Timewatching: The Divine Comedy Album-by-album thread

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

  1. Dalav

    Dalav Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Napoleon Complex

    I left the door open that with a few more listens this version might edge the iTunes version for me, but I think I'll stick with the latter as my preferred version due to the acoustic guitar, the bass, the overall chiller vibe, and the outro. Very close call though. While the production and mix is better in the Foreverland version, it's overly adorned in places, almost as if Neil was trying too hard to differentiate it from the cat he let out of the bag on iTunes (but if he thought of that version as only a demo, it stands to reason, I guess). And while I generally like Cathy's voice, I'm (slightly) at odds with it here. I very much like the piano and strings of the too-short middle section, though.

    Peccadillos aside, certainly a strong song. I peeked back in the thread to be consistent with my comments and scoring, resulting in this earning a....

    4/5
     
  2. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Ah, of course. I should have known that alphi would have got a list together - I could almost believe he purchased them all at the time! :D

    I remember thinking it was a bit of an odd choice - I could see the appeal of owning a one of a kind track, obviously, but I'd have thought a CD which collected a load of demos together in one place would have been a better seller. I'd have definitely gone for one of those (the boxset, of course, has now covered this, even if the tracks themselves are different).
     
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  3. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    I can't be bothered to read what I said about Napoleon Complex last time, but I do like it a lot. It felt like a real "Oh, the Divine Comedy is back" song after the relative curveball of Bang Goes the Knighthood.

    Interesting to learn that Neil played drums on this song - he talks in the sleevenotes about not being very good at it but I don't think I would ever have noticed! It's also good to get confirmation from the sleevenotes that it isn't about Napoleon at all, but himself! I think this was something we speculated on previously...

    4.5

    I also really like the "disco" alternate version in its own way, by the way so I'm kind of happy to have 3 different versions of a song I enjoy, to pick and choose between.
     
  4. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

  5. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Today's song is:

    Foreverland

    Here’s what Neil has to say in the sleevenotes:

    The future ...

    The song, Foreverland, is the closest I've ever come to folk music. It features Jake's dad, David Jackson (of Van der Graaf Generator!) on penny whistle. The first version is very special to me (see bonus disc) but too personal to put on the album proper. The album version is about an explorer who is on a long voyage to locate a faraway land that he's only ever heard about in stories. He urges on his wavering crew as they follow him into the unknown. Just to let you know, they eventually find Foreverland and live happily ever after. The End.

    Neil, 2020


    Here’s the song:

     
  6. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Pictures

    And here’s that early version that Neil mentions being so special, but too personal for the album…

    it’s basically a series of thoughts and reminiscences spoken over the backing track for the song.

     
  7. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    Foreverland
    I'm struggling to think of much to say about the song "Foreverland". It's very agreeable music but the lyrics seem very vapid, without any twist or irony to make the starry-eyed dreaminess more interesting. It's a bit like the Swallows and Amazons lyrics without the specific references to the story which made it feel like there was a bit more content.

    First listen to the spoken word "early version" which seems at first listen much more beguiling, though I haven't delved too deeply into its words yet. I'm a bit too prudish to really find the last few lines very funny.

    Giving it 4/5 on the strength of the music.
     
  8. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    Foreverland
    I felt this way until recently. Pretty but insubstantial.
    But...
    ...now this is my song of the album :D
    5/5

    Its wonderfully subtle and gentle, but I think there's a lot in here, and it seems each line represents something about the journey through life to a place of contentment.
    It continues the metaphor used in Charmed Life - life is like being at sea. Only this time the waters are calm, they are in a ship not a rowing boat, and Captain Neil is leading his crew (are they other people or just himself?) to an unknown destination, which may or may not exist, keeping them going with quiet but relentless optimism.

    What are they looking for? What is 'Foreverland'?
    Their voyage could be towards love, or maybe towards fulfilment of the Captain's dreams in general, but it's not made explicit, and as, once art is put out into the world it is open to interpretation, I will intepret/ramble away... ;)

    The reference to being a boy of fourteen could be the age Neil properly decided he was going to be a pop star; one version of 'Foreverland'. And perhaps his vision of what it was changed during the voyage, as it is always "just round the headland, on the horizon". Maybe the dream of pop stardom didn't turn out to be the version of Foreverland he was really looking for. Then maybe a dream of finding 'the one' (as referenced in Charmed Life) and having a family. Then when that didn't last forever it was something else, perhaps unknown; always a dream just out of reach.

    But the point is, I think, that whatever Foreverland might be, we don't know what it is, or even whether it exists, until we have reached it, so it's important to keep trying to get there. And also to appreciate when you have found it.

    There's something in the very gentle repetition of "everybody thinks its all lies" that makes me feel a bit emotional. He's finally found this mythical place and it is even more wonderful than he had imagined. That one line is like coming home after feeling you'd never see it again.

