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Timewatching: The Divine Comedy Album-by-album thread

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

  1. A Tea-Loving Dave

    A Tea-Loving Dave Well-Known Member

    Northumberland, UK
    A very pleasant and soothing track which caps the album off rather nicely - taken as a track in its own right it is perhaps (as others have said upthread) a little twee and schmaltzy, but to be honest I don't actually care! The album would most certainly be lesser without it, and sometimes we need a bit of pleasant relaxing elevator music in our lives :) so this one gets 4/5 from me.

    I think you might well be spot on there......

    That one is definitely a track which was written specifically for the purpose of being performed live, and in a one-man setting.... I suspect that a version of Knighthood written in a timeline where Neil anticipated being able to tour in his "usual" style might not have had that track at all.

    But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves!

    Talking of people getting slightly ahead of the thread ;) just quoting this post here so that @LivingForever and @Hazey John II don't miss it in their respective average scoring of tracks!
  2. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Well-Known Member

    Good point about 40 year old shouty angst stuff... No one needs that!
    Here's hoping for more of the weird and interesting stuff in the future!

    I'd forgotten this was also used on Promenade. Its a good trick!
    (Its also sort of in use between Here Comes the Flood and the beginning of Sunrise, and If I Were You... > Timewatching, in my opinion).
    (Oh, and I meant to compare Charge to an 'amorous' 15 year old, not an 'arduous' one! Predictive text...).

    I also think phrasing, which is why the Summerhouse came to mind. Once I'd written that, I couldn't actually recall there being a long note in it, but I must have been thinking of that long phrase.

    I'm not so interested in the technical challenge of it now - Neil was a chorister after all - but as a 14 year old flautist, the musical phrasing was one of the things that first drew me in to TDC.
    I'm concert band we'd challenge each other not to breathe at the end of a phrase, or before a really long note. Ah the things we flautists got up to, it was wild...
    Also, in the weird world of mainstream pop at the time (mid-late 90s, Spice Girls et al), being able to sing a musical phrase without gasping for air seemed to be a rarity, and I'm sure still is!
  3. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    Well, I know of at least one person who would, and has. :)
    andres lira and happysunshine like this.
  4. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    In a bit of a rush this morning, so today’s kickoff post will come at lunchtime, but on a really quick count-up, I can tell you that “Theme from Casanova” seems to have scored 71.5 from 18 votes, for a preliminary total of


    I have to say, I would NOT have predicted that this track would score higher than “Frog Princess”, “Woman of the World” or “Charge”! But that’s the beauty and fun of this thread :)

    @Hazey John II will be along with the final scores some time after we finish the album - we have had a lot more late-arriving scores this time around!
  5. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    Today's song is:

    The Dogs and the Horses

    The 12th and final track on "Casanova", and a song which had been around since 1994, as we know from our history lesson that Neil recorded it at his friend's studio in NYC in September 1994 and then also played it on French radio a little later.

    This is the song which triggered all the reminiscences I posted earlier about recording in Abbey Road Studio 2, and is one of the few confirmed recordings* of Grant Gordon as the band's drummer before Miggy took over. (Apparently he recorded the session in a Hawaiian shirt and surf shorts, that's quite an image ;))

    *anyone think they can tell which tracks on the album are Darren Allison and which are Grant?

    I can't find the bit of the 1996 press release about this song, but 2020 liner notes Neil says:

    The Dogs and the Horses was the first time I got Joby to orchestrate a whole song. It was also the first time we'd recorded in Abbey Road, Studio Two (made legendary of course by Wang Chung's "Points on the Curve" album in '83!). To my annoyance Keith refused to shell out for a full orchestra, so Chris and Joby rang their music student mates, saying - come and make a record in Abbey Road and we'll buy you all a pint afterwards. To our amazement it worked and a ragtag orchestra materialised before us. We recorded it completely live, with me living out my '60s balladeer fantasies, The strings are a bit light and the timing's not great, but it gave us a taste for it. And beggars can't be choosers.

    2020 Twitter Party Neil says:

    And a bit more info from ashortsite:
    Here's the song!

  6. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    Alternate versions start here - with the solo piano version which we discussed previously being recorded at Andy Chase's studio in NYC in September 1994. This was released as a B-side to the "Becoming More Like Alfie" CD single in 1996.

    I guess this is the closest we have to a "demo", though the song itself is basically identical.

  7. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    Next up - "The Dogs and the Horses" was the last song of the evening at the legendary Shepherd's Bush Empire orchestral concert on October 20th, 1996.

    This version was unheard until the new boxset came out, but was sadly only on the DVD and not CD. It's fantastic, so I've ripped the audio and uploaded it here so you can check it out.

