Revisiting The Divine Comedy's 'A Short Album About Love'

'A Short Album About Love' features songs that delve into the myriad ways love can make humans feel.
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In 1997, Neil Hannon of Northern Irish band The Divine Comedy wanted to keep the highly stylized and dramatic music of the golden age of crooning alive. His earlier efforts Liberation, Promenade, and Casanova were littered with literary references as well as expansive orchestral arrangements; he was fully embracing the stylings of a crooner giant.

Despite 1996’s Casanova being far more modern pop-influenced than his first two albums (as well as far more successful), Hannon still wanted to release a true crooner classic. He succeeded with his follow-up album A Short Album About Love.

With a title based on a 1988 Krzysztof Kieślowski film, one would expect (correctly) to find some existential ennui in the album (mostly centered around heart-wrenching, reflective, or even hopeful love songs). The orchestral arrangements, courtesy of Joby Talbot, are taut and dramatic, and the album’s standard band instrumentation (guitar, drums, piano, etc.) is always inventive and clever. An important part of a crooner’s career is that the songs never get too histrionic or dominated by any one instrument – the voice and lyrics are always paramount.

The Divine Comedy delivered a highly emotive treatise on the subject of love

Song Highlights


This track serves as the musical centerpiece of the entire album, with stellar lyrics and a massive, cacophonous climax. As one would expect, much of this album is about the fickle nature of love, and Hannon, as an extreme romantic, seems well-suited to guiding listeners through the ups and downs of infatuation, attraction, and love.

“If…” provides a laundry list of hypotheticals in order to woo a lover: “If you were a horse, I’d clean the crap out of your stable, and never once complain,” or “If you were my dog, I’d feed you scraps from off the table, though my wife complained.” Hannon’s depth of feeling and strong, rich, and naturalistic voice elevate many of the tracks on the album to higher planes – and “If…” is no exception.

“Everybody Knows (Except You)”

One of The Divine Comedy’s biggest hits at this point in their career, this is the most modern-sounding track on the album. Employing your typical guitar, drum, bass pop song backing track, the lyrics once again transcend the usual love song tropes with deliciously witty couplets and one-liners.

As the song’s narrator, Hannon highlights numerous occasions when he’s told strangers about his love for the unnamed “you,” even going so far as to “make a young boy cry,” but he’s still unable to tell the object of his affections how he feels. Anyone who’s experienced unrequited love can understand this sentiment, which is summed up beautifully by Hannon on this Bacharach-ian track.

"If I Were You (I’d Be Through With Me)"

Perhaps the daintiest arrangement on the album, much of the backing track is (once again) a Bacharach-esque guitar line doubled with oboe and brass over which Hannon croons lyrics about how undeserving he is of his paramour’s love. Again, the arrangement is excellent: the shift in dynamics as Hannon practically whispers the parenthetical part of the chorus is worth the price of admission alone.


Perhaps the most stylistically similar track to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s film that inspired this album’s name, “Timewatching” is a morose track that starts with the line “When I fall asleep, it could be forever.” With orchestral swells and Hannon’s beautifully clean voice delivering the melancholic lines with aplomb, “Timewatching” is the closest facsimile to a true crooner classic – it sounds like an unreleased track from Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours – which is no small feat.

"I’m All You Need"

A more up-tempo number coupled with the album’s trademark dramatic orchestral backing, this is the most triumphant track on the album. It seems all the negativity and ennui of the previous tracks have been replaced by a hopeful enthusiasm for true love, highlighted by Hannon breaking the fourth wall and simply speaking the repeated refrain of “Baby, I’m in love with you and my love could go on and on.”

Despite stellar singing throughout, Hannon leaving his croon behind and simply stating that he loves his subject is even more powerful than a huge, bellowed chorus. Love affects us all in many ways, and Hannon successfully delves into and dissects its effects with musical precision and dramatic expression – something only a true master crooner could accomplish.

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