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Timewatching: The Divine Comedy Album-by-album thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by LivingForever, Nov 5, 2020.

  1. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Alright then, buckle up - this promises to be a wild ride!

    Today's song is:

    Timestretched

    Track 1 on "Regeneration" and at 2:48, its shortest song. This, plus the way it runs into "Bad Ambassador" have always to me given it the feel of a kind of prologue to this very different album, much like "Festive Road" is a little introduction to the new world of "Liberation". (this won't be the last parallel to be drawn with that album!)

    Neil has nothing to tell us about this song in his liner notes, but I did manage to find an interview with a French magazine called "Newcomer" from April 2001 where he runs through the album track-by-track- so here's what he said, translated to French and then back to English again by me (marginally better than Google did it...)

    It's a song about frustration. You never have enough time to do the things you want to: play Playstation or go to the theatre. There's the paradox that we tried to evoke with the name of the band! It's one of the very first songs that I wrote for the album. It's always a difficult moment because you don't really know where to go... musically it's all about progression.

    Here's the first of our songs in its finished studio version.

     
  2. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    On the new bonus disc, there's a demo version which is presumably one of Neil's "sat around with an acoustic guitar" demos for the album. It's hard to know when this dates from because the "chorus" isn't the "Dance to the music of time" line like in the February 2000 live version, but a lot of the rest of the words are the same.

    In this short demo version, the "folks asking is he..." bit ends with "the Divine..?" after "he's in that band... you know..." - personally I'm glad that didn't make it to the final version.

     
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  3. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    And lastly, sadly my efforts to find a better copy of the February 2000 live gig have stalled, but here's the version of "Dance to the Music of Time" which @jon-senior sent me.

    The quality is ropey to say the least since not only was it recorded by someone on a cassette recorder hidden in their bag, but it also seems to have been copied to another cassette or two and then encoded to MP3 goodness knows how many times - but still, you can hear what this song sounded like by the time the band had had a bit of a go at it, and before Nigel presumably told them to cut it in half and lose the congas!

     
  4. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Timestretched

    A short opening track played mostly on a solo instrument accompanied by some atmospheric background sounds. A lyric that hints figuratively at a wider purpose. We've been here before - this is Festive Road for a new stage.

    And in some ways, this feels to me like an effective opener not just for Regeneration, but for everything that follows. Liberation to Fin is the trajectory of an artist growing in self confidence and self belief; Regeneration to now is the journey of an artist coming to terms with the fact that he isn't going to be the world's biggest pop star, but who nevertheless has an artistic path to follow.

    What's interesting about Timestretched is that, in its short span, it exposes all the inherent contradictions of the Regeneration album. Neil takes great pains to talk about how the album represents the band coming of age as a collaborative unit, but this song is all about him. The lyrics feel deeply personal, and the rest of the band are absent, or relegated to providing ambient texture. I've got a whole load of radio sessions from the Regeneration era, and they're all Neil on his own, which completely goes against his words at the time. The personal nature of the lyrics, of course, is completely undercut by Neil's words since - he's said many times that he didn't feel himself making the album. I imagine this will be a topic much discussed over the next couple of weeks.

    As a song, there's not much to Timestretched, but as an atmospheric opener I think it's very successful. I like the finger picked guitar, the glockenspiel accompaniment and the heavily treated guitar buried deep in the background. Nigel Godrich's fingerprints are more clearly evident here than perhaps anywhere else on the album. The lyrics are a little maudlin, but the "that guy" section always raises a small smile as it fades away. I'll judge it in the context of the album, rather than as a completely separate entity, as I think that's how it was designed; on that basis, this is a 3.5/5 from me.
     
  5. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Even in my part of the chain it went from mp3 to minidisc then back again, I'm afraid :D
     
  6. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    Timestretched

    It's funny, I only read Anthony Powell's "Dance to the Music of Time" novel cycle last year and it blew me away (to use a very un-Powellesque phrase). I presume in that live version that booklover Neil is referencing that rather than the Poussin painting the series is named after. I think that chorus is easier to lsten to than the recorded version- it's nice to hear a few more syllables - but I suppose it was deemed too much what the old Neil would have done. By the way, that recording is perfectly listenable to me, having been forewarned of its provenance and adjusting my expectations. Thanks for letting us hear it.

