This is an album that symbolises the parting of the ways between The Divine Comedy and Setanta Records. The band are presently recording material for their new bosses, Parlophone. Thus ends an era, and A Secret History shows just what an era it has been – seventeen tracks of the best-known Divine Comedy songs ever recorded, from 1993 to 1999.
Die-hard fans may suggest (and with some cause) that this album’s contents are not the best of the band – the tracks are simply the ones people are most likely to remember, even if they haven’t bought the previous albums. But my goodness what tracks these are…
Unsurprisingly, the singles to date are included, but these alone would bring our tracks tally to only eight. For the remaining space on the album main man Neil Hannon has included one re-recorded track; new single The Popsinger’s Fear of the Pollen Count, originally found on 1993’s superb Liberation in a slightly more jaunty mood than this version, and one remix, Your Daddy’s Car, also from Liberation.
Original versions of Lucy, Hannon’s adaptation of a William Wordsworth poem also originally found on Liberation, The Summerhouse and Tonight We Fly from Promenade are worthy inclusions too. In addition to these we also get the themes – In Pursuit of Happiness from Tomorrow’s World and Songs of Love from Father Ted all sitting alongside two completely new tracks.
The first of these, Gin Soaked Boy, is a very simple three-chord effort which becomes ever more addictive with each passing verse and hearing. This track will be released as the second single from A Secret History later in the year. The second of the two is a Bolton/Dioneqsque effort called Too Young to Die. I’m hoping that this track is not an indication of the shape of things to come; any number of commercial artists can write (or have written for them) tracks like this. Hannon has a far superior talent and the masses (of critics, at least) expect and usually get far better things.
In the meantime, all hats off to Setanta Records for allowing Neil his artistic freedom for these last six years; let’s hope EMI carry on the trend.
By the time The Divine Comedy’s new album on Parlophone emerges from the studios next year Neil Hannon will have clocked up nine top 30 singles; The Certainty of Chance, a spine-tingling exert from the recent Fin de Siecle album which was criminally overlooked by DJs, VJs, promoters and the record-buying public alike but remains one of the band’s best tracks nevertheless, is the exception, having failed to make the top 40.
If this album serves any purpose at all then it must surely be to entice people to go out and buy the back catalogue – A Secret History is very simply the icing on the richest of cakes, a body of work without parallel in 1990s pop music and a collection of songs which promise even greater things to come. This prolific little Ulsterman’s work is not so much a secret history as an illustrious one – a very fine history indeed.