After three long years in the musical wilderness, the UK's favourite fop idol is back.
Chris Charles 2004
After three long years in the musical wilderness, the UK's favourite fop idol is back. Divine Comedy frontman Neil Hannon may have managed to lose his band along the way, but fortunately his touch for writing poignant pop songs has not deserted him.
After calling it a day in 2001, Hannon moved to Dublin, had a kid, cut his hair and decided to give it another shot, albeit without the rest of his merry men - Absent Friends, if you like.
The vocals remain as warm as a pair of trusty old slippers and the lyrics as sharp as a needle, although by the end of this record you'll feel the need for a stiff gin and tonic to give you a lift.
The title track could be the theme from High Chaparral that got left on the cutting room floor and features namechecks to Oscar Wilde, Steve McQueen and Willie Woodbine (whoever he is).
"Sticks And Stones", with its tense, stabbing strings is another song straight out of the movies - while "Charmed Life" is an epic string ballad that could have been written for Sinatra.
Essentially, Absent Friends is the soundtrack of a man who's never been happier, yet is keen to remember the bad times to put things in perspective. New single "Come Home Billy Bird" - with gorgeous backing vocals from Lauren Laverne - is the tale of an over-worked businessman who overcomes a series of obstacles to make his boy's first football match.
"The Wreck Of The Beautiful" follows the haunting last rites of a once-great battleship and "Our Mutual Friend" recalls the pal who introduced Hannon to a woman, then took her for himself. The cad. Light relief comes in the shape of "My Imaginary Friend" - Bowie's "Laughing Gnome" dragged into the 21st century - but the laughs are generally few and far between.
Anyone expecting a return ticket for the National Express is going to be disappointed. Persevere, though, and you'll find it's the smoothest ride you've had in ages.