Thursday, 24 May 2018

Oliver! appendices: The Divine Comedy - Timewatch (24 November 1991)

If the Institute of Contemporary Arts ever approaches Neil Hannon about presenting a Divine Comedy album in a live concert from start to finish, the odds are nil that he will choose to present any work from the concept’s earliest days, when Hannon played guitar and sang lyrics of urbane, romantic wonder backed by a jangle-pop sound.  If the early 90s were a fertile time for rock trios, they threw up an unlikely one in the shape of The Divine Comedy - a band which, as Timewatch shows, were more likely to quote Nat King Cole than the Sex Pistols.  With bandmates, John McCullagh and Kevin Traynor, Hannon cooked up quite a neat little sound.  Although he has subsequently disregarded the music recorded in this line-up, leading to it attaining considerable rarity value - just look at the prices a copy of the first Divine Comedy album, 1990’s Fanfare for the Comic Muse are going for - it really isn’t that much of a gulf between a nascent sound and what the world at large considers “The Divine Comedy” sound to be.  The Timewatch EP was self produced by the group and this ensured that Hannon could be heard loud and clear - you don’t bury your key asset after all.
For a long time, I had thought that Timewatch was about aging and death, especially given the opening, “When I fall asleep” verse.  But ultimately it all comes back to love and the “time to fear” seems more indicative of a clock ticking on a relationship which is apparently full of fun and frolics, but not a lifelong commitment.  The allusions to being put back together suggest that the relationship is a port after the storm for Hannon after a traumatic period in his emotional life.  Touchingly, Hannon is open to it becoming something more substantial if his lover gives off signs or indications that they are worthy of the love into which he can feel himself falling.  Never is this better evidenced than in the long held cry of “you” at the 2:39 mark just as the music picks up the pace to reflect the emotional discombobulation. Even more dramatically, it appears as though as both parties in this relationship are waiting on the other to make that commitment first.  If neither is prepared to blink first, then an avoidable termination of the relationship duly awaits.
Hannon probably felt that he was doing the moods and emotions of the track justice when he re-recorded it at glacial pace with strings for the next Divine Comedy album, Liberation, but I don’t think it holds a candle to the version Peel played on his programme on 24/11/91.
Hannon went on to record many fine tracks in the following years and created records of glorious, edible, luxurious music, but he has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to this example of his early Byrdsy work.  Come on, Neil - ditch the string quartet and put that 12-string Rickenbacker on for this tune, in the future.

Video courtesy of Zuru.

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