    It's not a dramatic story, but it glorifies the act of searching for lasting love and happiness, which is at the heart of what it is to be human.
    It's also a reminder to those of us who are standing on Foreverland not to forget the journey it took to get here, and the joy of finding this place. Its easy to take a wonderful relationship for granted and get bogged down in daily life; I know I do, so this serves as a personal reminder of how lucky I am to have found Foreverland.
    Or maybe it's not... perhaps it's saying we can bever be satisfied and the search for Foreverland will go on forever...? But I like Neil's 'happily ever after' better.

    Writing songs about finding fulfilment and happiness doesn't seem to be all that popular, so full marks for writing about this, and doing it so beautifully and delicately. (But then Neil has always seemed to take a bright and cheerful approach through his music, which makes it both resolutely unfashionable and timeless).

    I could go on about the instrumentation and singing as well, but I'll just say they are delightful, especially the penny whistle solo and accordion.
    (The only negative is that something about the way Neil sings 'palm' trees reminds me of a song from a cast recording of Joseph... I was given as a kid, which probably kick-started my lifelong passionate dislike for musicals. But that's not his fault!).

    Alternate version
    I agree; beguiling is a good word for it.
    Haha, I'm also too prudish to enjoy that last bit! I've only listened to it twice, I think, but this version makes me feel sad for some reason. Something about Neil's spoken delivery, perhaps?
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2021 at 9:59 AM
  9. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dallas, TX
    I must not have read very carefully because I missed that bit of info. As I said, the sound of the drums is very good on Napoleon. I wouldn't have known it was Neil without being told.
     
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  10. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Foreverland

    This song works as a little microcosm for my views on the album in its entirety. I like it - it's delicate and pretty and well constructed, and quite unexpected in some regards - the vocal arrangement is quite unusual, and the time signature takes some interesting twists in the verse parts - but it's a little too mannered to fully ring true for me, and it sits in the wrong place on the album, I think. A quiet and introspective moment can be a good thing, but it comes too soon here, and it drains off all the energy of Napolean Complex. I'd be tempted to say it'd work better as an opening track - at least that would avoid that specific problem. The lack of drums is what does it, I think. I'm not sure, though, where I'd put it if I was re-ordering the album - there are too many other tracks that do the same thing. So, as a track, I'd give it a 3/5, but in the context of the album, I'd knock a point off that. Let's go with 2.5/5 - that seems most fair.

    The alternate version is fascinating, but I'd agree that it wouldn't work on an album - too personal, but also too lacking in direction, I think.
     
  11. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    Hadn't noticed (!), but this must be why I like it :p but agree on odd positioning on the album, and that other tracks do the same sort of thing (only less well...)
     
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  12. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    It's what Promenade should have been, am I right? ;-)
     
  13. TheLemmingFace

    TheLemmingFace Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Foreverland
    This is probably the only song on the album where I don’t think the production serves it well enough (there’s one song I dislike, but here my issue is the sound of the track rather than the song itself).

    I think it’s the way the vocals are mixed that bothers me: I’ve got an instrumental version of the track which sounds grand. But the vocal mix sounds a bit muddy and dense - a bit like the album cover. It put me off it at first. I wonder if the issue is partly that Neil is singing the backing vocals and the lead vocal in a very similar voice and they’re EQed very similarly too (I think?) so there’s very little aural distinction, especially around the ‘tropical breeze’ bit (on my system, at least).

    Still, it’s a nice (if a bit Nursery-Rhyme song) with a top-grade melody that gets lodged in your head like a bit of cheese in a trap. I’ll give it a reluctantly-won-over-by-repeated-listening 4/5, though I wish the vocals were mixed differently (or there were some women’s voices in the choir).
     
  14. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    It's a very different type of song, but it feels almost like he's going for a 'Laughing Cavaliers' style vocal in the choral bits - normally, multi-tracked Neil means lots of harmony, so this is a bit unusual in this regard. I think you're probably right, though - a bit of variety would have made a difference.
     
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  15. DaniMoonstar

    DaniMoonstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Staffordshire
    Foreverland
    Funny to see Neil talk about this as a folk song. Can’t hear that at all but that might be my own narrow mindedness. It feels in line with his other sea swaying/island songs. Parts could be what he envisaged the Swallows and Amazons tracks might have sounded like.

    3/5
     
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  16. lazzaa

    lazzaa Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Its good to be back! Foreverland is not one of my favourite TDC albums. We'll see how the scores pan out but its got some real highs and some pretty mediocre bits as far as I'm concerned. I skip more on this than on any other Divine Comedy album, I reckon.

    Napoleon Complex - its a bit of a banger and one of the highlights of the album. The strings are great, though I think this is definitely one that is worse off for the banjo addition. Of the alternative versions I think the Bang one does it for me more. 4/5

    Foreverland - ah, this is when the album beings to be a bit safe for me, the arrangement is fine but it just kind of plods along, the tune is completely forgettable. I've only listened to it a few times but I massively prefer the spoken word version, its a much more interesting take on domestic contentment. 2/5
     
  17. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Location:
    Royal Oak MI
    “Foreverland”: I’d agree with @jon-senior that this immediately slows things down too much, but that’s a sequencing problem rather than a problem this song has. As for the song…it’s fine? I can see that he intends it to be a statement of purpose for this record, but I feel like placing it later would serve it better. This was a track that sort of lost me at time of release, and while it’s grown on me over time, I still don’t really feel much for it. Nice, and I won’t skip it, but I’m just not overly moved. 3.5/5

    The “Pictures” version is interesting, as a whole song done in a way that reminds me of the spoken word section from “Certainty of Chance,” but it comes off just a touch po-faced here (which you could say of the earlier song as well I guess, but it works for me there) especially the end, which I guess should be funny, but the way he says it just makes it, I don’t know, not? If he ended the record with this approach, with lyrics somewhere between this and the finished product, I feel like that could have been a cool end.
     