    It has inifinitely better sound quality than the live version included on the "Casanova" bonus disc!

  8. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    And lastly, for fun - here's a (sadly incomplete) live version from the "Route Du Rock" festival in 2002.

    I've seen a few clips from this show and it intrigues me, as it is basically a full band show, but it's from very soon after the "Regeneration" band broke up (dig Neil's hair!), so there is an odd assortment of people on stage. I think that's Simon Little's first appearance on bass, and I think I also spotted Rob Farrer still there on percussion, but not sure who else is on stage...!

  9. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Well-Known Member

    Thank you for all the info, livingforever!

    The Dogs and the Horses

    Score 4.8/5.00

    I really, really like this song

    Neil says the timing is not great, but that is the sort of timing you often get with a performance of an opera or song cycle etc, and I think the imperfections in the timing, plus the reactions and interplay between musicians is precisely what gives this song such a special quality for me.

    This is pretty, shmultzy, and a touch cheesy and overblown, but I don't care; there is just something about it that I really love. Joby's arrangement is fantastic, particularly presuming he may not have known precisely which instruments they would end up with.
    How lucky was Neil to have him on board?!

    I would score it highly individually, but it works especially well in the context of the album (although Neil appears not to agree!).
    I think it lifts the whole album out of being just a fabulously stylish, boisterous romp about sex and innuendo (which would've been pretty great anyway) and makes you think again, then flip back to side 1 and listen all over again with a different perspective!

    To me, it was equally gutsy to have put this delicate piece at the end of such a big, boisterous, poppy album as it was to record Through a Long and Sleepless Night.
    Neil certainly had/has musical guts!

    Highlights (lots!):
    • Lovely piano intro lead throughout
    • Shimmery cymbal at 0:13 which signals entry of acoustic guitar (?) and strings
    • Dynamics!!! Why are dynamics absent from most popular music?
    • Horns coming in around 1:00
    • 1:20 - first big crescendo moment. I just love the piano part here.
    • 2:25ish - more swelling crescendo and diminuendo
    • 2:42 - I haven't heard this in a while and my ears were blown off by the big crescendo here ('die'), then even more at 'for one day... '
    • Sensitive vocal - really working with the orchestral arrangement, not just blasting it out in a 'look at me' style, or plastered over the top later on. Timing may be technically 'off' but it doesn't matter at all in terms of phrasing and musicality, and the whole thing works together beautifully. Plus Neil has some impressive power and control - we already know this, but it still surprises me!
    • Little instrumental parts coming to the fore, notably violin at 2:06, oboe at 2:15 with a lovely handover of lead to flute at 2:22, and gorgeous little flute twiddle around 2:37 beneath 'winter nights draw nigh', ending in a pretty trill.
    • Rolling piano and general going for it during the final 'goodbye' section.
    • Subtle horn at 4:19 on 'last'
    • Unexpected (to me) chord at 4:31 (between 'last' and 'goodbye' really lifts the ending.
    • Neil's funny little semi - operatic 'laaa-ha-ha-ha-hast' - can't explain that, but it makes me smile!
    • Piano arpeggio ending echoing the start of the piece.
    Low lights (very minor!!):
    • Pop/Rock style drums coming in twice during the track for a short period each time. I'm sure there's a reason for this, but to me it doesn't add anything and I would have happily had a full-on libretto-style piece without the pop reference.
    • Overblown 'goodbye' section at the end almost drives it into a pisstake, but it is pulled back at the final moment for the ending (Perhaps this is actually a highlight, I'm not sure!)
    I won't have nearly this much to say on most tracks - I'm useless at dissecting full on pop/rock band music and discerning chord progressions etc, but I just love intricate arrangements and interleaving melodies.

    I'll leave the dissection of meaning to others too on this one.
    To me its nothing more complicated than 'life as a year' analogy used on much art, music and literature, with the addition of the dogs and horses aspect.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  10. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Royal Oak MI
    It's a song that I really like, but the lyrics are fairly banal, all things considered. Nothing new is being said, or said in any particularly profound way (in the verses, at least). The chorus is a bit better, though if presumably the dogs and horses are metaphorically the negatives in your life, it gives the end a downbeat tone, as they've "won" since they are around to say goodbye to the dying person. He hasn't outlived them and apparently was never going to. It's kind of a depressing song. I've seen this compared to Scott Walker, but don't really hear it. It just doesn't sound like Scott to me, but it does sound like a Neil Hannon track! I could instead hear someone like Sinatra or Tony Bennett doing this song. In my head it works, at least. Anyway, the arrangement is lovely, and Neil's singing is fine. I can see why he thinks it might have been better served on the next record, though. It would have fit in fine there as well. 4.5/5
  11. Hazey John II

    Hazey John II Forum Resident

    Songs will become eligible for the league table when they are reviewed in the thread. All songs with credible candidates will be considered regardless of artistic merit. Disclaimer: the table will not necessarily be updated at the time of covering eligible songs, but rather in the way that I find most amusing.

