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

    Scores round-up:

    "Napoloeon Complex" scored 49.2 points from 12 votes, for a preliminary total of: 4.1
    "Foreverland" scored 43.7 points from 12 votes, for a preliminary total of 3.64
     
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  2. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Today's song is:

    Catherine the Great

    The album's "lead track", though was it an official single? Did singles still officially happen by 2016? EDIT: ok, apparently it was a digital single released on the 24th of June, nearly 3 months before the album itself.

    Here's what Neil has to say about it in the sleevenotes:

    Let's talk of Catherine The Great ...

    Cathy doesn't like talking about herself much. It's even worse if I do it. Which is awkward, as this album's mostly about her. While the song, Catherine The Great, is very much based on its 18th century Russian namesake (or Prussian, if we're feeling pedantic), it was also a means of surreptitiously expressing devotion to my other half. She also has 'great hair and a powerful gait'. She too, looks 'bloody good on a horse'. Though, to the best of my knowledge, she doesn't know any Enlightenment philosophers. When I began fiddling with the tune on the piano I hoped it might turn out a bit like The Left Banke. But, as usual, it turned out a bit like The Divine Comedy instead. Just as well I suppose.

    Oh look, it's even got a video...

     
  3. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    A demo version, which was released on the 2020 boxset:

     
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  4. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    And here’s a live acoustic session version:

     
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  5. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Leeds, UK
    Catherine the Great

    This song rubbed me up the wrong way and still does. I originally wrote a screed about how the lyrics felt like middlebrow written-to-order "history for dummies" but then I read the lyrics on the screen and they don't read as bad as they sound. They're a bit more in-depth than I thought, though there's still no real narrative, moral or hidden message to them. I'm well aware of the double meaning re: Cathy Davey but the parallel doesn't seem to go very far past their shared first name.

    So it must be the music I don't like. One of a lengthening sequence of "first singles" that's too musically tame, nice, MOR, join-the-dots and insipid. The hook just isn't catchy enough, and there aren't enough surprises to the melody. If I liked the music more I'd like the lyrics more, no doubt.

    Not an absolute bomb like the first singles from Regeneration or Bang, but a very off-putting first taste of the album. 2/5
     
  6. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Catherine The Great

    Well, here I am for the contrast, then! As I've said, I've never been 100% about Foreverland as an album, but it has some strong moments for me, and to my ears, this is comfortably the best song on the album. I'd go so far as to say that, personally, this is top tier Divine Comedy. I've never been too bothered by the whole 'digital single from a forthcoming album' thing - I'm more inclined to wait for the album and hear things in context, but I played the video to this when it was first released (as it had been so long since any new material) and this one got repeated plays right up until the album's release and beyond.

    Personally, I think the tune is superb. It's interesting that @Vagabone describes it as 'join-the-dots' - I can see the point, but from my perspective I'd say it just fits together perfectly. The rise and fall in the melody line is effective, and the variation as it heads into the horn instrumental gives it a new spin at just the right time. I love the orchestral swell in the into that settles into a harpsichord-driven arrangement, and I'm a big fan of the guitar solo towards the end. It's only the choral middle-eight that doesn't hit the spot quite as well for me, but it's short, and I can see why it's there, so it doesn't get in the way.

    I'm also a big fan of the lyrics which is less common for me - I'm a big admirer of Neil as a lyricist, but it's usually the music that really catches my notice. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise this was really about Cathy, but I think the words are excellent with or without that context. It's genuinely funny without being irritating (so bloody good on a horse is a wonderful moment), but the final lines display a low-key vulnerability which I find quite emotionally affecting, though I've never quite worked out why.

    So, to my mind, the album doesn't get any better than this. It's an easy 5/5, and I'm baffled as to why it hasn't made the cut for the forthcoming best of. I'm intrigued, now, as to where the consensus is going to be on this, but if I have to be a lone voice in the wilderness, so be it!
     
  7. TheLemmingFace

    TheLemmingFace Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Catherine The Great
    Superficially this reminds me of Neapolitan Girl, in that it sounds like how a TDC song ‘should’ sound (in fact it’s in the same slot - third in the album - as Neapoiltan Girl and Norman and Norma, so I wonder if Neil feels the same).

