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Timewatching: The Divine Comedy Album-by-album thread

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

  1. James Cunningham

    James Cunningham Forum Resident

    Edinburgh, UK

    Wow, so much has been said already today already and everything I was thinking has been expressed more eloquently by others.

    I also see this as a prelude to the album, and upon hearing it for the 1st time, my ears pricked up as it sounded so different to any other Divine Comedy I had heard.

    The production and instrumentation is a key feature of this album for me, and as @The Booklover has said, the bass guitar is wonderful throughout. The tuned percussion is another lovely feature as well. On this song the fingerpicking guitar draws me in, while Neil's introspective vocal sets the mood for the album as a whole.

    Lyrically, I am pretty much a fan of what Neil is attempting to portray, the odd clunker aside.

    Having heard the live version this morning, I am slightly perturbed about how this album may have sounded if Nigel Godrich hadn't been involved.

  2. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Dallas, TX
    I think most musicians, once they've had a taste of success, lose the ability to recognize if their own work is good or not if it doesn't match their previous successes. Some eventually get it back, but most don't.
    LivingForever and The Booklover like this.
  3. The Booklover

    The Booklover Forum Resident

    Me too.

    That's what I thought as well. The end result is so much better.

    That's hard to believe since the songs come across as very heartfelt. If that emotion was all faked, he was a pretty good actor. In any case, whatever the truth of the matter, the most important thing to me is that I'm pleased with the results.

    I also feared the worst and was pleasantly surprised. Further uploads of the other songs would be appreciated.

    I've got no problem with that. On the contrary, it literally does what the title says.

    I love them, too.
    So which is the lesser of two evils for you: this or the over-the-top crooning mode displayed on ASAAL?

    That line stuck out like a sore thumb to me, too. I'm grateful for this interpretation, which does fit the context.

    That's a fitting description.
    As for your contradictory feelings, maybe it's a form of catharsis. It's why I love listening to melancholy music. It works even better with more extreme stuff like The Cure's Faith or Pornography though I have to be in the right mood for them, so only play them rarely.

    You're absolutely right. That's a lovely song. I haven't listened to him before so will check out the rest of the album and hope that "much different direction" is my cup of tea.

    Yes, I was. Thanks for posting this. I didn't know it was a trombone either.

    I'm with you here. The fingerpicking guitar also reminds me of the alternate folk version of "Eric The Gardener".

    To sum up, this is a very promising start to the album: 4.5/5
  4. happysunshine

    happysunshine Fulfillment is the richness of awareness


    Time for world-weary and ”real” Neil. Wordsworth has been swapped out for lyrics about drunks knocking back liquor and bubbles in beer. I loved Nigel Godrich’s sound back in the day (and still do, I guess), but parts of it seems kind of clichéd today. Yes, I am looking at you spacy noises and tape delays, a.k.a. window dressing!

    I’ve never really givven it much thought before, but some of the Regeneration era lyrics are really preachy and filled with self-pity (with a dash of hubris). The line ”Is he that guy, you know, from that band The Divine...?” is almost a bit... well, cringey. I’m famous and just signed with Parlophone and they gave me a £10000000000 advance on the new album, boohoo.

    Anyway, this is a nice little opener that sets the tone for the album. I don’t find it that exciting as a song, though. I’ll give it a 2.5/5.
  5. a paul

    a paul Forum Resident

    Ooh, Sufjan is amazing. Age of Adz goes a bit more electronicky after that first track, but I still love it. Otherwise his Seven Swans album is maybe a similar stripped back sound. Or Illinois for his big over the top (Casanova?) type album. Those three are my favourite of his albums anyhow, so so good.
  6. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    London, UK
    Good question!
    I think I have to say crooning mode as it seems more authentic somehow, and at least he seems to enjoy crooning.

