Review Summary: Fantastic album, and the start of a wonderful career
When an album makes you feel not only happy, but sad, and angry and content all in the space of sub-40 minutes, you know that something interesting is occurring at the very least. When an album can permanently change a mood, that says something even deeper about the quality of the music contained, and Liberation is an album that can do just that.
The first of The Divine Comedy’s commercial albums, not including Prelude of The Common Muse, an album since deleted from the archive of everyone, Liberation is an excellent debut. What makes it even better is its light and airy opener. Festive Road, at no more than 2:15 of a piano, single vocalist and occasional bird song, sums up not only the album to come but also the mood of brit-pop in 1993, an optimistic place of piano, guitar and orchestral wonder, set and written beautifully
Following immediately on from that (for it's a technically well achieved gapless record) is Death of a Supernaturalist, the first of many orchestral arranged pieces with a spoken sample at the start, is a wonderful exposé of Neil Hannon's vocal range and his perfect usage of classical instruments to make fantastic pop music. Harpsichords galore, that's what we’re hit with, and it's technical majesty makes it fantastic listen.
Bernice Bobs Her Hair is a remove from the orchestral pieces into something far more resembling classic pop music, only this also shows Neil's adept use of comedy to make an even greater impact on the listener. The syncopated guitar supplements this, helping make a jovial and carefree melody that is in accord with the lyrics, a tale of Homeric tragedy involving an ill-opportune hair cut.
I Was Born Yesterday is weaker, as it's repetitive base piano can get slightly grating, yet despite that, it remains a perfectly listenable piece of music, and the first piece to demonstrate Hannon's poetic style as well, also the pseudo-sexual overtones of the line "her classical features and elegant waistline, go to waste while she pleases her parents" also speak to the deep level of sexual energy and innuendo seen in his work, culminating in "Something For The Weekend" on Casanova.
Your Daddy's Car is a shockingly jolly, yet again featuring a harpsicord and pizzicato violin, all done in a major and arranged to make a happy pop song, yet again resonating on a comedic theme of two people driving their daddy's car. A very solid album song.
Europop is the sole survivor the now deleted Fanfare of The Common Muse, although this time arranged electronically, provided a weird and unsettling attempt at a Kraftwerk style pop classic, something completely at a remove to the rest of the album. However, despite it feeling from a different time zone to everything else, it works surprising well, providing an interlude from cellos and violas and allowing the arrangement of the other songs to shine all the brighter.
However, this mass of juxtaposition isn't over yet. Timewatching, in comparison to a lot of the album, is a mournful and incredibly deep slow classical (in every possible sense) ballad, with a much slower tempo and much richer sound. It could bring grown men to tears, with some frankly depressing lyrics that make you stop, listen and contemplate. This is a masterstroke, again stopping the album from becoming stale and annoyingly upbeat, and providing with another stage on which Hannon can bring his shockingly clean vocals to bear. This song is desperate beauty, unrequited love and rich strings condensed into 4 minutes. It might just be my favourite track on this wonderful album.
From pain though, we emerge to pleasure. Next up is Pop Star's Fear of The Pollen Count, a hopeless happy and catchy pop song. Everything about it shockingly twee and overwrought with happiness, yet it's written so well that you can't help but smile and join in, as though compelled by inner force. It helps the subject matter is so obviously pointless and trifle, a man suffering from hay fever, and still wanting others to love the summer, and the "love-er-ly day" that's being described. This song was re-released and re-edited for his Greatest Hits album, and most deservedly in this reviewer’s opinion.
Queen of the South follows swiftly on, and it's also a weaker album track, but who would want to follow the two proceeding pieces" A decent but ultimately forgettable chamber pop proto-ballad, it is pleasant to listen to, but not worth the download, or to be specifically sought out.
Much the same can be said of Victoria Falls too, the next song, and it follows in the same vein. This piece though, it must be said, has better instrumentation and some nice usages of call-return vocals, with ghostly vocalists backing Hannon. However, musically, it's nothing to write home about, especially given the masterpieces in the rest of the album.
Thankfully, Three Sisters is an excellent return to form, with what I would describe as the best and most interesting guitar rift on the track, coming in just after the intro, along with a jarring but not altogether unpleasant electronic ostinato. Lyrically, it's less strong than either Death of A Supernaturalist or Timewatching, but it's still a fantastic pop number.
Europe by Train would feature excellent on a concept album, its intro consisting of a cymbal being crashed faster and faster. An instrumental nod to the hidden man of the Divine Comedy, Joby Talbot, the producer and arranger of the music, it stands at a remove from the other tracks, feature no Hannon, and maybe that detracts from it, but either way, it’s a clever little interlude before what many consider the triumph of the album.
And that triumph is none other than Lucy, something so hopeless pretentious and off-putting to most that you think it must be shocking, but no, who knew a Wordsworth poem set to electric guitar, rock drums and the eponymous harpsicord would be quite so powerful express the beauty we see in poetry whenever we read it. It's a powerful example to all, that the greatest poets truly were just the greatest lyricists, waiting for an amp and guitar. Well arranged (yet again) and well presented with Hannon's deep, authoritarian voice, that it truly does end the album with a bang, a crash and an almighty wallop. It leaves you wanting more, and more and more, which there almost wasn't was, this album doing well critically but flopping on the general market, with only its sales is Southern France allowing for a second to be produced, the album Promenade, where Neil Hannon's musical journey yet continues apace.
Vive la France.