I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Comedy since their earliest Michael Nymanesque music. I loved the orchestral pop that Neil Hannon seemed to effortlessly create. His last few records have been less exciting to me. He has toned down the orchestration and made his songs more subtle. They’re still beautiful but they’re not always as immediately arresting. I thought that was true of this album as well, although I found that when I sat down and really listen to the music and words together (what a novel idea) the music played so well with the lyrics that the album overall is easily one of his best. Although I still prefer the pomp and full orchestration of the earlier music, this newer stuff is very interesting. An artist has got to grow, right?
The new sound is more Tin Pan Alley. It’s piano with guitars and occasional horns–very limited strings are present at all. And, as any fan knows, Neil writes wonderful songs about love, and the songs on here are some more great love songs. The non-love songs span the gamut of ideas–from emotionally wrenching to downright silly. Neil is definitely a “get to know him” kind of songwriter. And it’s rewarding when you do.
“Down in the Street Below” is a piano based song that morphs into a jaunty little number after some quiet verses. It features yet another of his great melodies. ”The Complete Banker” is a jaunty piano song that mercilessly mocks the banking industry. Not terribly original but certainly fun and lyrically it’s quite clever. ”Neapolitan Girl” is a faster song (reminds me of a Broadway musical or movie instrumental) which is (as they all are) very fun to sing along to). “Bang Goes the Knighthood” is a musical hall song that is really quite funny despite the somber sound of the music (it’s about a knighted man who indulges in certain proclivities that might cost him what he has).
“The Indie Disco” is the exact opposite, it’s bouncy and shuffly and yet understated as only an indie disco can be (this may be the softest, least excited “yea!” in any song ever. Name checking Morrissey may not be original but it would be a less real picture without him. The songs he mentions are kind of dated, but are probably pretty accurate to what gets played in an indie disco these days. “Have You Ever Been in Love” could be used in any rom-com film montage. Although maybe it’s too obvious? Sweetly filled with strings (yes strings).
“Assume the Perpendicular” is a slightly faster song, as befits lyrics, “I can’t abide a horizontal life while ”The Lost Art of Conversation” is another bouncy tune with a whistle for an ending!
“Island Life” is one of the first duets I can think of from the Divine Comedy–it sounds like something out of the movie Brazil. “When a Man Cries” is an emotionally wrenching song. It seems somewhat out of place for Hannon’s usual topic, but it’s quite beautiful. The silly fun of “Can You Stand Up on One Leg” is the perfect antidote. Each verse provides something that’s harder to do than you think. The final verse offers, “can you hold a singing note for a stupidly long time…. Let’s see how long you can hoooooooooo….oooold on to a note.” For the record, Neil’s note is 29 seconds long….stupidly long! Is that really him holding that high note for 29 seconds?
The final song “I Like” is a wonderful poppy ditty, in which the full band rocks out (more or less) to another great melody. It’s a perfect love song (even modernized to include a kind of rhyme with sexy and texting).
Initially I was a little disappointed by this disc, but it really proved to be fantastic. More, Neil, more!
[READ: December 28, 2011] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Is Mindy Kaling a big enough celebrity to write a book (memoir or otherwise?). To use her own in-book comparison, she’s nowhere near Tina Fey’s level of fame, right? (although I actually think she is funnier). I mean, she’s a minor character on a popular show. True, she’s also a writer and producer, but that’s not going to lead you to fame or anything. The more I read about her in the book, the more I wondered exactly who would know her aside from fans of The Office.
None of that is to say that Kaling isn’t awesome. She is. She’s funny and talented and I am thrilled she wrote a book–sometimes within an ensemble your individual voice will get lost. But I have to wonder how much name recognition she has. And the book doesn’t do a lot to dispel this sense for me. I mean, she tells about everything she’s done, and really all she had done was write Matt & Ben (which sounds awesome and which I remember hearing about back in the day) and work (a lot) for The Office. Not minor accomplishments by any stretch, but not a fame-inducing resume. Nevertheless, good for her that someone was interested in letting her write a book. And good for us who read it. If you are amused by the use of the subtitle of the book (which I am) you will like enjoy the humor here.
I had read some excerpts from the book so I assumed it was all funny essays and whatnot, but it’s not. It’s actually a memoir with funny essays mixed in. Of course, Mindy’s life before Matt & Ben isn’t really very “interesting” (the book is very funny during this time of her life, even if she really didn’t do much more than babysit for rich folks and watch Comedy Central).
In the Introduction, Mindy provides a FAQ about the book. One of the questions is if she is going to offer advice and she says yes. And here’s the thing, Mindy’s advice is outstanding. She offers advice about many topics and I don’t think I disagreed with her about anything (except maybe pea coats). She’s like the voice of reason in a world gone mad and an excellent role model for anyone. (more…)