The Divine Comedy

Fanfare for the Comic Muse

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It would seem that Neil Hannon and Setanta Records want Fanfare for the Comic Muse buried as an afterthought in the scheme of all things Divine Comedy, and that's a shame, because it's a rather delightful early peek into Hannon's gifted abilities. Hannon has been known to refer to the Fanfare for the Comic Muse incarnation of the band as being of sub-R.E.M. quality, and while there are certainly early R.E.M. indie jangle tendencies on display, there's a great deal to like about the album, as perhaps only one track out of seven is anywhere near approaching throwaway status. Who cares if the album is lyrically more naïve than later releases and if the band was limited musically by the number of chords Hannon was capable of playing at the time? Who cares about the rather weak production that confuses emotion with rock flare-ups? This is the Divine Comedy in an embryonic state, and it's a fascinating thing to behold. Though Hannon later returned to a majority of the songs after he partnered with Jobi Talbot, releasing many of them as B-sides, hearing the songs in this early context is a true thrill for Divine Comedy fans. "Ignorance Is Bliss" is the first standout, as Hannon and company affect a pleasant shuffle, tackle earnest subject matter, and rock out with reckless abandon. "Tailspin" and "Logic Vs. Emotion" are just as endearing; the former merging My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything-era dynamics with Hannon's energetic, angry shouts of "I hate unhappy endings," and the latter coming across like the Smiths in their early days miming the Kinks, with Hannon displaying his amazing vocal range and rather accomplished vocal inflections. "Bleak Landscape" and "Logic Vs. Emotion" would easily work on Liberation with just a few minor tweaks. The song titles alone should compel Divine Comedy fans to track down Fanfare for the Comic Muse, as they correctly summarize the literary and poetic leanings of the lyrics. Neil Hannon was a dreamer from the get-go. Even the weaker songs have their moments, and a couple of them are brought down only by momentary atonal passages where the band goes off key. And even then, the flaws are rather charming. Fanfare for the Comic Muse is a necessary addition to die-hard fans' collections, but since it works more like early demos and because its music differs stylistically from later releases, passing fans looking only for the band's peak material need not dig in earlier than Liberation.

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