The Divine Comedy- Absent Friends (Nettwerk)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Absent Friends
2. Sticks & Stones
3. Leaving Today
4. Come Home Billy Bird
5. My Imaginary Friend
6. The Wreck Of The Beautiful
7. Our Mutual Friend
8. The Happy Goth
9. Freedom Road
10. Laika's Theme
11. Charmed Life

The Divine Comedy's Regeneration caught a lot of people by surprise. After cleaning house and starting with a new band, and enlisting Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Regeneration was a notable detour from the witty, infectious musings of their previous canon. Neil Hannon, who has effectively always been the Divine Comedy (Joby Talbot's contributions notwithstanding) has returned with yet another new band, some special guests (including Talbot and master instrumentalist Yann Tiersen) and is now also handling the production (with mixing assistance from Godrich).

Absent Friends opens with the track Absent Friends, which sets the tone with a purposely dated sounding Scott Walkeresque production, complete with orchestral accompaniment. It has the all classic bombast and melodrama of Divine Comedy's (much) earlier Promenade. Sticks and Stones takes the Absent Friends approach and turns up the heat a bit. Arriving as a classical breakup song, and sporting lines like "Flesh is weak, but we know the Ego's weaker even still," Sticks And Stones integrates Tiersen's complex orchestration and instrumental touches and results in a classic Divine Comedy tune.

Hannon has had a lot of change in the three years since Regeneration, including the release of successful tour with Ben Folds and his first baby. The effect of all of these can be heard on Absent Friends, which is at once a return to form and an evolution for the Divine Comedy sound. A more domestic Hannon frequents tracks like Charmed Life. Lyrically, we've never heard him as straightforward and irony-free, "When I hold you in my arms, I hope baby if nothing more, that one day you'll call your life a charmed life." Trust me, it's more moving to hear than read.

The first single, Come Home Billy Bird is upbeat and catchy, a good choice for radio. It's a four minute epic tale of William Bird, the international business traveler (and suburban superhero), as he tries to overcome the all-too-familiar struggles of trying to get home against the fates of modern travel to make it in time for his son's football (soccer, I'm sure) game.

The Wreck of the Beautiful is the odd duck on the disc. The tale of a ship that sank in 1970, Hannon's song is a lament for the proud ship it once was. It is musically strange and unbalanced, presumably to match ship's final state, "and the waves rose five miles high, and the men who did not drown, watched the Beautiful go down." Who am I to question what inspires an artist- I guess it was just time for a nautical theme.

Of the numerous highlights on this largely understated disc, perhaps the most notable is The Happy Goth. Both ironic and insightful, Hannon croons about a young girl who hides her contentment behind a mask of black. Lines like "Don't worry mom, don't worry dad, the hours I spend alone are the happiest I ever had" go against every preconception society has. "She wears Dr. Martins and a heavy cross, but inside she's a happy Goth. " Wonderful, rich stuff.

It may be an unusual criticism, but perhaps my only beef with Absent Friends is what is missing from the release. The hilarious Idaho, recorded during the Absent Friends sessions and available as a B-side on the Come Home Billy Bird single, is unfortunately a notably absent friend on the disc. The track, written during his US tour (presumably in Idaho), has some of the cheekiest lyrics ever penned by Hannon (and let's not forget that it was Hannon who came up with the historic lines "If you were a horse, I'd clean the crap out of your stable, and never once complain."). An early version of Idaho will be available on this site as part of a webcast recorded in 2003, so keep your eyes open for that.

Aside from that largely meaningless issue, Absent Friends comes as a refreshing return to form from one of the most original and compelling voices in modern pop music. What makes it distinctive, I believe, is the contribution by Yann Tiersen (he did the soundtrack to Amelie, and his touches can be heard throughout the disc) as well as the control Hannon had with the production. Will you ever hear any of these tracks on the radio? Not in the United States of Clear Channel, but perhaps on XM radio and digital cable. Fingers crossed that the secret gets out.