    Given that Neil came to ELO through his older brother Desmond, I guess we need to know if Desmond was a Gabriel-era Genesis fan too... Can't see any evidence either way. Searches for '"divine comedy" genesis' return Dante-related material, and searches for '"Neil Hannon" genesis' just come back to SMF!

    Actually I think we're up-to-date for everyone who's posted regularly about Casanova (except The Dogs and The Horses of course). But I won't get around to plotting til the weekend at the earliest, so plenty of time for more scores to come in.
  12. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Well-Known Member

    I totally agree with you, although I have a different take on the dogs and horses being present.
    I've always felt he's saying all the dogs and horses you've outlived will be there metaphorically (or maybe in ghost form, like Jacob Marley?) when you're on your death bed. I think he's remembering them all as he dies.
    I also think the dogs and horses are a positive rather than negative force in life, as the 'only thing to feel sad about' is how many beloved animals you've outlived.
    Or is it all to do with gambling...?!
    The Booklover and LivingForever like this.
  13. Radiophonic_

    Radiophonic_ Electrosonic

    Royal Oak MI
    I've always seen the dogs and horses as negatives; when people say "every dog has his day," it's always in a negative context, the unspoken part of it being "he'll get his later." I had never heard the horses part of it before, but assumed it meant a similar sentiment. Your interpretation is certainly a nicer one than mine!
  14. The Turning Year

    The Turning Year Well-Known Member

    Yes I see where you're coming from.
    They're a bit like devils on your shoulder, perhaps...?

    Its interesting to read a different interpretation and I'll think of that next time I listen and see if it changes how I hear the song.

    My default position is that everything is lovely unless proven otherwise (this has occasionally got me into trouble....)
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  15. christian42

    christian42 Forum Resident

    Lund, Sweden
    The Dogs and the Horses

    This feels like a song I should like more than I do. A fairly lovely arrangement, a generally strong vocal from Neil (though when he comes in for the very first line it sounds a bit tentative), and a melody that should grip me.

    And yet it's not a favourite. I've just never got into the whole track. The contrasting quiet verses and very loud chorus bits annoy me a little as well. It's not a total loss, but also not a track that I'll do much to ensure that I get to listen to it more often...

    On the whole, I'd rather the album had finished with the previous track.

  16. ericthegardener

    ericthegardener Forum Resident

    Dallas, TX
    The Dogs and the Horses

    Not one of my absolute favorites, but it's slightly melancholy and I love the drama in the arrangement so 4/5.
  17. rediffusion

    rediffusion Forum Resident

    The Dogs and the Horses: 3.75
  18. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Up until this week, I've not given this a lot of thought, but 'The Dogs and the Horses' sits quite interestingly at the end of Casanova. The buffer of 'Theme' separates it from the rest of the album quite definitely, and the track works almost as a coda - an unhidden hidden track, if you will - but I wonder if there's a greater meaning to it.

    Unlike Promenade, I don't think you can construct a narrative out of Casanova, but the theme is pretty clear. Every track is about love (if you're feeling generous) or sex (to be honest), or at least has undertones of them, but this one isn't. Is it too much of a stretch, though, to think that the album is a series of snapshots in the life of a 'Casanova' character or narrator? Either parts of his life, or thoughts in his head. Could that make The Dogs and the Horses the final thoughts of that same character, looking back on a life well lived, or not well lived, or some and some? 'Make hay while it lasts' would certainly fit, and 'everything that lives must die' could refer to a string of romantic entanglements that didn't last the course.

    It straddles the line, surely, between appreciation and regret. I've never been able to decide whether this is really a sad song or not - is our singer sad about the prospect of death, or does he simply recognise that death is a part of life, and nothing to worry about intrinsically ('the only thing to feel sad about is...'). I don't know. Is it deliberately ambiguous, or just unclear? Again, who can say? (Someone cleverer than me, perhaps).

    As for the song as a piece of work, it's a good one. I can see Neil's point about saving it for the next album (or maybe the next but one as it turned out), but I think it fits the over-all "throw everything at it and see what we can manage this time around" feel of the album. Again, a strong vocal performance and a remarkable arrangement given how it came together. And it does finish the album in a suitably overblown kind of way. I certainly can't imagine Casanova without it, even if I wouldn't count it as an absolute favourite.

