Foreverland is the Divine Comedy’s first record in six years and it’s bursting with all the qualities that make frontman and driving force Neil Hannon such a national treasure.
Humour, melody, poetry, emotive imagery and the odd history lesson permeate the record. Homage is paid to that pioneer of nominative determinism Catherine the Great while Napolean and those suffering from the complex baring his name are gently ribbed. All concepts delivered in neat little theatrical packages that are Hannon’s trademark. His sense of melody has never been more acute.
Songs like ‘Funny Peculiar’ and ‘The Pact’ have an almost cabaret feel. Simple, catchy and full of humour you could just imagine them as part of a Broadway musical or the next Pixar movie. ‘How Can You Leave Me On My Own’ is like late 70’s era David Bowie in the best possible way, the piano receives a pounding while the protagonist berates his spouse for his deplorable behaviour in her absence.
Title track ‘Foreverland’ tells the tale of a deluded captain leading his crew on a hopeless quest to find a mythical island of hope, as the crew slowly starve he insists they’re almost there. One of the albums few bleak moments but no less beautiful for it. ‘I Joined The Foreign Legion (To Forget)’ wistfully evokes Dad’s Army’s hapless battalion around an upright piano crooning away lost in the belly of a battle they can’t quite understand. A perfect little cinematic vignette, this record is full of them.
Hannon’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist means he’s able to musically sketch vivid backdrops on which to hang the stories and characters he so brilliantly creates with his lyrics, similar to The Kinks’ Ray Davies.
Diversity is one of the main characteristics in Hannon’s career, the theme tune for Graham Linehan’s Father Ted was famously based on Hannon’s ‘Songs of Love’. Then there’s his cricket based side project with Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh, The Duckworth Lewis Method.
Early copies of Foreverland come with another curve ball. In May is a completely separate piece of work, the account of a dying man in the form of letters he has written to loved ones. Initially performed in theatres, Hannon provides the subtle score to accompany the original text by Frank Alva Buecheler. Sounds like a pretty hopeless premise I know but it’s a man in the clutches of death unafraid of the future appreciating the little things in life while he can.
Disregarding the last paragraph, Foreverland is actually a pretty up-beat, perky record. Most of the songs will have you singing along before the end of the first listen. A clinic in the art of songwriting.