    Having got over the video (felt a bit am-dram), and finding the initial horrible impact of the ‘cake’ line has been dulled by familiarity (honestly, I did NOT like that at first… Urgh, it feels like a placeholder lyric which is particularly inappropriate as the final line) I now think Catherine The Great is - well - great.

    That feels like I’m damning it with faint puns, but genuinely I really like it in the context of the album. Like on Napoleon Complex, Neil is swaggering like nobody’s business and he’s really at his best when he’s strutting like a peacock - think Casanova, Short Album etc. This could easily have ended up as a Bang-style comedy song, but instead we get something much more confident, constructed and clever. The arrangement sounds typical, but when you start trying to dissect it it’s bold and weird (listen to the early version to hear how it got madder as Neil developed it) and I like the gags (‘they couldn’t wait for her to invade’ in particular). 4/5
     
  8. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    Catherine the Great
    Interesting split in opinion so far on this one!

    This song is rare among Neil's songs that it actively irritates me. I sm vsguely interested in the idea of a song about Catherine the Great, but that's as far as it goes.
    The notion of love as the coming together of two 'sovereign states' is covered much better in The Pact. Lines like 'she had great hair and a powerful gait' and 'she looked so bloody good on a horse' (sorry @jon-senior!) turn it into an all-out novelty song for me. As for 'inside she was a sensitive girl', well... I have a bee in my bonnet about grown women being refered to as 'girls' (even by other women), and so this grates on me, but that's my problem!
    The idea that every song is analogy for Neil and Cathy is already wearing a bit thin for me by this point in the album, and there's so much more to come that is a lot better that I've skipped this one most of the time.
    And that Russian choir bit... (the accent!).
    Was the whole thing an excuse to dress up and make a historical style video (which by the way I think looks great)?
    Maybe I'm being too harsh or missing something - in 15 years' time I might think it's amazing, but right now I'll give it
    1.5/5
     
  9. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Location:
    Royal Oak MI
    “Catherine the Great”: As the first single, you’re hoping for something that grabs you, and like quite a few of Neil’s choices, this one didn’t. It, again, is just…fine, which I think is part of my problem with this record - there isn’t enough that goes beyond the merely fine. I’m not reaching for the skip button yet (that’ll be tomorrow), and nor do I seek this out. It’s just there. 3/5
     
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  10. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Hmm - I wondered if that might be a sticking point for some. I can totally see where you're coming from in that it feels a bit patronising, but I think he gets away with it here for a couple of reasons. First, the huge and deliberate contrast between that line and the one that comes before it ('conquered a third of the world') - it feels like Neil is trying very hard to reference every aspect of the character. Secondly, I think the lyrics as a whole are infused with a kind of deliberate awkwardness - the singer admires Catherine from afar, but his list of things he'd like to do to get closer to her at the end aren't typically romantic, so it feels to me like the singer can't quite get a handle on his own desires or on the character of the person he aspires to be near. I'm not sure I'm explaining this very well, but imagine if the song had been on Casanova? I don't think 'baking her a cake' would have been on the agenda. So, that slight awkwardness throughout the song means I can overlook the 'girl' as an example of that awkwardness. It's possible, of course, that I'm over thinking it so I can justify to myself!
     
  11. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lund, Sweden
    Catherine the Great

    I'll be closer to @jon-senior than @The Turning Year on this track, though I don't find it great enough to merit a 5. I enjoy the lyrics - particularly the "brainier/Lithuania" rhyme - and the melody is fine to me. I also agree with @Radiophonic_ that it's hardly the best track for a single as there isn't a big hook to hang it on, but on the other hand, I don't think that there's really any need for a single when it comes to the Divine Comedy - it's not going to get played anyway, is it? As a song itself, it's very good, and keeps the album moving along.

    (The demo is another pointless addition to the box set - there's hardly anything that differentiates it from the released version.)

