Long Live The Drama Queens!

Absurdity rears its head on nearly every track,but the best/worst culprit by far is the cacophony of "Sweden."

Neil Hannon, lead vocalist and mastermind of the Divine Comedy, is the male

version of Celine Dion. A witty, Irish baritone version of Dion, with an

enchanting voice. Only shorter. With

style. Well, actually, he isn't much like Celine Dion at all, but -- if you

were to stand on one leg and squint -- the flowing, orchestral quality of

Divine Comedy's songs could be mistaken for some of Dion's better crooning.

Slap on a Divine Comedy CD and out pours luxurious, seamless

orchestral pop with lyrics that run from surreal to the maybe-a-bit-too-real. Not unlike Celine

Dion's better ballads -- only you can

generally listen to the Divine Comedy without getting queasy.

While the music is unlikely to induce outright nausea, those suffering

from motion sickness would be well-advised to approach Fin De Siecle

with caution. This album is anything but comforting. In fact, it's

something like a nonstop bus ride through life in the '90s. Departing

from the station to a song about Princess Di ("Generation Sex"), said bus

proceeds to the picturesque town of Pre-Millennial Angst ("Here Comes The

Flood"), then makes a quick stop to allow passengers a pint of Guinness --

and fleeting escape -- at the Mortality Pub ("Life on Earth"). Finally,

group-leader Hannon veers across the median and heads straight into the

conflict-torn country of Northern Ireland ("Sunrise").

Fin De Siecle waves goodbye to the sexual frustration and lovelorn

romanticism that dominated the Divine Comedy's past two

albums, Casanova and A Short Album About Love. The band's

trademark sarcasm and humor live on, however, and it hasn't lost its

healthy sense of the ridiculous (in this respect, the Divine Comedy bear

some similarity

to Pulp).

Absurdity rears its head on nearly every track,

but the best/worst culprit by far is the cacophony of "Sweden." Reminiscent

of Saint Saens' "Carnival of the Animals," and no less frightening than

"Danse Macabre," Hannon sings about -- what else? -- Sweden and its

inhabitants: "Tall and strong and blonde and blue-eyed/ Pure and healthy,

very wealthy." Although the song begins with the mundane, it grows more

spookily surrealistic by the minute, culminating with the line: "I'll grow

wings and fly to Sweden." With its huge choir and eerie musical effects,

this song sounds like something from a horror-movie soundtrack.

With toe-tapping, feel-good songs as well as odd, sinister ones, Divine

Comedy prove their versatility. What other band would be precocious enough

to engage a full orchestra for a song about the bus (except maybe Belle and

Sebastian)? And there's this cute line about bus hostesses (did you even

know that bus hostesses exist?): "She'll provide you with drinks and

theatrical winks/ for a sky-high fee ... but it's hard to get by when your

arse is the size/ of a small country."

But Hannon and his henchmen are capable of taking themselves

seriously once in a while, too. The last track is a grand finale if ever

there were one. "Sunrise," a touching, sentimental three-minute beauty of a

ballad, shows off Hannon's songwriting skills at their best. This time the

topic is the conflict in Northern Ireland (where Hannon grew up). "Who

cares what name you call a town?/ Who'll care when you're 6 feet beneath

the ground?" (talk about a bottom line ... ).