Neil Hannon must have had tongue firmly in cheek when writing Absent Friends, title track of the new album. With a serious-sounding orchestral intro that leads into massed, strummed guitars, swooping and soaring strings and the theme from The Big Country, it celebrates characters now gone. "Little Jean / Seberg seemed / so full of life / but in those eyes such troubled dreams..." "Steve McQueen / jumped the first one clean / but the great escape he tried to make was not to be / maybe next time, Steve..."
And all to the most ridiculous, OTT and yet uplifting cowboy theme. The Divine Comedy once demo'd Mastermind, the best song from disappointing album Regeneration, in country style. It was fabulous (much better than the recorded version) and Hannon applauded the audience for being so "open-minded". Maybe he's now had the courage to go the whole hog.
The chorus - "Absent friends / here's to them / and happy days / we thought that they would never end..." is rather banal but irresistably catchy. Hannon at play - and in the mellowest voice possible - is always a good thing. I'm just surprised Audrey Hepburn didn't get a mention.