    Also, I opened YouTube this evening (to see what a couple of other tracks on the Sufjan Stevens album @a paul referenced above - really liked Futile Devices, by the way), and the video at the top was audio of Neil singing 'She' by Charles Aznavour.
    I'd not heard it before and have now listened to twice through. I really like it despite myself!
    Now if that's not crooning...! :D;)
    The Booklover and LivingForever like this.
  7. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    To everyone commenting on Neil’s vocal delivery, at the start of the behind the scenes video I posted yesterday you can see Neil apologising to Nigel for putting too much emotion into his singing- “yeah, I did try to do that, I just... emote... automatically...” - so presumably Nigel suggested that Neil sing in that fashion? (Not sure if that was just for the song in question or the whole album...)

    Another follow up on something a few people mentioned - the dodgy Edinburgh bootleg, when I posted that track on YouTube, the person who recorded it actually got in touch with me! She still has the master MD so we’re now talking about how to get it transferred without losing any quality.

    I will continue to post the tracks from the degraded version as we get to them, but hopefully at some point I can go back and replace them with something a bit better!
  8. Hazey John II

    Hazey John II The lyrics are fine, there's no problem there

    Tried to approach this fresh: the first track on the first album by a new band, or an old band approached as a new listener. Works well as a prologue; production is effective; the progression from hours to days to weeks to months to years works; the stretched 'time' works; the pivot from looking at (and pitying) drunks to being one of the drunks (the bubbles in my beer), works. I recognise this feeling - right now I don't have enough time to write this. OK, I'm listening.
    I deleted something a few days ago: "The case for Godrich: without him, Regeneration would sound like Punishing Kiss", but decided it was unfair given the circumstances around the Lemper album. But... yeah.

    I really like Godrich, in small doses. Nobody's Fault But My Own, yes; Writing to Reach You, yes; Fine Line, yes*... but whole albums, no:
    Yes. He's really good at creating this feeling, and I can't bear it for more than a few songs. At its worst, it's crushingly, unpleasantly boring. But there's a lot to admire in it: everything super-dry, yet somehow creating a glowing, spectral atmosphere, perhaps due to lots of crafted accidents - here, for example, the double tracked guitars, very precisely mirrored, but the top notes ringing left or right depending on which guitar plucked loudest, making them feel organic, alive.

    There's a problem, though. The second verse kind of works, but for two things: the Carmen line, and the band reference at the end. I agree with @jon-senior the point is Neil saying he can't show off about how cultured he is anymore because even the barmen know Carmen - the string in his bow is not so special. And I quite like the line for what it is, except that, it (and the band line) makes the song explicitly about Neil and the Divine Comedy. Sometimes fine detail becomes universal, but not in this case. It forces me to treat this as part of the band's soap opera, as if Too Young To Die was not an endpoint but a template.

    So I can't quite hear it with fresh ears - the lyric forces the band's earlier work to echo. And the comparison is stark. With Festive Road, I felt welcomed in to a secret world; here I feel left out, worried by Neil's self-pity. I sympathise, but as a song, it leaves me nonplussed, and it seems a bizarre strategy for hooking new listeners too. 3/5

    (Really enjoying the discussions around the album in general but ironically have run out of time to join in...)

    *Golden Skin, YES
  9. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Dallas, TX

    I feel generally positive about Regeneration. A few major highs, a lot of "not bad" and one or two stinkers. But I understand folks who find the album, as a whole, a bit wearying. One or two substitutions would have made a world of difference. I tell you this because, after listening to Timestretched, I have the feeling that I might rate a lot of the individual songs higher than I'd rate the album as a whole. Maybe.

    As far as Timestretched itself goes, I like the lyrics (including the Carmen line, but excepting the last line of the song), I like the melancholy tune, don't mind the most of the production choices, the descending motif behind the vocals is nice. Neil's vocals should have been louder and had a bit more top end. The Radiohead echo-y sounds haven't aged well, but have aged better than lots of 80s production choices. If only they'd gotten this album out a year or two earlier it might not have felt so behind the curve.

