The Divine Comedy – A Short Album About Love (1997)
Neil Hannon is one of my very favourite songwriters and has consistently released superb albums for the last couple of decades. “A Short Album About Love” is one of my favourite of these albums and was released in 1997 between the superb “Casanova” and “Fin de Siecle” albums. I was in my early twenties when it was released at it was a really important album to me at the time – and still is. It was recorded in one day at the Shepherds Bush Empire (on 20th October, 1996), with a sizeable ensemble of classical instruments and a clutch of songs so beautifully grandiose that The Walker Brothers seem quite ordinary by comparison. Six out of the seven songs are original songs written especially for this project, the other one, “Timewatching” is a re-recording of song from one of The Divine Comedy’s early albums, “Liberation”. Although it was recorded live, it isn’t a “live” album, as such, as there is no audience, they merely used the Empire as a place to record the music. Although there is just over half an hour of music, every piece is excellent and proves that quality over quantity works every time.
As the title of the album suggests, the theme running throughout this piece of work is love, in all its guises. The opening track, “In Pursuit Of Happiness”, is nothing short of genius, a superb composition with a jaw-droppingly brilliant Joby Talbot arrangement that builds into a magnificent crescendo and always leaves me slightly breathless by the end of the song. “Everybody Knows (Except You)” was the single from this mini-album and it’s not difficult to realise why; it’s an exceedingly catchy, funny piece, pathos with an orchestral punch. “Someone” is slightly more serious in tone and could easily be a Scott Walker classic; the instrumental ending is powerful, magnificent and utterly spellbinding. Even seventeen years later, I can’t quite decide whether the lyrics of “If…” really work; sometimes I find them charming, sometimes a little mawkish. If you had to identify the weakest track on the album, this song would be it, even though it’s really pretty good. “If I Were You (I’d Be Through With Me)” is an absolute gem, though, the self-deprecating, melancholy lyrics balanced out by a beauteous, melodic soundtrack. The climax of the song is terrific, the punch of the brass, Neil’s impassioned vocal delivery – it’s stirring stuff.
“Timewatching”, the only song on the album which was previously available in a different form, borrows heavily from Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love”, lyrically, but has a more pensive, minor key musical theme; the arrangement and instrumentation means that it is an improvement on the original. The last track, “I’m All You Need”, is one of the best on the album, a smile-inducing, rousing, brilliant song that brings the record to a close on a very high note. Of course, as the album is so good, it is over all too soon and leaves you wanting more, however, as a side-project, a mini-album to keep the fans satisfied until Neil’s next “proper” studio album, it is incredible. It would be a crime if Divine Comedy fans overlooked this album purely because it is little more than an EP – it is every bit as essential as the most well known and loved of Neil Hannon’s albums. In fact, some of the tracks on “A Short Album About Love” are amongst the most outstanding and accomplished songs that he has ever written and the orchestral arrangements by Joby Talbot are intricate and sensational. It is, quite simply, a magnificently written and performed collection of songs unlike anything else in The Divine Comedy’s catalogue and deserves just as much recognition as the rest of Neil’s work.