Review Summary: All hail one of the best chamber pop albums of all time.
The Divine Comedy's second LP Promenade is a masterclass of bookish chamber pop. Using the classical composer Michael Nyman as his primary musical influence, Neil Hannon crafted a beautiful set of songs full of lush strings, twinkling piano and graceful harpsicord. The resulting record sounds not unlike something you'd expect to hear soundtracking a tour of the palace of Versailles.
The lyrics centre around the concept of two lovers sharing a romantic day together. They eat in a seafood restaurant, ride a Ferris wheel, Go to the cinema and spend new year's eve together. Despite the concept however, each song easily stands up as a single piece when plucked out of the narrative. Neil Hannon's lyrics are at his absolute best here on Promenade, alternating between operatic and tender, funny and moving. The Divine Comedy have never sounded so witty, elegant and literate.
There are no poor songs on Promenade at all. The record is cohesive and brilliant from the moment it opens to the moment it closes. To pick highlights without going through the entire tracklist really isn't easy. But for sake of sanity, let's not do that. 'A Seafood Song' is the jauntiest and funniest song on the album. Over a stomping, operatic backing, Hannon tells you how much he loves eating fish and offers his thanks to the ever toiling fisherman ("Let's sing for those in peril on the sea / Who labour tirelessly / In their tiny boats off John-O'Groats / Their socks soaked for me"). The way he launches into a rundown of every edible fish you could ever imagine at the end of the song is absolutely hilarious. He even slides a sneaky dolphin in there.
The Nabakovian 'The Summerhouse' is the album's best song. Actually, not only is it the best song on this LP, but probably the best Divine Comedy song full stop. The track's gorgeous piano led framework houses a stunningly beautiful lyric about childhood holidays at the titular location. Lyrics like "Distant cousins, local kids / we climbed every tree together / And it never, ever rained / Until we climbed back on the train / That would take us so far away / From the village and the bay" ache with the cathartic sadness of innocence long past. The song is so intense and beautiful that it has reduced me to tears on occasion.
Speaking of cartharsis, the closing track 'Tonight We Fly' also deserves a mention. It serves as the ultimate release for the emotions that have been building up during the course of the record. Over galloping drums, Hannon tells a simple but moving tale of flying through the sky, looking down on all the different types of people in the world. It's an inclussive celebration of life that makes you want to go strait out and hug the person you love. And what better way to end a review of this absolute masterpiece of an album, then to leave you with it's final set of lyrics;
"Tonight we fly / Over the mountains, the beach and the sea / Over the friends that we've known / And those that we now know / And those that we've yet to meet / And when we die / Will we be that disappointed or sad / If heaven doesn't exist / What will we have missed / This life is the best we've ever had"