    All in all though I'll give it a 3/5.
  10. Dalav

    Dalav Forum Resident

    New Jersey

    I vacillate on Regeneration. When it was released I focused more on defending the gems rather than dwelling on the homogeneity of the album, which I feel in this case to be a negative. (Perhaps if some of the tunes had been stronger it wouldn't have mattered). Based on the comments of others above, I'll put that on Godrich. By the end of the album it feels a slog to get through. Which is interesting because I enjoyed Travis well enough back in the day (though, the earlier The Man Who than The Invisible Band). These days now, those forays into degrees of subtlety seem more tedious. Back to Neil and Regeneration, what I'd give for more in the way of tempo change and dynamics. Lyrically, Neil's continual personal musings and general lack of joie de vivre in delivery are telling. I suppose it's natural and necessary that we have checkpoints or weigh stations in our lives before moving on--to either a new direction entirely, or I think in Neil's case a return/reaffirmation of the core.

    That said, I like Timestretched. It evokes strong qualities of isolation and observation--as if watching time pass while being frozen within it--that act as a fitting set-up for the entire album. Although I agree with @TheTurningYear's description of the draining of colors and edges, I'm responding more to the delicacy of this track, and the resignation in the voice.

    Thanks to those who pointed out the fine bass throughout the album, as it made me listen more keenly to the production. In Timestretched I enjoyed the lurking synth in the background, which is prevalent in the second half of the song. @The Booklover mentioned catharsis in the context of The Cure's Faith, which brought to mind a similar sounding (though more dominant) synth in The Funeral Party, one of my favorites.

  11. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter


    Yep, this is a pretty good statement of intent of what we might expect from this album - an immediate notification that this is not the Divine Comedy of old.

    The song has a kind of hazy, woozy feel, like drifting off into a dream - maybe Neil’s daydream?

    The use of synth and tuned percussion is again something we’ve not heard from TDC before, and then there’s the ending part with the furiously strummed acoustic guitar and more percussion which further locks you into the vibe of this reverie... until suddenly it stops and you’re rudely awaken by the next song, which couldn’t really be more different!*

    A solid opener, it’s a 4 from me.

    * in actual fact the first 3 songs are all very different, and make an extremely solid album opening in my opinion. It’s after that that things start to feel a bit too homogenised... but we’ll get to that.
    The Booklover likes this.
  12. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Ok then, as always I will tally up scores at the start of each day, but please continue to vote if you haven't already, and those votes will be included in the final score table expertly put together by @Hazey John II at the end of the album :)

    "Timestretched" scored from 14 votes, for a preliminary total of:

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  13. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Today's song is:

    Bad Ambassador

    Track 2 on "Regeneration", and also its second single, reaching the dizzy heights of number 34 in the UK charts in May 2001 (ouch... I can only wonder what might have happened had this song been released as the first single, given that it is to my ears a much less scary prospect to the existing TDC fan than "Love What You Do")

    This chart flop was despite a video from American director Mike Mills (not the one from REM) which reportedly cost £150,000 to make, a figure that was brought up as an example of bad decisions being made by the band's management, after Neil disbanded the line-up.

    Here's what Neil has to say about the song in his 2020 liner notes:

    Of all the songs on this album only Bad Ambassador has become a regular in our live sets. It's great to have a genuine rock 'n' roll song up our sleeves. The title came from our monitor man, Gerry Colclough. In the course of chastising the young lighting chap for behaving badly, he exclaimed - Ah Foxy, you're a bad ambassador for Ireland! I used it in the sense that sometimes fans expect too much from their heroes. I was a bad ambassador for the aesthetic world I'd created. You'd have thought the line, 'me and my lovely wife' would be a bit problematic now, but I have no problem singing it. Orla was, after all, my lovely wife for eight years, and we have the loveliest daughter. Why would I want to expunge that from the record? Bad Ambassador is probably the best example of my original plan coming to fruition. The one time when all the disparate personalities involved really coalesced around an agreed outcome.

    It's also one that was discussed a bit in interviews from around the time, so here are some choice extracts from the big ol' bag o' quotes that I've been collecting up:
    Here's the song, with its... "interesting" video, not featuring the band. Neil said in a webchat at the time that the person inside the monster suit was Robert De Niro. Probably a joke :D

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  14. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    For an alternate take on this song, how about this solo acoustic version?

