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Timewatching: The Divine Comedy Album-by-album thread

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

  1. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Royal Oak MI
    In a way, he's right, he never fully re-entered the pre-Regeneration mentality. Nothing post-Regeneration has quite the same vibe to me as what came before it, even if the music sometimes gets into similar territory.

    After reading Bill Bruford's autobiography and his depiction of doing promo interviews, I don't blame Neil. It seems one of the least enjoyable, most thankless aspects of being a professional musician.
  2. A Tea-Loving Dave

    A Tea-Loving Dave Well-Known Member

    Northumberland, UK
    I have the distinct impression I am in something of an extreme minority here in rather *liking* Travis :p at least, up to and including the 2008 album Ode To J. Smith, as I haven't actually gotten around to listening to any of their subsequent material.

    I rather like this one as an opener for the album - it feels like part of Regeneration, but equally I think it would have worked - both in lyrical and instrumental style - on Fin de Siecle, or indeed Absent Friends! Which is to say, this first track still "feels" like a Divine Comedy track to me, where some of the album to follow does not. I am particularly partial to the instrumental aspect to the track, which complements Neil's vocals really well.


    Yeah, I think that's a great way to look at the track!

    This almost reads like a saunter into speaking Elvish :p

    I definitely like this one, and enjoy it when I hear it live.... but it definitely seems to be lacking a little something. Can't put my finger on precisely what, however!

    I was intending to do a bit of waffling on about how this track feels like something of a mission statement for the Regeneration "project" as a whole, but I see I have been comprehensively pipped to the post in that regard :p I think my opinions edge more towards those of @jon-senior , for what it is worth!


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  3. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    Queen? Come on now. The only time Queen didn't rock harder than "Bad Ambassador" was when they made their 20s and vaudeville pastiches. Even their synth and funk stuff rocks more than this track.

    I mean, ELO could rock harder than "Bad Ambassador" does. To be honest, I struggle to find a single band or artist that hasn't been able to make a song that rocks harder than this song. :)
  4. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    Well, you're not entirely alone. Travis was once one of my absolute favourite bands, and they're still hovering fairly close to my top 10. Their later material hasn't been as great as their early stuff (I agree with you that "Ode to J. Smith" is a cutoff point - though everything recorded after that album at least betters it), and I sincerely hope that Dougie Payne will be allowed to contribute to their next album, but I still find most of what they do pleasant to listen to.
    A Tea-Loving Dave likes this.
  5. A Tea-Loving Dave

    A Tea-Loving Dave Well-Known Member

    Northumberland, UK
    Especially in their earlier years, Queen *definitely* had more than a little hard rock and heavy metal to their musical makeup (along with a good old dollop of prog rock) - so the suggestion that they only got as far as "soft rock" is definitely a tad unfair :p

    In fact, I'd argue that their first two albums (Queen, Queen II) are predominantly hard rock, with several hard rock tracks on the following Sheer Heart Attack, Night at the Opera and Day at the Races, and at least one or two hard rock tracks on each of their following albums up to and including The Game. After that, things definitely turn more towards soft rock, with the notable exception of Innuendo - which although it doesn't really have much hard rock, definitely contains a belter of a prog rock track in the title track!

    I'll get around to catching up with the subsequent releases at some point, if only for completionism and curiosities sake - the main issue is that in the early 2010's my girlfriend was going through a bit of a rough patch mentally and as a result, for a time, we lost track of current musical releases even among those acts we enjoyed, and in the case of some bands/artists never got round to picking them up again.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2021 at 11:05 AM
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  6. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    There's at least one hard rock track on each of the 80s albums as well:
    Put Out the Fire (Hot Space)
    Hammer to Fall (The Works)
    One Vision (A Kind of Magic)
    I Want It All (The Miracle)

    So they never lost touch with that element in their sound, and I would also argue that you can detect their roots in many of their tracks as well.
    LivingForever likes this.
  7. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Hey, I'm actually a big Queen fan! I was just trying to convey that when looking for "rock" in this song, one should probably adjust one's expectations somewhat... I actually wrote ELO first and then deleted it ;)
  8. A Tea-Loving Dave

    A Tea-Loving Dave Well-Known Member

    Northumberland, UK
    I did mull over whether to count Hammer to Fall and I Want It All as hard rock, funnily enough, but decided to err towards caution. One Vision doesn't feel *quite* as hard rock to me, certainly no more than Gimme The Prize on the same album.

    You're definitely right that you can detect their hard/prog roots in a lot of their superficially soft/pop material, though :) and as noted they did have the one big return to prog-rock with Innuendo.
    LivingForever likes this.
  9. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    I've been thinking about this... you mention Travis and there being no obvious reason why "The Invisible Band" should have done much better than "Regeneration" - I think the answer is that Travis/Godrich managed to make "The Man Who" a monumental smash beforehand, which is mostly down to the catchy tunes and sound being precisely in tune with what the radio wanted at the time. (As I recall it, they were basically unknown before that...)