    4.2
     
  12. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dallas, TX
    Catherine The Great

    I think it's one of the better lead singles in the post-90s period. For me the lyrics are funny without spilling over into novelty, and the melody is top notch. The contrasting parts of the song provide a lot of musical interest while still working well together. Not my favorite song on the album, but still top notch. 4/5
     
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  13. Dalav

    Dalav Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Catherine The Great

    A majestic intro/theme leading to a bouncy, enjoyable tune that makes its point and then makes way. I'm in agreement with @jon-senior about the best musical bits, including the surprising horn section, which keeps the latter stages of the song strong and fresh (though it somehow reminds me of 70s television fanfare, oddly, but I can't place anything specific). I tend to be more engaged with Neil's personal lyrics than his history lessons, so for me it falls short in that area from lack of emotional connection. Still, one of the album's better tracks.

    4.0/5
     
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  14. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Yeah, I’m also somewhere in the middle on this song. It’s got some funny/clever lines, and some really nice bits to the arrangement (notably the horn bit going into the middle 8, which is the best bit of the song for me), but then bits I don’t like at all (notably the middle 8 itself which I would happily never hear again…)

    I also get @Vagabone ’s point about the “Radio 2 Middle of the Road” feel to this as a lead track, which has to my ears become a real fallback for Neil in latter years - though I like this more than “Norman and Norma”.

    All in all I think I enjoy this a bit better than the last song, so it can have a

    3.8
     
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  15. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    “Catherine the Great” has so far scored 31.5 points from 9 votes, for a preliminary score of

    3.5

    (I think I might have to start sending some
    PMs inviting people back to the thread, this is getting very sparse for a proper TDC album!)
     
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  16. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Today’s song is:

    Funny Peculiar

    A touching / nauseating (delete as appropriate) little duet between Neil and Cathy about their slightly odd mutual attraction…

    Here it is:

     
  17. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    And here’s the song’s live premiere, all the way back in April 2016 when the band played a one-off show in Paris, one of the first band shows since the “solo era”. Fun fact, this was the first TDC show I attended since 1999 - I was so desperate to see a full-band TDC gig that I managed to persuade my wife that we needed to spend a weekend in Paris just for this. Luckily my wife is awesome and completely agreed!

    This live version features Cathy and Neil on vocals and Jake Jackson on whistling…

     
  18. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    I think I can see where you're coming from with this.
    Thinking about Neil's other songs, there are very few in which he sings about or addresses a song to a specific woman, and fewer still where he says what he would do to get her attention. Perfect Lovesong perhaps? Even in Commuter Love he doesn't even try to make a move.

    The 'girl' (and I don't think 'boy' is any different) thing can come off as demeaning; erasing everything the person has achieved in life and reducing her back to a little girl underneath, which perhaps is not so unreasonable really given we are all just scared children beneath our adult exteriors....!
    So you may have persuaded me a little, but I still don't enjoy the song much.

    I have to say I do like this line.
     
  19. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Lowering average scores since 2021

    Location:
    London, UK
    Funny Peculiar
    I don't mind the song itself (although I'd probably be swinging a bit towards nauseating), but the fact it is not credited as a co-write with Cathy makes it a bit weird...
    Neil presumably wrote the lines Cathy sings about himself. Hmm...
    (There's bit of that 'isn't he a funny little man' thing which I think @Hazey John II mentioned re: Napoleon Complex).

    So for the song I'd say 3, but for the weirdness of describing yourself in that way in a song it has to be
    2/5
     
  20. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Funny Peculiar

    Funny (peculiar) story... after seeing the performance linked above, my then-girlfriend (now wife) really ended up loving the new stuff, and especially this song, so once the album came out we ended up having it on in the car a fair bit - whereupon we would sing along to this song as a duet in exactly the way Neil and Cathy do on the album.

    Did we think we were cute and adorable? No, of course not, we were singing along ironically... weren't we? And aren't Neil and Cathy being ironically cutesy anyway? Don't the daft lyrics undermine the saccharine music and turn it all into a tongue-in-cheek exercise in silliness?

    It was with this backdrop of "are they being serious or not" that we had a lot of debate as to whether we should get up and sing this song with our wedding band when we did finally get married. My wife was of the opinion that it would be funny and that people would find it hilarious... I was of the opinion that people would think we were being completely serious and they would all visibly cringe throughout :D

    In the end the fact that nobody would know the song, and therefore the risk of cringing being 99%, won out and we didn't do it - which did mean I got to sing "In the Air Tonight" instead, so that was fun! But I do sometimes wonder if we could have pulled off a hilarious rendition rather than a cringeworthy one.