    I have to disagree with Neil's assertion that there are "no gags" on the album- wordplay abounds. The gloominess I never found strange- I can very much relate to finding personal happiness then using that as a safe vantage point to really drill deep into everything and try to find what it's all about. I do however nod approvingly at Neil's current position that "deeper truths only tend to appear when you're not looking for them"

    I like this song, I have no real problems with it, except that the chorus as it ended up isn't really a chorus at all, just a break to punctuate the song. I don't love the production but it isn't bad. This song was an early indication that the album wouldn't be a disaster after all. 4/5
     
  7. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    I think this is interesting. I wonder if doing this was in part Neil consciously descending from his ivory tower/attic and trying to join the more mundane world the 'music critics' (whoever they are...!) were taking so seriously at the time, particularly following such harsh reactions in some circles to Fin de Siecle and the Best Of. Reviews do sting!
    I wonder how much his heart was really in this approach, and how much was just trying to find some way to remain relevant while really having the desire all along to return to EM Forster in the attic (I may be doing a but of a Flan, but one could read Bad Ambassador as saying this... we will get to that tomorrow though!).

    I think it's a resin sculpture?
     
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  8. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lund, Sweden
    Timestretched

    A fine and atmospheric opener to this album. Sets the mood thoroughly. I like the vibraphone - as always - and the soundscapes in the background, and I particularly enjoy when there's added instrumentation towards the end. Neil's vocals sound perfectly forlorn.

    4.1
     
  9. lazzaa

    lazzaa Well-Known Member

    Location:
    London
    Better things to come on this album, but as has been said before it acts as a good statement for the rest of the album. I've never been too much of a lyrics person, but even I find 'when even the barmen know extracts from Carmen' to be a little wanky! I do like the 'oh, that guy...' bit jon-senior mentioned though.

    As for the music, I like all the atmospheric touches on the song - I love the trombone (?) towards the end of the song and the tape delay merge into Bad Ambassador. 3.5/5

    Im sure Goodrich's production can be divisive, but since Radiohead are one of the few acts I love as much as the Divine Comedy it's never bothered me! I'm glad it's for just one album though.
     
  10. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    Yikes, sorry for the blunder! I suppose it only goes to show how much I actively avoid looking at the thing.
     
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  11. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    Timestretched
    I found this quietly stunning, and also gekybthe paralleleuth Festhve Road (and as @LivingForever said it wibt be tte last parallel with Liberation).
    I like the simplicity, and the lovely little subtle glockenspiel and understated trombone parts. The (synth?) strings don't add a lot for me and I was happy they didn't stick around long. There's a nice little vocal effect on the end of the second 'timestretched' that I'd never noticed before, like going very slowly into a black hole...
    There is a lot of word play on this album, which I didn't really notice at the time, so I don't quite agree with Neil's notes where he says there are no gags. They're not played for laughs, but are buried beneath the muffling blanket of Godrich's influence and the 'I can't be bothered' singing (which I find more 'pretentious' than anything else Neil has recorded!).
    The song leaves me feeling a bit limp and washed out, a feeling which continues throughout the album, as though the colour and edges have been washed out of everything, leaving it vague and indistinct (like drawing in watercolour pencils then brushing on too much water). I can't quite explain why, but at the same time I found it oddly uplifting! :p
    I don't mind the half-asleep vocal so much on this one as some of the others.

    3.5/5.0 for both its own merits and its role as album opener.

    Edit: just heard the Dance to the Music of Time version. I like the chorus but can see losing the congas and shortening it was probably a good move :laugh:. (Can also cope with the quality given the background!).

    A couple of literary references slipped the net though...!
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  12. a paul

    a paul Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    I really like Timestretched. It feels like a great start (and a finish almost, seeing as the end of The Beauty Regime has the same guitar plucking to make the album feel like a loop). I almost wish the instrumental bit at the end of Timestretched extended bigger, something like Eric The Gardener, but I don't think Godrich would have wanted that!

    Timestretched also reminds me of Futile Devices (although technically it should be FD reminding me of TS), the beginning song of Sufjan Stevens' The Age Of Adz album. Both are short understated songs that I love, although the rest of Sufjan's albums goes in a much different direction. (Gosh I'd love Neil to attempt an Age of Adz type album!)



