The Divine Comedy, A Secret History

divine-comedy-secret-historyI don’t know of anyone whose vision of pop music is as grand as Neil Hannon’s.

A Secret History is a ‘best of…’ collection, featuring two previously unreleased tracks, a re-recorded ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count,’ and ‘I’ve Been To a Marvellous Party,’ Neil’s contribution to Twentieth Century Blues – the songs of Noel Coward.

The collection highlights the consistency of Neil Hannon’s work over the past several years. Each track is, well,… bombastic, as filled with pomp and hyperbole as its predecessor. Calling this a ‘best of..’ is to beg the question: how did they select these tracks? Given Neil’s modest chart success, the singles had to be included, but how to pick the others? Each is certainly a standout, but each Divine Comedy album has the same elements: catchy songs, huge arrangements, … sly wit. A Secret History could just be the next Divine Comedy album.

The attention to detail that the Divine Comedy gives every track is just staggering. The instrumental ending to ‘Generation Sex’ is brilliant. The guitar tone is perfectly placed inside the strings, and as the strings carry the melody, a harpsichord’s perfect complement in the right channel is almost undetected. Like the simple guitar line played during the second verse of ‘Something for the Weekend,’ it’s the details in the songs that give them such life. This is a marvel not just of instrumentation but of production. In the most recent tracks, Neil had almost an entire orchestra in the studio, but even when scaled back in ‘Songs of Love,’ the acoustic guitars, harpsichord and simple voice arrangement sound grand in scale.

If nothing else this compilation should serve to demonstrate that Neil Hannon has never relented in his vision of pop music as important and beautiful even when it is absurd and crass.