A Short Album About Love – The Divine Comedy (1997)

A Short Album About Love is a consortium of ballads swathed in semi-satire that suitably welcomed us into the wake of a new millennium. The Divine Comedy shared this mad and yet not unrequited passion project in the late 90’s and like all marks of great irony, the album is deeply rooted in its self-awareness of both scope and subtlety. Over 20 years later and I feel no other album excels solely in its provision of truthful, beautiful and yet wholly ridiculous moments.

One of the album’s master strokes is that it makes the mundane sound delicious in the many messy, overused and often abused metaphors it uses. It is also unique in its chaotic sensationalism, merging murder, plague, insomnia, death and treason with table scraps, shit-shovelling, frogs, dogs, and even nursery rhymes to analogise true happiness. The album arrives therefore like a dirge accredited to Dr Seuss, something so sad peppered with an overwhelming obligation to be happy… or perhaps it is the opposite?

AND If it isn’t then completely extra in its lyrical ordinary-ness or aloof with complete puffery… then it is extraordinary purely in its sound. Driven along by a superb craft of music mixing, the technical aspects of this album are more often than not wondrous.

In the introductory ‘in pursuit of happiness’, we are immediately hijacked from an acoustic opener to a brass fleet crescendo worthy of any Tarantino or Sergio Leone spaghetti western and there is very little let up from there. Whether it’s the misty hug and sway ‘someone’ that withers unapologetically on… and on… and on, the sheepishly unashamed ‘if I were you’ OR the lament ‘timewatching’ that plucks solemnly at the heart strings, it’s not 3 or 4 songs in before you begin realising the mastery in what the Divine Comedy has provided in their 5th Studio Album; the bloomage of their budding material and the crowning jewel in a widely versatile catalogue.

Through sheer sensory overload, these songs revel in making us experience that same grip of fragmented emotions we feel when we encounter love. It’s grief, jealously, confusion, happiness and pain all wrapped into a warped bond soundtrack lasting just a farcical 30 minutes… and like a Venetian barcarolle, Hannon’s baritone often bordering on bravado voice is there to guide us on the journey; a mixtape to our dreamlike states as we drift wild-like along a mundane, extraordinary, well-crafted and often whimsical waterway.

Well if I were you I’d ride away
To a pasture new where I could graze
On the green, green grass of virgin country
I’d live real fast and die real young
You see if I were you I’d end my days
In a field of stupid sheep just grazing “

If I Were You (I’d be Through With Me) A Short Album Above Love (1997)

Yes, we may all have felt like writing a proper love song at some point, and it may pertain to hugging trees and talking to the weather, but this album encapsulates it by forcing our common tropes against us in jest and using badly formed nonces in solidarity. Because simply, no one ever really knows how they feel do they?.. and this is so often even harder to put into words. This album about love is just one of countless many and they’ll be many more written and they’ll be many more bouncing around in your head throughout your love-stricken life. However, like the lyrics taken from the B-Side envoi.. this album desperately wants to be the only one you’ll need.

Everybody Knows (Except You)

“Hey, don’t be surprised, if millions die in plague and murder
True happiness lies beyond your fries and happy burger”

– In Pursuit of Happiness

There is a connection I have with this album that often transcends a mere singer to listener experience and so it is probably an apt album cover that shows Hannon staring through his own reflection on a rainy day. I feel the comedy are looking at us. We are each of us forced to look at ourselves. These songs are for a searness of war-spoiled passions long gone, a soreness for those relationships still going on and for the sadness of those coveted romances we all at some point wish we had. AND drenched in all this is an unforgiving wave upon wave of silliness. Each melody therefore becomes an ode gifted to every person, given freely to all couples and on behalf of everyday life.

Though it is undeniably a fleeting experience, I often find myself revisiting these tracks time and time again. Regardless of whatever mood i’m in they usually achieve that immersion we can all relate to when listening to great music or settling down with a good book, as it grabs us and carries us away somewhere unannounced. It is fair to say the location is usually different with each play of this underrated classic and in all this unrivalled poignancy, there is very little doubt that a Short Album About Love by the Divine Comedy sits in my collection as one of my favourite picks of all time.

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