marillion- happiness is the road
tilt- million dollar wound
mickey simmonds- the seven colours of emptiness
ukz- radiation
pain of salvation - scarsick
icon- icon II, icon live
the pineapple thief- tightly unwound
planet p project- levittown (go out dancing part II)
nosound- lightdark
dengue fever- venus on earth
art of all- morgan
marillion- somewhere else
abigails ghost- selling insincerity
blackfield- blackfield II
damien rice- 9
the who- endless wire
the beach boys- good vibrations
the pineapple thief- little man
the killers- sam's town
tom petty- highway companion
hem- funnel cloud
emm gryner- the summer of high hopes
jeremy enigk- world waits
razorlight- razorlight
gps- window to the soul
iron maiden- a matter of life and death
thom yorke- the eraser
richard butler- richard butler
the flaming lips- at war with the mystics
ray davies- other people's live
david gilmour- on an island
nosound- sol29
jackson browne- running on empty 5.1
neal morse- ?
king crimson- 21st century guide to king crimson
shriekback- cormorant
depeche mode- playing the angel
pallas- the dreams of men
my morning jacket- z
riverside- second life syndrome
roger waters- ca ira
various artists- backs against the wall
riverside- out of myself
sigur ros- takk
killers- hot fuss
queen + paul rodgers- return of the champions
journey- generations
yes- the word is live
emmylou harris- heartaches & highways
van der graaf generator- remaster series
rob dickinson- fresh wine for the horses
annie- anniemal
dredg- catch without arms
foo fighters- in your honor
dream theater- octavarium
belle and sebastian- push barman to open old wounds
the go-betweens- oceans apart
porcupine tree- up the downstair (remaster 2005)
coldplay- x & y
nine inch nails- with teeth
aimee mann- the forgotten arm
van der graaf generator- present
christopher o'riley- hold me to this
glen phillips- winter pays for summer
new order- waiting for the siren's call
ben folds- songs for silverman
john doe- forever hasn't happened yet
trashcan sinatras- fez
adrian belew- side one
kaki king - legs to make us longer
longview- mercury
stereophonics- language. sex. violence. other?
for against- echelons
over the rhine- drunkard's prayer
kathleen edwards- back to me
kasabian- kasabian
porcupine tree- deadwing
the wedding present- take fountain
super furry animals - songbook
arena- pepper's ghost
snow patrol- final straw
rpwl- world through my eyes
tori amos- the beekeeper
kino- picture
monarch- the grandeur that was rome
spocks beard- octane
the wonder stuff- escape from rubbish island
richard barbieri- things buried
the pineapple thief- 12 stories down
the pineapple thief- 8 days later
the innoncence mission- now the day is over
zero 7- when it falls
pain of salvation- be
california guitar trio- white water
jelly jam- 2
tim bowness- my hotel year
van halen- the best of both worlds
glen burtnik- welcome to hollywood
charlie mars- charlie mars
porcupine tree- voyage 34 (2004 remaster)
saint etienne- travel edition
lanterna- highways review
hellboys- cha cha with the hellboys review
persona non grata- the fine art of living review
tegan and sara- so jealous review
guadalcanal diary- 2x4 reissue review
voices in the wire- signals in transmission review
roger waters- to kill a child/ leaving beirut review
luna- rendezvous review
jim white- drill a hole in that substrate and tell me what you see review
the drive-by truckers- the dirty south review
the blue nile - high review
lovedrug- pretend you're alive review
twilight singers- she loves you review
keane- hope and fears review
winds- the imaginary direction of time review
kristeen young- x review
asia- silent nation review
macha- forget tomorrow review
crystal method- legion of boom dvd-audio review
kevin moore- ghost book review
marillion- don't hurt yourself singles review
attrition- dante's kitchen review
rush- feedback review
tortoise- it's all around you review
division of laura lee- does not compute review
peccatum- lost in reverie review
iq- dark matter review
bass communion- ghosts on magnetic tape review
the push stars- paint the town review
virgin black- elegant... and dying review
marillion- marbles review
the streets- a grand don't come for free review
the veils- the runaway found review
all about eve- let me go home review
john young band- live review
mary lou lord- baby blue review
the divine comedy- absent friends review
pink floyd- the final cut (2004 remaster) review
prot-kaw- before became after review
jeffrey gaines live review
mocean worker- enter the mowo review
starsailor- silence is easy review
pineapple thief- variations review
lloyd cole- music in a foreign language review
david sylvian- blemish review
spock's beard- feel euphoria eview
guy manning- press pack sampler review
magellan- impossible figures review
the tangent- the music that died alone review
john gorka- live from grace church photos and review
hothouse flowers- into your heart review
charlotte martin- on your shore review
rasputina- frustration plantation review
stellastarr*- stellastarr* review
vast- nude review
sparks- lil' beethoven review
the damnwells- bastards of the beat review
dave gahan- paper monsters review
king crimson- power to believe review
fish- field of crows review
porcupine tree- in absentia dvd-audio review
new model army- great expectations review
antimatter- unreleased 1998 - 2003 review
catie curtis: dreaming in romance languages review
the gathering- sleepy buildings review
twilight singers play blackberry belle review
vienna teng- warm strangers review
opeth- lamentations dvd review
courtney love- america's sweetheart review
blackfield review
anathema- a natural disaster review
nearfest 2003 coverage
neal morse solo photos- metuchen, nj
porcupine tree broadcast
alpha- stargazing review
david sylvian at the tla
emm gryner at the point
barry andrews at the tin angel
tweaker:2 am wakeup call review
cure- join the dots review
fish live from the tla with john wesley
spearhead- everyone deserves music review
miles hunt (wonderstuff) live

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