To say that any Divine Comedy album feels overly calculated is somewhat pointless, given that Neil Hannon's cheeky musical alter ego is a nostalgic figure caught in a 1930s time warp to begin with. It's all about affection, as it were. But Victory for the Comic Muse is almost mathematical in its calculation: open with a jaunty number to get the audience excited; slow it down for four consecutive reflective ballads to suggest maturity; split the album in half with a throwaway piano instrumental like an old movie intermission; inject some life into the proceedings with four sprightly, comic selections; and close with a tearjerker. Such a structure means the album feels like two separate entities, almost like two EP collections jammed together representing two distinctly different phases of Hannon's career. As such, its highlights are more satisfying on their own than in the context of an LP. The ELO-like opener, "To Die a Virgin," seems to be another stab at "Generation Sex" territory, right down to its Fellini-esque opening samples. The slower numbers that follow are pleasant enough, with some alternately witty and touching lyrics, but Hannon's voice is so subdued as to be positively inoffensive and his back-to-basics production is weak. The second half starts with some welcome drive, as Hannon tackles the Associates song "Party Fears Two" with whimsical aplomb. "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" presents the early Hannon eye twinkle and is reminiscent of previous creations like "Bernice Bobs Her Hair." Here Hannon suggests he needs a TV investigation just to understand his girlfriend. Yes, Victory for the Comic Muse has its funny moments, its sad asides, and some of the now standard Nyman minimalist moments, but in the Divine Comedy's overall discography it's a rather slight and often flat affair with unfortunate suggestions that Hannon might have milked the comic cow dry.
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AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina