The Divine Comedy

Liberation

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    6
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Jettisoning the rest of the band but keeping the name, Neil Hannon as the Divine Comedy becomes as art pop as it gets with his first full album, but with an extreme Englishness that even Ray Davies might be hard-pressed to keep up with. Liberation is mostly a self-composed and performed release, aside from a couple of string players, a French horn performer, and a drummer, plus a song lyric borrowed from Wordsworth, giving "Lucy" a crisp, gentle rock recasting here. Otherwise it's Hannon's hyper-elegant show all the way, practically begging to be equally played in a Victorian drawing room, at a swank '20s club, at a swinging beautiful people party in London, or at an end-of-the-century Britpop disco. Slightly more rock/poppy tunes like "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" groove along with MOR backing vocals and understated energy, while others pile on the artsy touches: the harpsichord underlying the entirety of "Death of a Supernaturalist" and the mournful string arrangement that provides all of the music on "Timewatching." A few songs rock in a more straightforward manner, but often only just so: "I Was Born Yesterday" interrupts its persistent pounding with a spoken word break referring to ballerinas and standing en pointe while a cello plays; the acoustic guitar-based "Victoria Falls" has a fragile, frosty feeling to it. Hannon, meanwhile, belies his Northern Ireland upbringing to an astounding degree with his clipped, toff singing style. As for subject matter, Hannon tackles everything from borrowing "Your Daddy's Car" to the jaunty, XTC-inspired "The Pop Star's Fear of the Pollen Count," slipping in as much wry humor as he does gentle pathos and reflection -- plenty of all three. "Europop" is particularly sharp -- a self-descriptive new wave synth-plus-guitar dance tune with rather lugubrious vocals from Hannon, reflecting on everything from science and finance to the strange nature of love.

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