SO cheesed off. As 'Badly Dressed Boy' points out above, shouldn't Neil's infatuation with Willow have resulted in something much happier?
vi) 'cjmacs' - it's £9.79 in Sainsbury's. Buy it and tell us what you think!
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Ozymandias



Joined: 31 Dec 2003
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2004 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I was a boy, I fantasised...about another great Divine Comedy album. Fin De Siecle was the first one that I ever bought, and, oh, how I loved it when I first listened to it. It's still got timeless classics on it (Commuter Love, Certainty of Chance, Sunrise), but it seemed to be a bitter, cynical album without the saving grace of the fierce intelligence of Casanova, or the rhapsodic beauty of ASAAL or Promenade. So I waited for another album.

Regeneration, although I was very impressed by it at first, is an album that I've said, and will continue to say, is simply not very good, because Godrich's production is ill-suited to the tunes (which, in and of themselves, are weak), because the wit and orchestration are not so much absent as surgically removed, and because the 2 best songs (Mastermind and Bad Ambassador) sound like pale shadows of earlier DC glories.

Which brings us neatly to...

Absent Friends, which I adore. I'm not sure it's as good as Casanova or Promenade- Laika's Theme is pointless at best, Wreck of the Beautiful is odd and slightly irritating, and Leaving Today lacks a good tune- but it's a quintessentially Neil Hannon album through and through. Some of it's immediately accessible, like Charmed Life, Absent Friends and Our Mutual Friend (a song which is a benchmark for just what Hannon can achieve artistically, albeit with the aid of Joby Talbot), and some of it, like Freedom Road and The Happy Goth, takes longer to sink in. But I think it's a cohesive, very accomplished and, most importantly, enjoyable piece of work. My local Borders described it as 'perfect summery pop', and I don't think that's entirely fair- the artistic nadir of the Pop Singer's Fear...redux springs to mind- but I do think it's about as good a contemporary DC album as you could contemplate hearing.

Oh, and, for the little it's worth, I imagine that its epic scope will be rather special live, so try and book tickets to the orchestral tour if you possibly can.

[/i]
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