    Anyway, 4.3 for Timestretched.
     
  13. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    Haha! Joby's wife would not be impressed! ;)
    I liked it from the beginning, because I'd always been disappointed that TDC album covers to that point just have a big photo of Neil's face on them.
    He seems like the sort of artist who could have incorporated visual arts into his album covers in a more interesting way, given his obvious love of art in general, and the way his songs often conjure up images like paintings.

    But my theory that if an artist has an interesting visual aesthetic which I like, their music will also appeal to me has been proven completely false by the number of terrible albums I bought when younger based purely on an artistically interesting cover... o_O

    In my case, attraction to cover is (in most cases) conversely proportionate to enjoyment of contents... :laugh:
     
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  14. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    I've certainly no objection per se to having something on the cover rather than the obvious photograph of the singer. Yes, it's great when a really creative picture adds a whole new dimension to the music. I'm a visual artist myself so I have very fixed ideas about what I do and don't like art-wise. As with so much about this record, I admire the ambition more than the execution.
     
  15. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    This is interesting, because with a new million-pound record contract from a major label in his pocket, you would think that this would be the pinnacle of his self confidence. On the early dates of the tour, he was telling audiences how "Perfect Lovesong" was going to be their first number 1 single! If anything, I think the "coming to terms with not being the world's biggest pop star" bit came during 2001, as the album flopped (relatively speaking) and he eventually retreated to lick his wounds. You can read the increasing frustration/resignation as you go through interviews with him from the album's release through to the split in October.

    But anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the album should be the sound of someone who DOES think he's going to be the world's biggest pop star. And instead, it's more like the sound of someone who finally got everything he wanted (success, love, even a dog!) and realised it didn't make him happy.
    In the rest of this forum, such a revelation would likely get you kicked out of here... but don't worry, your secret is safe with me ;)
    Here is the first of many quotes I have pulled out from press interviews from around the time, this one seems fitting in this context, although it is interestingly from January 2000, when the song still did contain that reference...
    "The lyrics are a bit more personal, a bit less cheesy; I want to get away from the cheese factor. I don’t mind clever lyrics, I get off on writing them – it’s like a crossword without any clues. And I like trying to make something that can exist on its own, where you don’t need to know anything about the artist to understand what the song’s doing. If I could marry that approach to something that is really important or of some use to somebody, then that would be good.”

    By January 2001, when the album was done, Neil said this:
    "Thankfully this is a virtually reference free album. I've tried to rely less and less on such reference points in our songs." He added that the theme of this album is "life, the universe and everything".

    Well spotted, I didn't even know it was trombone until recently watching a live video from very early in the tour, where Pinkie even recreated this trombone part on stage... I've not checked this video but you may be able to see the same thing!

    Couldn't have said it better myself ...! (typing on your phone by any chance? :D)
    Interestingly enough, last night I read a review of the album from a French magazine which suggested that the end part of "Eric the Gardener" was used as a template for this new album. I can *almost* *sort of* get their point...
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  16. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    :cry:

    Phones...:shrug:I spotted it too late to edit...! :realmad:
     
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  17. a paul

    a paul Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    There are plenty of strange blips and beeps and electronic noises throughout this album (which I like!), so I can see that.
     
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  18. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    I think you're right, and I think this is indicative of a lot of the difficulty around Regeneration, and the fact that this 'bold new direction' suddenly seemed (in Neil's eyes, at least) such a mis-step. We won't be able to get a definite answer to this, I suppose, but at what point did he realise it wasn't working? When Love What You Do was a damp squib in the charts? Before that?

    It was a long time ago...
     
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  19. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    So here's something to ponder...

    We know that Neil didn't feel comfortable during the making of Regeneration (or at least, that's how he remembers it now). We also know that Regeneration didn't live up to his commercial hopes (or perhaps, even, expectations). What do we think would have happened if it had?