    I'm tempted to say that "The Invisible Band" just rode off the coattails of that album, but actually although I've not listened to it probably since the year it came out, looking at the tracklist I can still instantly hum several of the songs, so evidently they managed to retain that "catchy radio tune" aspect. Neil, sadly, just didn't have that going for him on his batch of "Regeneration" tunes. "Perfect Lovesong" was probably the closest but it was released too late to make any impact. I find it a good album to listen to as a whole but it lacks those "singalong songs" that would have given him a real hit at the time.

    As to what would have happened if it *had* been a smash... who knows? Maybe he would have felt even *more* claustrophobic because now he would have been forced to do another album in this vein that ultimately wasn't him... so he likely would still have broken up the band at some point anyway. But perhaps some of what's on "Absent Friends" would have ended up on a 2002 album, in a different style...?
    The Turning Year likes this.
  10. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    This is something I'd really like to get into as we go through this thread... The albums that come after feel like they're *trying* to go back somewhat to the material that made Neil his name, but I also agree that they never *feel* the same. Is it to do with the musicians being different? Is it because Neil got older and "wiser"? Is it because he was never the same after this whole experience and ended up second-guessing himself constantly?

    Answers on a postcard... (oh, that's a song for a different album!)
    The Turning Year likes this.
  11. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    I think it'll be really interesting to see people's different views on this. I've always struggled a bit with Absent Friends, an album I know lots of people rate really highly, because it feels to me like a crisis-of-confidence album. With Victory, despite the tough times Neil was obviously going through in his personal life, I feel like he regained his musical mojo a bit, and learned how to have some creative fun again. Since then, on the albums that have followed, I get a really relaxed vibe, like he's making music out of contentment. I think the three most recent albums have strengths and weaknesses, but he seems happy in a different way to the Liberation to Fin era - they felt happy in an ambitious way. I'm not sure I've explained that ever so well, but hey - there'll be plenty of time for that.
  12. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Royal Oak MI
    I’d agree with this, I find Absent Friends pretty uneven, and Victory a major improvement. I feel like Absent Friends was him figuring out how he could return to something like the sound he previously had, while still musically evolving and not getting into the fop/dandy/cad persona of the early years.
  13. rediffusion

    rediffusion Forum Resident

    Timestretched: 4
    Bad Ambassador: 3.9
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  14. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    One of the advantages (for us) or disadvantages (for Neil, probably!) of being on a major label, was the sheer amount of press that Parlophone were able to generate for this album.

    We're very lucky to have so much of it archived on ashortsite, and I've spent several hours going through every single interview in both English and French to pull out interesting quotes about the album and the process of making it. So as and when I get the time, I will post bits of it here, organised under broad topics.

    First up:

    Neil on working with Nigel Godrich (part 1):
  15. A Tea-Loving Dave

    A Tea-Loving Dave Well-Known Member

    Northumberland, UK
    We'll get there soon enough, but I would suggest that Perfect Lovesong sounds *incredibly* like it could have been a Travis song - which, as noted, is something I view as a good thing given I rather like said band.

    Similarly, "Side" from The Invisible Band could work pretty well as a DC track!
  16. DaniMoonstar

    DaniMoonstar Well-Known Member

    Just found this forum. Got the box set for Christmas and created my own top 50 playlist so interested in catching up on these views...
  17. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Forum Resident

    It will definitely be interesting.
    I feel the same about Absent Friends and the three most recent albums, but Victory has never worked for me (apart from 2 sings I really love). Something about the whole sound as well as the actual songs puts me off.
    I'm hoping that listening to both Absent Friends and Victory with fresh ears during this thread and reading others' comments will help me get more from them.

    Edit: I really liked The Man Who (still remember some of the songs although I don't think I've heard it for almost 20 years - Last Laugh of the Laughter comes to mind, and the 'hidden' more rocky song at the end). It was part of the soundtrack to my A Levels!
    I liked Travis enough to buy the album that came before that, but didn't follow them further.
  18. happysunshine

    happysunshine Forum President

    Bad Ambassador

    I believe this was the song on Regeneration that surprised me the most in that it was such a departure from the old TDC sound we’ve all come to know and love. Is this the closest TDC ever came to ”mainstream indie rock”? I sorta liked it back then, but think I enjoy it even more now. Perhaps it’s an age thing. A dad rock thing? The strings are a somewhat unorthodox but welcome touch. A simple yet powerful arrangement for a song that works wonders in a live setting. I won’t even begin to try and analyse the lyrics as others have done it so eloquently. 4/5
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  19. Hazey John II

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

    Maybe we can separate the commercial and artistic aspects of Regeneration. There's a stench of failure around it because it obviously didn't sell what Neil or anyone else wanted it to. But actually, I think if it had sold a million, there's a good chance Neil would have done exactly the same thing afterwards. He might have kept the band together, but I think he would have taken full control again, and reincorporated his old style. It may be naïve, but I think it's possible to take him at his word that the artistic choices were all him, nobody at Parlophone pushed him into anything and it didn't have much to do with sales.

