splendid > reviews > 5/17/2004
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy
Absent Friends
Nettwerk America

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Sticks & Stones"

Buy me now
Listening to Neil Hannon's seventh album feels like waking up again and again in the middle of a succession of overpriced musicals. While people who thrive on melodrama are generally to be avoided like an airborne retrovirus, there's something to be said for a well-connected lyrical balladeer with a chip on his hip and a voice like Neil Diamond after dark.

The opening is a name-dropping salvo to a roster of "Absent Friends" that includes Jean Seberg, Oscar Wilde and Steve McQueen. Both driving overture and multi-eulogy, it establishes the album's deep love affair with magnetic melody and snarky paradox. "Sticks and Stones" plays with shopworn clichés like a cat with a yarn-ball, duly spinning lines like "Flesh is weak but darling, we know / That the ego's weaker still."

Slowing the tempo, "Leaving Today" plots the ache of parting on a graph whose axes are plucked arpeggios and the lush swells of a full string section. For every predictable "Like the dew, she clings to me," Hannon gleefully punctures the high-flung dramatics with a "No way, Jose, you don't get away that easily." Like most of Absent Friends, the song adores orchestral grandiosity and distilled pop structures, and Hannon's wry sentimentality comes off like a bathhouse tryst between Brett Anderson, Stephin Merritt and Morrissey.

In the verses of "Come Home Billy Bird", a hard-drinking businessman named William lumbers through a gauntlet of first-class disappointments, interspersed with "come home" choruses ripped straight out of Black Box Recorder's playbook. Benjamin, "The Imaginary Friend" of the next track, provides the haunting inspiration for an uptempo tune that might just be the first song to feature a banjo riff and rhyme "mobile library" with "peripatetically". And unless you count Hollywood's ridiculous Titanic saga a few years back, "The Wreck of the Beautiful" is the most musically cinematic tribute to a sunken ship since Gordon Lightfoot's abysmally saddening ode to the Edmund Fitzgerald.

By the time "Our Mutual Friend"'s symphonic percussion and hammering cellos reach their crashing apex, the album begins to feel a little like the fourth consecutive hour at a well-stocked party full of musical theater majors. Students of adroitly sweeping panoramic music and unflinchingly wise-ass sentimentality should listen to Absent Friends with a spongy attentiveness, but the pedestrian curiosity will probably begin searching for a pincushion before Hannon's dramathon reaches its denouement.

For the steadfast, the penultimate instrumental ("Laika's Theme") and the album's closer ("Charmed Life") reward diligent listening with a sufficiently light-hearted conclusion to all this tonnage of the heart, and in the end, this is a record of truly thick comedy, even if it is a far cry from divine.



Brian Cherney

Tomas Korber


The Rude Staircase

Dian Diaz



The Crimes of Ambition

Karl Blau


Gary Noland

Tommy and The Terrors


Bound Stems

Gary Noland

Carlo Actis Dato and Baldo Martinez

Quatuor Bozzoni

The Positions

Comet Gain

Breadfoot featuring Anna Phoebe

Secret Mommy

The Advantage

For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records

The Slow Poisoner

Alan Sondheim & Ritual All 770



Five Corners Jazz Quintet

Cameron McGill

Drunk With Joy

10 Ft. Ganja Plant

The Hospitals

Ross Beach

Big Star

The Goslings

Lair of the Minotaur

Koji Asano

Splendid looks great in Firefox. See for yourself.
Get Firefox!

Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste probably didn't even know that he'd be the subject of Jennifer Kelly's final Splendid interview... but he is!

That Damn List Thing
& - The World Beyond Your Stereo
Pointless Questions
File Under
Pointless Questions
& - The World Beyond Your Stereo

Read reviews from the last 30, 60, 90 or 120 days, or search our review archive.

It's back! Splendid's daily e-mail update will keep you up to date on our latest reviews and articles. Subscribe now!
Your e-mail address:    
All content ©1996 - 2011 Splendid WebMedia. Content may not be reproduced without the publisher's permission.