    I've always thought that reducing Regeneration to 'Neil does Radiohead' was a simplistic view, but there's no doubt that he was angling for a place in the market which other bands of the era had been very successful in. The fact that Regeneration didn't find a big audience wasn't an indication of it being bad - luck plays a huge part in the way these things work out, and there's no logical reason why something like Travis' Invisible Band should have sold so many more copies than Regeneration did beyond name recognition. So let's say Love What You Do had gone top ten, Regeneration had lurked in the top 10 for a few months, and Perfect Lovesong had been a number one single - would the success have enabled Neil to bury his misgivings and continue in the same vein? Would he have kept the band together but still reverted to an earlier sound with something like Absent Friends? Would the increased fame have overwhelmed him, and what might that have looked like? No way of knowing, obviously, but intriguing to wonder.
     
  20. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Location:
    Royal Oak MI
    “Timestretched”: It’s…eh, it’s so-so, musically at least. The lyrics, if I'm being kind as possible, make me roll my eyes. Starting your long-awaited (by fans, if not the wider public), major label album debut off with a song that is: you complaining about not having enough time (you had (a) two years to write songs and do whatever else you wanted which is not a luxury many get, and (b) a thirty year old moaning about time going by too fast? cry me a river, grandpa); the very building blocks of music itself cannot satisfy your ambitions in that form (deep sigh); and ends with you saying no one remembers you anymore (I mean, what's the problem here? That you're not famous enough? Not famous enough anymore? Never mind, I don't care). All that is is certainly a choice, and coupled with the somber music, it makes Neil look like his head is jammed far up his own rear. I'm sorry if success turned out to be this horrible curse, but it's not something I want to hear him complain about. As opposed to what I said about an earlier track, this is NOT what I listen to The Divine Comedy for. And has been mentioned, the album’s vocal approach of Neil sounding slightly slurred and half awake is not to my taste, and he does it in just about every song on this record (though I will try to refrain from constantly saying so). Musically, the song sounds like it could have been something more interesting, if it actually went anywhere. I should point out that Neil at least gets this over and done with in under three minutes (though if you'd pressed me to estimate the length, I'd have said about four minutes); going through this record again, I was struck by five songs lasting more than five minutes, which given their lethargic feel, makes them seem much longer. Casanova is the only record with more songs of that length, but they at least feel like they earn the extra time. Anyway, the score: 1.75/5
     
  21. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    I have to agree with that - it strikes me as exactly what he was doing on previous albums, coming up with amusing/clever-sounding lines and jotting them down, waiting to shoehorn them into a song later.

    It doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the song, does it?
     
  22. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    I always interpreted it as a kind of "I want to be ever so clever and sophisticated in my writing, but I've come to realise that I'm not necessarily any more clever than anyone else" - I guess that would tap into the general sense of frustration over your own limitations that the song seems to be going for.

    As ever, though, I've not thought too hard about the lyrics. I've had some blinding revelations about how to interpret Bad Ambassador over the last few days that I'm sure most people will have alresdy processed!
     
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  23. The Booklover

    The Booklover Forum Resident

    Location:
    Germany
    Wow, there's a lot of interesting discussion going on again. Here are some comments on your (and Neil's) comments on the album as a whole (before I move on to the first song):

    I wasn't really disappointed either, the only thing that could have been improved in my eyes would have been to add more variety by including some faster or at least rockier songs in the vein of "Thrillseeker".

    I was surprised at the time since TDC had sounded different during their commercial peak from 1996 to 1999, which is when I discovered them. Had I known their pre-1993 stuff or some of the early B-sides and bonus tracks then, it would have seemed like a return to early influences. After all, as I've noted upthread, one could make the case that TDC indirectly inspired Radiohead because "Secret Garden" sounds like a proto-Strangelove song (though I have no evidence that Strangelove actually listened to them, just that they played together), and Strangelove in turn influenced Radiohead. Also, I noted a few times how Neil sounded like Thom Yorke on some of the obscure early tracks.

    I'm absolutely with you on your dislike of most of these bands (I like some of the singles from The Man Who but nothing else) but have to defend Coldplay even though it's not hip to like them. I still believe that (with a couple of exceptions) their first three albums are very good (yes, even the criminally underrated X&Y), though I concede that I was fed up of hearing "Shiver" and the criminally overrated "Yellow" from their debut album.

    I know from own experience how one's pleasure of listening to a certain album can be severely impaired by these kind of unfortunate associations. Luckily, I don't associate this album with a particularly unhappy or happy time of my life so my judgement of it will be free from these kind of real-life effects.