    Recorded at some sort of extremely intimate gig at a hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon on February 2nd, 2001, it was released on the "Re:Regeneration" promo CD that was attached to The Independent the day before the album was released.

    Hazey John II likes this.
  15. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    After the prologue of Timestretched, Bad Ambassador feels like the first proper song of Regeneration, and what an opening it is.

    I've always loved this one. It doesn't sound exactly like any other Divine Comedy song, but it also disproves the notion that Regeneration is a complete change of style. This is big and bold, it has a swagger, and its tongue is, at least, skirting around its cheek, even if it isn't firmly embedded. Some excellent guitar work in this - I love the opening riff in particular, and I love that it's always there in the acoustic performances. The little ascending instrumental line after the first line in the chorus is always enjoyable, and Neil sings with real commitment - I can see why people see some of the singing on Regeneration a bit uncommitted, but not here, surely.

    So, without hesitation, a 5/5 from me.

    But it's only in the last couple of days that I've really thought about the words int their context, and - if I'm reading them right - they're quite revealing, acting as something of a mission statement for the album, but also as a kind of confessional.

    "I want to play with the big boys" sings Neil as he deliberately stakes his place in the mainstream indie world. He couldn't be more blatant about it, even asking "hey, what's your favourite band". "It's just something I've got to do," he says to his fanbase, but "I'll try to make it up to you". Which means what? That he has to go through this process but he'll 'make it up' to us later?

    But the chorus feels addressed to a different audience - the new audience he's trying to cultivate. "I'm a bad ambassador for that elusive place you're searching for", he sings - perhaps even at this stage he knows he isn't in Travis, or Snow Patrol, and he can't fully become them even if his commercial desires are pulling him in that direction. "I want to show you so much more, but maybe some other time," he finishes. It sounds a lot to me like he's basically saying "hey there, indie listeners - I can't comfortably make the music that you like, but I can offer you something else if you'll let me".

    Now, of course, I might be reading far too much into this. Perhaps I'm completely wrong, and this is just a daft song about not being the Pope, but maybe it's a real indication - even at this point - that the Regeneration project was doomed before it started. There are various b-sides in this era that drop hints in this direction (No Excuses and Soul Trader can both be read in this way, I think, and Thinking The Unthinkable is almost painful to listen to, it's so full of regret) but I'd never picked up this theme on the album itself before.

    Doesn't change my score though - as a song in its own right, it's still brilliant.
  16. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    And the third and final version for today - the song was released in this live version on the second CD single. Recorded in Oxford in March 2001.

  17. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    I think if you take your interpretation and add it together with some of the quotes in today’s opening post, you find what Neil was going for.

    I think he is basically saying that people think he’s some literary genius, on a higher and more refined level than most people (think the protagonist from “Promenade”!) - but actually in real life he’s a terrible example of that (let’s not forget that he confessed to not having read most of the “Booklovers” list), and all he really wants to do is be in a band, rock out and be extremely successful!
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  18. The Booklover

    The Booklover Forum Resident

    Yes, when you take away the three singles, you are left with eight very similar sounding dirges, with the last stretch of four particularly challenging. It's the same problem that Office Politics has in the second half. But some artists and listeners seem to like that and feel that mixing things up a bit results in tonal whiplash. Ever since Dog Man Star Suede are also hellbent on ending each of their albums with at least three, sometimes even four slow songs in a row, which feels slike a slog to get through. I think it doesn't do them any favours, particularly if (as in the case of their otherwise brilliant comeback album Bloodsports) the last three tracks are inferior anyway. And it's not that they had a lack of material to choose from: I was able to replace four songs from that album with superior B-sides to make up one of their very best albums.
    I know it's a matter of personal preference, and a homogeneous album can be rewarding if the quality of the songs is high. It's probably why Disintegration is usually regarded as The Cure's masterpiece, but my favourite will always be Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me for its sheer variety.
    The Turning Year likes this.
  19. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Leeds, UK
    Bad Ambassador

    An heir to "Thrillseeker" in the Divine Comedy rock song pantheon. I think that (along with maybe "Perfect Lovesong"? but really... well, we'll come on to that) it's the most commercial song on the album and an obvious first single. It's catchy and rocking. It also reminds us of Neil's U2- loving heritage. I love it when the strings come in. But overall it's not really for me spicifically. It's too earthy, too squealing, too meat and potatoes rock.