  19. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    The Dogs and the Horses

    On the face of it, this somewhat sombre and sad number is an odd way to end an album which, on a quick listen, seems to glorify the excesses of a life well-lived... but then, if you've been paying attention throughout you'll have picked up that there's always a "but..." with the songs, and so perhaps it's actually a very fitting closing number.

    Leaving aside its meaning, or positioning on the album - what a glorious song. Probably the song on "Casanova" which took me the longest to fully appreciate, I don't think it was actually until I got the new reissues last year that I finally went "Oh - this is a masterpiece"! The arrangement, the vocal performance, the melody, the dynamics, the whole feel of the thing.

    It may be that I'm just older and more sentimental, but now this song gets me right *here* every time.

    One final 5/5 for Casanova.
  20. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    The narration on "Theme from Casanova" would have us believe that the album is based on the life and writings of Casanova himself, and whilst I don't think that's literally true, I reckon your suggestion is spot on.
    The Turning Year likes this.
  21. jon-senior

    jon-senior Forum Resident

    Indeed - I'm no expert, but I don't know that Casanova even owned a woodshed, and it's possible he wasn't a big Michael Caine fan either.
  22. The Booklover

    The Booklover Forum Resident

    Here's The Flan in the High Castle's last analysis of a Casanova song (though there's plenty more on the album overall):

    The final, final track of Casanova is “The Dogs and the Horses”, a song both radically different to all before it and intrinsic enough that it feels essential – though perhaps you could say that epics about death always feel essential. We know it’s there, waiting off-stage, after the last book, the last episode, the last song – it’s just a question of whether you impose a false ending or let your story roll on till it hits the real one. Musically, it’s Hannon’s take on a classic Scott Walker ballad, sweeping and harrowingly cinematic, disregarding the brassy, lurching energy that defines the rest of the album. Lyrically, it’s Hannon, at the grand old age of 25, giving us his definitive take on the inevitability of death and how to confront one’s own mortality.

    The song begins with the soft sound of piano, harp, and strings, reverberating as if in a vast dark hall. Using the four seasons as a structural framework, it seems to be narrated by an ancient, dying man who is imparting his life’s wisdom to his son. “Sing a happy song / ‘Cause spring does not last long / A flower blooms and then it’s gone”. The opening lines echoes [sic] the closing instruction of “Songs of Love” – this is the fatal, tragic eventuality that song’s narrator warned us about, dramatised, almost as if Hannon reached across time to graft his final song of [his] final album onto the end of this one instead. At first the vocal is faintly hoarse and rigid, letting the undulating orchestra do most of the work. “Summer follows fast / Make hay while it lasts / Don’t ever dwell upon the past”. The seasonal structure suggests that we’re already halfway through the tale, adding the element of a ticking clock.

    The central joke of “Theme from Casanova“, which positions itself as a hastily tacked-on bonus, helps to emphasise the even-further-disconnected nature of the actual final track. That said, there is a certain continuity: “Theme from Casanova” ends with the sound of barking and galloping – not actually heard in “The Dogs and the Horses”, but setting the scene for it with a literalisation of its metaphor. The two tracks are also connected by the heavy involvement of Joby Talbot, who co-arranged “Theme from Casanova” and arranging [sic] and orchestrated “The Dogs and the Horses”, as well as contributing vocal work to the former. We can probably thank him for the grand, sweeping, cinematic quality that the album’s orchestral section develops towards its end (we might call this the Talbot duology, if we’re still having fun breaking Casanova up into increasingly small sections).

    In some ways, “The Dogs and the Horses” seems like an attempt to turn the Promenade track “Ten Seconds to Midnight” – Hannon’s brief sketch of the entirety of human life, sung softly with a lone piano accompaniment – into a complete piece with the scale and heft its subject-matter deserves. Factor in “Lucy” from Liberation, and it begins to look like he has difficulty ending an album in any way other than meditating upon death.

    Hannon soars into epic proclamation: “For one day, you are here / And the next, you are gone / Every horse has its year / And every dog its day, my son”. It’s the unbeatable mixed animal metaphor, only deployed for drama rather than comedy. Next comes the refrain, tentatively upbeat, with a güiro adding a touch of levity: “So the only thing to feel sad about is / All the dogs and the horses you’ll have to outlive / They’ll be with you when you say goodbye”. The narrator’s words comfort without coddling: he invokes the deaths of pets and companions, not seeking to deny the natural order, but in an attempt to apprehend a lesser and preparatory grief, and to make his peace with the approaching ultimate (with a trace of that “My Way” triumphalism). Stepping back from this brink for a moment, the narrator resumes his instructive memoir: “Then the fall from grace / The lines upon your face / Grow deeper almost every day… / …ys and weeks go by / And winter nights draw nigh / And everything that lives must die”. The passage of time, its vertiginous slipperiness, is captured well in this rolling lyrical montage, and the mention of the final season – the “fall from grace” having stood in for autumn – signals to us that we’re now on the uttermost edge of this album.