    ---

    ANYWAY, I do honestly think the lyrics of this song bring a generous dollop of irony and humour ("like a minor chord, there isn't a reason for, they just throw it in there...") and therefore it doesn't nauseate me. But having said that, it's short and slight and there are plenty of songs I like more on the album, so...

    3.5
     
  21. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lund, Sweden
    Funny Peculiar

    As twee as it is, I do find it quite touching as well. I especially like the break where they go into a different melody for a bit (which returns for the coda). It's not a track you'd hang an entire album on, but as one track among many it has its place.

    3.9
     
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  22. TheLemmingFace

    TheLemmingFace Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Funny Peculiar
    I love good prominent bass playing, I love poppy jazz (ie 20s, 30s, 40s ‘pop music’ jazz, not so much crazy freestyle bananas), and I love Cathy’s voice. Ergo I love this song. I can’t praise it enough. The counterpoint section at the end is particularly sublime.

    And the subtext!! I don’t think the listener needs to know about Neil and Cathy’s relationship to enjoy this track, but it certainly adds something, making the song seem spontaneous and unforced. Re the discussion as to whether this is ironic or sincere… I’ve never even considered that a question: to me it’s always been clearly sincere, but with jokes… Like a relationship should be!

    The ‘one for me, honey yes indeed’ bit, followed by a whistling break, makes me once again want to say the word ‘swaggering’. I guess a lot of people might think ‘how can a cloying jazzy duet be swaggering’, but I think it’s about attitude and execution, not musical genre. There's a certain honesty, straightforwardness and wit to this song which exudes a refreshing, charming confidence. On Foreverland Neil rediscovered his nerve, inspiration and spark, and the result is the swaggering sound of a man who has reclaimed his own Foreverland, is loving it, and isn't afraid to tell us so.

    5/5
     
  23. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eastleigh
    Funny Peculiar

    Track 5 of Bang Goes The Knighthood is a piano-led love song with a vaguely jazzy feel and a prominent Cathy Davey vocal part, and here we are on track 4 of Foreverland doing much the same thing. But, whereas Have You Ever Been In Love? is a low-key delight, I'm far less keen on this one. I wouldn't go so far as to say I dislike it - the tune's nice enough, and the arrangement is fine (though a bit too similar to others on the album, a perennial problem this time round). Cathy's voice fits well - I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I always think her voice is quite sugary (for want of a better term), and as this is written as deliberately sentimental (with or without the ironic twist), it sounds right. There's also something undeniably lovely about hearing the two of them sing too and about each other, even if their tongues are firmly wedged in their cheeks.

    But, despite all this, it doesn't move me, particularly - it struggles to get past a 'this is fine' reaction. That might be an issue with the song itself, or it might be because I always link it with Have You Ever which I do find quite affecting. On that basis, I don't think I can go above a 3/5 here, and I think it only earns that for the novelty of what it is.

    It has to be said though, the album version is a million times better than the Loose Cannon live version which I find almost unlistenable. Cathy's voice suits it well - maybe this is one of those occasions where it really has to be her.
     
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  24. LivingForever

    LivingForever Forum Arachibutyrophobic Thread Starter

    Ha! Yeah perhaps I should have posted one of the live versions from the tour, to make everyone thankful that Neil isn’t in a relationship with Lisa O’Neill instead ;)



    (fwiw I quite like Lisa’s own stuff but this doesn’t really work for me!)
     
  25. Dalav

    Dalav Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Funny Peculiar

    They're sweet with each and life is short, so how could I object? A breezy, harmless little bass and piano number that adds nice variety to the album. The whistling in tandem with the piano near the end is a nice touch. The chemistry is palpable. Their voices sound great and I can almost imagine them knowingly winking their way through the lyrics. Love the little bit at :45 where Neil says, "yea" and Cathy affirms with the same. For that split second it sounds like she detached from her part in the song to utter something straight from the heart. It's one of the tracks from the album that's grown on me.

    4.3/5
     

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