Asleep Behind the Wheel (Promenade)

promenade 1If Liberation was Neil Hannon’s artistic breakthrough, it’s 1994’s Promenade that showed he knew it – and that, having scrambled and experimented until arriving at what was basically going to be his signature sound, it was time to dig in and explore this new territory. The resulting album essentially refines Liberation, keeping its tone while amplifying its orchestral elements and bringing a tighter conceptual and thematic focus to the lyrics. If there’s one point on which music critics and the Divine Comedy faithful can generally agree, it’s that this is Hannon’s greatest work, and the benchmark against which all subsequent albums must be measured. So, what’s the consensus masterpiece really all about?

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The Parting of the West

craggy mondasWhen the storm came, it was all storms; the ur-storm. Every tempest the Atlantic had ever unleashed before that night was just a premonition, each squall that would escape its abyssal depths from that day forth merely an echo. It would not be named. Continue reading

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The Wind Is Getting Up Now, Soldier (The Training Camp)

lv1-01Naturally, the first level in Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds is the game’s smallest and most straightforwardly designed. Set in a rural area south of London (specifically Sussex, judging by the loading-screen map), it’s largely a linear affair. Like all fourteen levels, it begins with a subtitled mission briefing superimposed over an aerial tour of the surrounding landscape. (The loading screen and opening flyover frequently disagree, to varying extents, about what a level’s name is – in this case, the former leaves out the definite article. I’ll be opting for whichever title offers the most elegance and symmetry.) The camera drifts down a country road, circling round a military base to settle at last on a humble Armoured Lorry – our first vessel.
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Each Fantasy Chosen Begins (Liberation)

liberation-frontAfter several years – and several records – spent cycling from the influence of one overwhelming monolith to the next, The Divine Comedy, a band which has essentially been a shifting progression of tribute acts with glimmers of promise, suddenly snaps into lucid perfection. Territory is delineated. Muses are secured. Neil Hannon has arrived.
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We Know Not What We Do (Europop)

europopAt the very brink of consummation, The Divine Comedy’s inevitable evolution into what it was always meant to be experienced a slight hiccup: Neil Hannon decided to stop singing. That’s right: the year was 1991, and Hannon, newly enamoured of Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, had concluded that he must step down as vocalist to focus his performative efforts entirely on the instrument. Accordingly, he recruited his friend John Allen to replace him as lead singer for the new Divine Comedy EP: Europop.
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Origin and Intentions (Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The PlayStation Game)

jeff-wayne-the-war-of-the-worlds-playstation-front-coverI suppose I was about five or six years old. My grandparents had a record player. I’m sure they had lots of records, too, but only one of them ever interested me: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, 1978’s fantastic and unlikely adaptation of a foundational science fiction novel I’d never read. (My grandparents really weren’t the sci-fi type; recollections remain divided as to the record’s ultimate origins, and from which side of the family it really passed into my hands.) I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, only that it soon became the focus of every visit. Perhaps I’d encountered science fiction before, but nothing so immediate, so haunting. I’d certainly never heard of progressive rock, or concept albums, or audio drama, but here I was confronted with all three. Morbid phantasms crossed my mind’s eye – the slavering Martian creatures, the eerily vivid sound design, the colourful cast encountered by Richard Burton’s wandering Journalist narrator. With the remarkable album artwork as a catalyst, I saw them all, my imagination filling the gaps with memories of my own home, my own street. Even at the time, I felt that this album was somehow infiltrating my mind, that it was changing me – I can actually recall visualising the sound spiralling off the player and into my brain, naff as that is. While it’s difficult to assess the degree to which my lifelong interests in the alien and the baroque were determined by those days, I suspect I was essentially right.

But lots of people have heard the album, and stories of being kept awake by Jeff Wayne’s spooky soundscapes are a dime a dozen. No, I’m here to talk about the obscure 1999 PlayStation game that nobody cares about.
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Look at Life Through the Half-Closed Eye (Timewatch)

timewatch01We’re still floundering; still not quite there. Timewatch, a three-track EP, was released in 1991 – one year on from the false start of Fanfare for the Comic Muse, but still two years short of the inspired reinvention of Liberation. Musically and lyrically, Timewatch is more or less indistinguishable from the preceding album’s jangly, REM-influenced shoegaze –  you could substitute pretty much any Fanfare track for any Timewatch song, or vice versa, and no-one would be any the wiser. It’s tempting to look at it as a single from Fanfare, but the truth is sort of the opposite – its two lead songs are entirely new, with an extended Fanfare track actually forming its B-side.
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