    After repeating the grandstanding “For one day, you are here” Scott Walker climax, and giving it some space, Hannon returns to the refrain, now movingly adjusted from the second-person future tense to a first-person present: “But as the curtains close, and the last prayers are said / All my dogs and my horses appear around my bed / They have come to say one last goodbye / Goodbye”. Two of Hannon’s great fascinations – the multimedia stories he cribs from incessantly (represented in an oblique stage-direction metaphor) and the towering presence of religion (the resurfacing of prayer at the end of an atheist’s life). Psychopomps, the spirits that guide us [to] the afterlife, have been depicted as kindly animals since time immemorial: a crowd of dogs and horses manifesting in a bedroom seems a particularly well-off British variation on the theme, comical but oddly affecting nonetheless. Hannon seems to be contemplating his own eventual death here, if only because it’s difficult to write at length about a death without doing so.

    The album’s final “Goodbye”, of course, mirrors the first word of the opening track, “Hello”, reminding us that these very different stories comprise a greater whole. The song has a similar feel and sound to Scott 4, Walker’s most conventionally great album – in particular its closing track, “Rhymes of Goodbye”, which also shares its final word and tone of contented accomplishment. (Walker may have influenced Casanova in other substantial ways: the album’s three song-based films relate to their source texts not unlike the way Walker’s epic ballad “The Seventh Seal” relates to its eponymous Ingmar Bergman film.) After a clarinet-and-piano denouement that’s more Promenade than Casanova, the song passes into dignified silence, the story at a close.
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  23. Linky53

    Linky53 Forum Resident

    North Yorkshire UK
    The Dogs and the Horses

    I can’t beieve it now but until the last couple of years I used to press stop after the end of Theme from Casanova because I really didn’t like this song. Not sure why or what happened to change this but suddenly it just clicked. This one is slightly different from the rest of Casanova. I think Neil took this one a bit more seriously. The vocal is perhaps the best so far from Neil and I think the whole big studio thing elevated the production slightly.
    I think separating this from the rest of the album with Theme inbetween was the righ move, unfortunately it probably meant that I have ignored it all these years.......
    The live version is excellent aswell.
  24. LivingForever

    LivingForever Always one more tomorrow... Thread Starter

    It took a long time for me too- to start with this was “the boring one at the end”.

    What was I thinking?
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  25. Hazey John II

    Hazey John II Forum Resident

    Although this is distinct from what comes before, it functions like an encore to me, where the performer has licence to do something different for an appreciative audience - and therefore fits right in to this theatrical album.

    I adore the song, but strangely I can't imagine it being played at a real funeral. Something's not right. What is it? Possibly, to beat this theory into the ground for the last time, it's another image of a man, not a real person - the old master passing away on his estate, a life well lived, the kind of death any ambitious young man of a certain class might aspire to. Another male pretension, to indulge, but then perhaps not to hold on to too tightly.

    (In fact, I was convinced this was inspired by a famous oil painting of dogs and horses around an old man's death bed; however, I cannot find anything remotely like this now. But I can see it so clearly! Does anybody recognise this? Or did I just imagine it from the song?)

    I misinterpreted the chorus until just this week. I always heard "So the only thing to be sad about is, all the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive will be with you when you say goodbye" - I know it's 'They'll' not 'will' but that was how I misinterpreted it: "But why would I be sad if the dogs and horses were there?" But that's not it is it? It's "So the only thing to be sad about is all the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive" full stop - the sadness is in outliving the dogs and the horses, who you will miss. And that suggests the meaning of the two choruses is different - in the first chorus, the man waves goodbye to his dogs and horses as they pass on during his life; in the second chorus, his present dogs and horses watch him passing on. Alternatively, 'my son' in the first chorus could be him as the son listening to his father, and in the second him now become the father speaking to his son.

    Either way, the transition from watching the dying to becoming the dying is very moving - especially because there are still more lives continuing, it is not a final end. Interesting that the Flan picks out Ten Seconds to Midnight, because in a way Casanova ends the same way Promenade does - it is not clear if Heaven exists here, but what did we miss? This is the end of the best life we could ever have.


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