    Ambition makes you look pretty ugly:
    There's another interview about that:
    “There were so many reasons that I couldn’t go on forever,” explains Hannon, “but it all springs from an article I read, I think, in Mojo. It was a review of our Best Of album, and it was quite a good review, you know, but part of it said that The Divine Comedy will always be known as the slightly eccentric side order of Britpop… and it froze the blood in my veins. The very idea that we could be written off as such an inconsequential thing. I wasn’t angry about it. I just realised that maybe it was true.” Independent March 2001

    It's not the Mojo review; closest I can find is the Q review: "this collection documents a cult turn rather than a major act" (any others @LivingForever?). And still, in the 30 years doc - "I was determined not to go down with the Britpop ship". There's another quote somewhere about the band being bigger in the 2000s than the 1990s.

    So, several problems to solve after A Secret History: 1. Knackered 2. Style considered old hat, even hated 3. I am my style 4. Still madly ambitious.

    First pass solution: A. Leave me out of it B. Get my great band to do it all C. Get a big producer ... Z. Profit. B&C are actually quite good ideas in a way, but B doesn't pan out as he hoped, and he knew it before the album came out ('a distinctive new sound stubbornly refused to appear').

    So instead ... X. 'minor nervous breakdown'. But even if he had made it to Z, I think X would still have happened, because the real error is A: he is himself, can't avoid it, and in the end, doesn't want to; instead, he figures out how to deal with problems 2-4 in a different way.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2021 at 6:47 PM
  20. Hazey John II

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

    Ohhhh... it's Neil's Tin Machine! Wow. Same neuroses: "I can't read, and I can't write down... I just sit back and ignore, I just can't get it right."
    Yes. Aping OK Computer when Kid A was already recorded. Though it wasn't as far behind as I remembered - I got it in my head that Regeneration was after The Invisible Band.
    That's interesting. I had a weird feeling that these albums were linked somehow - it amused me to try to hear Regeneration fresh by treating it as a 2001 tribute album, like ASAAL is a 1960s tribute. The band input is a subtle similarity though.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2021 at 6:48 PM
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  21. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Blimey, it’s been a busy day in here! Always fun when we start a new album. Anyway...

    Bad Ambassador

    I think it’s fair to say that when I got this album and was struggling to get to grips with it, this was the first song that did it for me. It’s the least “Godriched” song and perhaps that’s why it feels like something familiar - plus it’s easily the most cheerful and upbeat number of the whole lot (whilst still being a million miles away from “National Express”, thank goodness!)

    I don’t care what anyone else says, in the context of this album and of The Divine Comedy in general, this is one of the more “rock” songs - that dirty rhythm guitar from Ivor during the verses, Bryan’s funky baseline and Miggy’s tight drumming make me drum the air and tap my feet along every single time, even if I don’t get the urge to jump in a mosh pit ;)

    I think the second verse is my favourite bit, where Joby’s strings suddenly pop in and add a whole other goosebumpy dimension to what we had in the first; that plus I absolutely love singing along to those lyrics in the shower- who *doesn’t* want to ride with the tough guys on a Japanese motorbike?

    The guitar solo, too is one of the best in the DC catalogue, I wonder whether it’s Neil or Ivor doing it, but either way it’s perfect, not over flashy but does exactly what it needs to, almost exactly like the one in “Alfie”.

    The only reason this isn’t getting a 5/5 is the bit where it suddenly stops and Neil sings about not being the Pope - it’s the bit that’s the most reminiscent of “quirky”, “cheesy” old school TDC and it jars me out of the song just a teeny bit. (Plus in the last chorus where he really goes for and misses that high note, but props for trying! ;) )

    4.8, a strong contender for my favourite on the album. (My other favourites couldn’t be much different to this, it’s fair to say... ;) )
  22. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Oh crikey, I have read SO many articles in the last few weeks, it feels familiar but I really can’t remember I’m afraid. It could well have been that Q review he was thinking of!
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  23. Hazey John II

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

    I really enjoy Bad Ambassador, but I resent it. I also hear it as an apology to his old fans - "I have to do this because of reasons, I'll get back to the stuff you like later maybe" - which is just weird, as an old fan I had no interest in hearing about that, and why would any new listener want it either? Just do something new, don't be all meta about it. Especially since the music is so resolutely classicist, nothing new in it all. Still, when I can get over the words, it's pretty exhilarating - I mean, I love Life on Mars, Maybe I'm Amazed and Just, so why wouldn't I like this? Big chorus, lovely 70s strings, 'I wanna feel real, wanna free wheel, wanna steal...'. It's all good. But there's a black hole in the navel gazing of the lyrics. Surely this isn't going to be the 'theme' of the album? 4.5/5
  24. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    It’s just realised that this is basically yet another song about Neil writing songs. (After that bit in “Life on Earth” and “Too Young to Die”, and wait, isn’t “Timestretched” kind of about that too?) and there are at LEAST two more to come on this album... :rolleyes:
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  25. Summer of Malcontent

    Summer of Malcontent Forum Resident

    Makes sense, as the Bond film of the moment was The World Is Not Enough.
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