    I heard the lyrics differently from Jon and LivingForever. I thought this song was in character as a real debauched, out of control rock star. Fans look up to them, and they show the fans a good time but ultimately leave the fans disappointed with the hollowness and self-centeredness of the hedonistic lifestyle. Only the line about the Archbishop of Canterbury sounded like something only Neil Hannon, the person, would say, as opposed to a generic rocker. And - OK, come to think of it, I did start to think that maybe it was a little autobiographical after all. But an exaggerated version of himself. Either way, I saw it as being about the Rock 'n' Roll dream of excess which is a topic that has never interested me at all, to the extent I am very wary of reading rock biographies in case they turn out to be yet agian the same old druggy story with the names changed.

  20. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Leeds, UK
    Oddly, I dislike the homogeneity of sound on the album, but for me those last four songs (well, three of them) are where the album's claim to greatness rests. Because the strongest songs he was writing at the time all fall into that pattern, and you need to build your album around your best material.

    We're talking a lot about Godrich's production, and it seems people are either very pro or anti it. The difference between now and then is that in 2001 I just accepted an album's production as it is, for better or worse, fait accompli. Since then there have been so many archival projects digging up demos and lost albums and abandoned versions of albums that it's so much more natural to play "what if?". And it seems so much more plausible that we might get to hear alternative versions. I would now love to hear these songs produced by someone else.

    Edit: hey, I wonder if, when they play this album live at the big residency, they'll consider releasing that as a live album?

    Exactly! You put it so well. These are the kind of trendy production trappings I would like to see swept out of the way.
  21. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    That's interesting - I wrote my bit yesterday, so before reading the quotes above, and I almost think my interpretation is the opposite. He's saying "I'm a bad ambassador for the arty stuff", I'm interpreting it as "I'm a bad ambassador for the mainstream". I hues if you put those two things together and take an average, you get "I'm not quite sure what I'm trying to do". Maybe that's the ultimate theme of Regeneration - it's the one I've always associated Absent Friends with, but perhaps you could see them as two sides of the same coin? (we'll get to that, I suppose!)
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  22. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    As we've talked a bit about why so many of the songs sound similar, here's a couple more quotes from my collection about why this is...

    Neil on "Why all the songs sound the same"
    Interesting that all these quotes are from the very latest part of the album promo, from *after* the album has basically flopped and the band has broken up. Perhaps he started to feel a bit defensive by this time...
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2021
  23. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    I thought it might have been the case that you wrote that ahead of time!

    It's the below quotations that specifically lead me to my interpretation - "a bad ambassador for the aesthetic world I'd created" strikes me very much as him saying "hey, I'm really not that guy you think I am from my songs- I sit around in jeans and trainers and play Playstation and basically want to hang out with my band and play rock music...

    But as ever, there are multiple things going on!

    The Booklover likes this.
  24. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    Bad Ambassador

    I find myself a bit non-plussed by this being called "a rock song". It's a very sterile rock song, if at all such a thing. Sure, there's a guitar solo, but otherwise it comes off as quite subdued. (I guess in comparison with what else is on the album, I can see where folks are coming from, but compared with what I call "rock music" this ain't it.)

    Minor rant over - this is not one of my favourites from the album. It's not bad or anything, it just doesn't really get me hooked. (I had no idea this was a single, and would never have picked it as such.) I think I did have it in my playlists - or whatever existed in the place of playlists back then - for a short time after the album was released, but it never grew on me, and I had therefore not heard it for quite a while. Generally, not my cup of tea.

  25. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Yes - it's just the "I could show you so much more" line that doesn't quite fit that idea (and the "I want to play with the big boys" line feels to me like an acknowledgement that he doesn't quite belong in that world). But, of course, there's a perennial danger in reading too much into these lyrics. They may not be quite as profound as we're trying to make them!!

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