  18. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lund, Sweden
    Foreverland

    This is really lovely to me. The only non-lovely bit is the mass of backing vocals, but they're still interesting and serve to keep my interest up in the song. The musical arrangement is great to me. It does slow things down a bit compared with the opener, but as I'm not an album listener, that doesn't really matter much to me.

    The "Pictures" version is not for me. I'm not really one for spoken lyrics, as I think I've said before, and since there is an alternative version available with real singing, this is perfectly redundant to me.

    4.2
     
  19. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dallas, TX
    Foreverland

    I like the mood, melody and wistful lyrics. 4/5
     
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  20. Hazey John II

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

    My brain keeps whispering 'This is about Brexit isn't it?' which is really annoying, because it's obviously not, it applies much more widely and deeply, as @The Turning Year has very eloquently laid out. The fact that it also entirely applies to Brexit and came out three months after the referendum is obviously neither here nor there...

    It's a lovely piece of mature work, for better or worse. It is very subdued, and didn't sink in with me for a long time. I agree it's oddly placed, in that it kills the momentum of Napoleon Complex, which might have been worth doing if it set up some thematic content to be developed, but in fact the album moves on to other things.

    That's not the song's fault though, especially when the timidity is the point - the captain is so exhausted, so worn down by his fantastic visions. It's a weird mirror to Sweden, a previous warning about imagining a better place rather than living in the one you're in. That song is impossible to ignore, the kitchen sink aimed directly at our heads. But this is much better, a much more subtle, richer song. I tend to think the crew really are dying of hunger and that there's not long to go. But the end of the song is ever so slightly more rousing than the start - once again, they've managed to convince themselves their voyage might succeed, one last time. I find Neil's performance moving - he's become a good actor over the years.

    There's something similarly special about the tone of Pictures too - 'Must do it again some time', 'That's a picture of us alright'. Nice to think of an album that followed that theme all the way through, and took similar stylistic risks.

    4.5/5

    (PS re multi-tracked Neil - it's the usual suspects isn't it? The liner notes have an all-male 'Crew of the Foreverland' including Skeet, Little, Worsey etc. Though the high melody line sounds a bit more like multi-Neils.)
     
  21. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    Interesting! I'd not equated the two, but I did miss the album's release by more than a year...
    Didn't mention it above, but I did make a connection between Ireland and France in the joint penny whistle and accordion instrumental section; "there'll always be a Brexit, an Ireland and a France..." :p
    You are sooooo right! :love::love::love:
     
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  22. Dalav

    Dalav Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Foreverland

    Not quite getting this one. Maybe I need to spend more time with it so it seeps into me, as others have said. Sounds a bit like a combination of the Swallows and Amazons project and Island Life, rather than something truly unique on its own. I do like the somber aspect of it, and the rolling piano that appears in places, but a few elements knock me off course (the choir, the recorder/whistle), and the metaphorical Foreverland subject matter, which for some reason I'm thoroughly struggling to relate to and care about. Normally I'll follow Neil's line of thought, but coming up empty on this one. Overall, on the bland side.

    3.3/5
     
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  23. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Absolutely wonderful post, and it’s definitely added another 0.5 to my score for the song.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, it is kind of vague enough to be about anything but I reckon Neil’s sleevenotes support your theory that he’s saying he thought he’d “got there” several times before, only for it to turn out there was something else he was missing - but now he feels he really has “made it”.

    Anyway; all that said, it’s still not my favourite tune, I agree with others that it sounds like it maybe originated as part of “Swallows and Amazons” , and the massed vocals do give it a bit of that “Laughing Cavalier” feel.

    Mostly though I agree with the comment on the album’s sequencing. I can remember getting quite frustrated around this time with several albums with killer track 1’s which then killed all the momentum stone dead with track 2, and this felt like another example to me. But that’s not the song’s fault.

    3.7
     
  24. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Totally agree, I am pretty sure I didn’t listen to any Neil Hannon at all while I was away, and I think my enthusiasm for this thread may have returned as a result!
     
  25. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Oh, forgot about this - I have to say that I really love “Pictures”. I think it’s one of my favourite tracks from the boxset. It’s gently hilarious but also touching in so many ways - I understand whoever it was who said it sounds sad, but it doesn’t sound that way to me, it sounds wistful and nostalgic; something that speaks to me very much. “God, you can see how much I’m in love…”

    Again, I think Neil made the right decision not to include it, but I’m very glad it exists.
     
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