    Yes, especially the last four tracks. This uniformity probably makes it TDC's most consistent record in terms of sound and atmosphere. I can see that this can be a problem, especially if you don't like the sound in question. I usually prefer my albums more eclectic in style but can't deny that Regeneration is a rewarding album. The only outliers are "Perfect Lovesong" and "Love What You Do", but I'm happy that there's at least a couple of songs that break up the gloomy mood.

    I know what you mean, but neither of these handshakes does it for me while I do like both albums.

    I love it that Neil doesn't disown the album here and lets the listener make up his or her own mind. I just hate it when artists big up their current album as the best thing since sliced bread only to do a complete U-turn after it flopped commercially, e.g. what the Manic Street Preachers did with Know Your Enemy (incidentally also from 2001 and following on from their most successful album from 1998) and Lifeblood. And they also returned to the style of their commercial peak from 1996 to 1998 with the Manics-by-numbers Send Away The Tigers, hailing it as the return to their true self after ill-advised detours.

    That is a high-class roster, and they also had Pet Shop Boys.

    This confirms to me that the main reason for returning to the safe and familiar TDC sounds of Absent Friends simply was that his audience didn't came along for the Regeneration ride.

    Am I selfish for being relieved that he was burnt-out because we wouldn't have gotten this album otherwise?

    I think that (just as there are plenty of musical similarities to previous TDC songs) the subject matter isn't totally surprising: the criticism of superficial consumer and celebrity culture already crops up a lot on Fin De Siècle, here Neil's just more earnest and not relying on humour to sweeten the pill (though, as @The Turning Year has pointed out, he didn't completely dispense with the funny bits). The miserable and angsty aspect of the lyrics can also be found in his early work. Surely, anyone who got fed up by too many TDC novelty songs with too many cheerful "baa baa baa"s couldn't complain about that anymore.

    It's nice that he acknowledges that the album has its admirers. Then again, it also comes across as "If you love this album, you can't be a real TDC fan", which I strongly object to.

    I only really noticed today (listening over headphones) that it's only a few songs in the second half of the album that don't have segues.

    I'm also pleased by the line and its musical realisation although the bass part could have come a little bit sooner. Speaking of which, I generally love the bass guitar on this album.

    I gave up pretty soon on trying to convince myself that I liked Kid A at least as much as OK Computer. Actually, both Kid A and Amnesiac are very uneven affairs. You could make an excellent album out of one half of each, but even then you would have to resort to superior live versions for a few of the tracks.

    My favourite album from 2001 (and second favourite from Super Furry Animals after Radiator), which is even more indebted to The Beatles and The Beach Boys than "Perfect Lovesong" what with Paul McCartney chewing vegetables again and the usual SFA dose of Beach Boys harmonies. SFA were untouchable then, genre-bending shapeshifters full of ambition soundtracking a plethora of emotions and first-class songwriters to boot.

    Another interesting discussion. I usually also prefer it if the artwork doesn't simply feature a photo of the artist, but I'm not that keen on this cover either. The way the sculpture is bent over on the right-hand side as if stumbling seems to signify the opposite of regeneration, unless it's supposed to reference the after-effects of a Doctor Who regeneration. I do like the colours, though. Anyway, as you can currently see on the left, my preferred cover is the new design by Persan used for the slipcase: the discarded suit lays even more emphasis on the absence of Neil's portrait this time.

    That's exactly how I read it. I bet if Regeneration had been more successful commerically, the next album may have been slightly different again but not such a blatant return to tried and tested ground.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  24. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    Me too! Wonder if they're the same? (Probably!) :laugh:
     
  25. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    It's odd, I like this song and I gave it a 4, so why do I enjoy so much reading it being torn to shreds? I think this will be a recurring pattern for me this album as I realise I simultaneously hold two contradictory views about the album.

    I just sought out the review I wrote of the record at the time (one of very few album reviews I've ever published) to see what point of view I was willing to commit myself to at the time. I'll post it when we get to the end of the album.

    I should have said in my earlier post that I basically excuse this song's lyric for having no real point to it, and being clearly built up from disparate notebook jottings, because it's the opening track and serves as a sort of introduction. Sort of like, hi, I'm back, this is what's been on mind lately, these are the kind of topics you can expect to hear about on this album. The trouble is there's another "rounding up stray ideas" song only a few songs later.
     

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