1. The Divine Comedy - Foreverland
And so to my favourite record of the year. There's really nothing special about it. It's just another new album from the consistently excellent Neil Hannon. But it's that consistency that makes it Number One though. Since their breakthrough album, Casanova, 20 years ago (and arguably, even before that, though Hannon's first three records were all about an artist refining his craft), The Divine Comedy have never faltered. It's been six years since the last one though: I was beginning to wonder if Hannon had packed up his cravat and smoking jacket and sailed off to retire in sunnier climes.
But no, he's back: and better than ever. With sweeping orchestrations, male voice choirs, huge production numbers worthy of Broadway musicals, a tuba, a donkey, and droll lyrics that arch a Noel Cowardesque eyebrow towards modern relationships... with a few historical figures thrown in along the way.
The tongue-in-cheek opener Napoleon Complex starts with Hannon making fun of so-called Short Man Syndrome (which he's entitled to given his own lack of stature)...
Who pulls the strings, who makes the deals?Soon after he declares his undying admiration for Catherine The Great, a razor sharp history lesson which includes the year's best rhymes...
Stands five foot three in Cuban heels?
Who gets all the girls, then wakes up again?
Who will rule the world?
Who will make them scream his name…?
There were few brainierThen there's a quirky, screwball duet with his other half, Cathy Davey, which is as Funny Peculiar as its title. But Hannon doesn't just do the funny stuff. My Happy Place is pure escapist fantasy, just what we need this year, and it's bettered only by the glorious title track, Foreverland, which brings hope to a hopeless world... well, if you can escape it. As a lyricist, Hannon is surely the modern day equivalent of Cole Porter, finding room for Voltaire, Zsa Zsa Gabor, La Legion Etranger and entente cordials in his songs without ever sounding pretentious. He can even deliver the big hit singles like he used to... well, How Can You Leave Me On My Own? was a big hit single in my house this year, even if nobody else bothered with it.
Just ask the King of Lithuania
She could dictate what went on anywhere
She had great hair, and a powerful gait
Catherine the Great
Each of the songs on Foreverland is its own mini-movie, from the Hitchcockian romp of A Desperate Man to the waltzing romance of The Pact which turns every political cliche you can think of into a romantic metaphor. And then there's Other People, recorded into a dictaphone in a late night motel room (he added the strings later), which really is the best song Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields never wrote (but should have). It also has the best end to any love song I've ever heard... I know, call me a hopeless romantic. Go on, it's only a minute and a half, treat yourself...
And, erm, blah blah blah seems a perfect way to end this Top Ten. Thanks for ploughing your way through it, for leaving comments, for being there. I'm taking the typical blogger's Christmas break now, though I do have a couple of posts in the can to finish December off. I've been blogging now for over ten years (both here and, before that, on Sunset Over Slawit) and I can honestly say I've enjoyed it more this year than I have in a long time... maybe ever. And that's down to you, those of you reading this now, anyone who's taken the time to get to the bottom of the page. Have a Happy Christmas, a far better 2017, and... erm, blah blah blah...