Review Summary: Failure For The Comic Muse.
The beginning of the new millennium was a difficult time for The Divine Comedy. The ill advised stylistic shift of 2001's Regeneration LP had done the band no favours, while the stripped back Absent Friends from 2003 was only a slight return to form. Victory For The Comic Muse, however, presented a full return to the type of orchestral chamber pop that had made the band popular back in the nineties. But instead of being a triumphant return to form, the record flopped as the most wildly inconsistent release of the band's career.
That's doubly frustrating because the album's highlight 'A Lady Of A Certain Age' is one of The Divine Comedy's best songs ever. Over a picked acoustic guitar and understated violins, Neil Hannon tells the tale of a once flourishing social climber now fallen on hard times. What might have been a snobbish exercise in elitism is somehow rendered incredibly moving. As if beyond all the class barriers of the world, the hearts of lonely people can still find the same rhythm. It's a truly beautiful track and almost worth the price of admission alone.
Elsewhere, the closing duo of 'Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont' and 'Snowball In Negative' are nice call backs to the band's earliest works, while 'Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World' has a delightfully twee Smiths-esque jangle to it. But then serious problems start to manifest, as the rest of the album ranges from blandly forgettable to pretty atrocious.
The band bizarrely choose to put their worst foot first, as the opening three tracks are frankly awful. 'To Die A Virgin' sees Hannon take on the point of view of a teenager as he fumbles through his first experience of sex. Hearing a 40 year old man deliver lines like "The other day I discovered / A magazine of my brothers / I read it under the covers / It got me all hot and bothered" or "Now every time that I see you / Your uniform becomes see-through / You don't know how much I need you / The Handy-Andies I've been through" is pretty damn embarrassing.
The following track 'Mother Dear' is also cringeworthy, as Neil tells you how much he loves his mother with all the lyrical aplomb of a 13 year old who's been forced to write a poem for English class. Again, 40 year old men really shouldn't be coming off as crying in their mother's arms whenever they get a skinned knee. Worse still is 'Diva Lady', which features an insipid faux mainstream pop arrangement, which in turn backs a bitter castigation of celebrity entitlement. Powerful lines like "She's a diva lady / She's got special needs / She wants chocolate candies / But no blue ones please" prove to be incendiary and shake the very foundations of celebrity. Seriously though, it's probably the worst song the band ever put to tape.
Victory For The Comic Muse more than earns it's reputation as the worst Divine Comedy record. 'A Lady Of A Certain Age' may well be majestic, but it also highlights just how lacklustre the majority of the other tracks are. Do yourself a favour and hunt down 'A Lady Of A Certain Age' but then give the rest of the album a skip.