Neil Hannon is one of the greatest song writers and lyricists working today--known for his ambitious chamber pop, his band's 2001 album Regeneration was a bit of a departure from The Divine Comedy's earlier works. Produced by Nigel Goodrich (who has worked with Radiohead, Beck and Travis, to name a few), the album has a lot in common sonically with Travis' The Invisible Band, or Radiohead's The Bends. Hannon's lovely baritone glides beautifully over 11 carefully arranged tracks, starting with the somber but aching "Timestretched" and transitioning into the playful "Bad Ambassador," in which Hannon sings "I wanna feel real/I wanna free-wheel/I wanna steal the show from under their noses/I want to get you off/Ain't that enough?"
Up next is a perfect gem of a pop song entitled "Perfect Lovesong," in which Hannon promises "Give me your love and I'll give you the perfect lovesong/With a divine Beatles bassline and a big old Beach Boys sound." He delivers just that--a sweet, catchy lovely sing-along. The mood doesn't last long--the slow-building bass-groove of "Note to Self" kicks in, in which an author writes his daily assumptions. There's some clever lyrical statements here, including "The writer writes for himself, not for you" and "A song is not a song until it's listened to." On it's heels is "Lost Property," a veritable check list of long-gone things, leaving Hannon to wonder "just where do those lost things go when they slip from my hands?"
Faith is questioned in the morose minor-key of "Eye of the Needle," one of those songs that manages to get under your skin and you feel like swimming around in all day. As the protagonist wrestles with a seemingly unresponsive deity and waits for some sort of sign, he observes those around him ("The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German/Completely at odds with the theme of the sermon/And all through communion I stare at the people/Threading themselves through the eye of the needle.") An added nice-touch is a low-key church organ that slowly places the song out. The tempo picks back up with "Love What You Do," an optimistic toe-tapper that advises the listener to chase their dreams ("If you want it, you can have it/If you need it, go and get it/Whatever it is, you've got to love it.") "Dumb it Down" follows, a commentary on the sad state of entertainment and things around us, as Hannon sings "It's too tricky to decide between channel one and sixty-three/'Cause everything is mindless fluff/Like the world's not dumb enough."
The trio of songs that close out the album--"Mastermind," "Regeneration" and "The Beauty Regime," all function well together, with the closing track a sweet meditation on looking into the mirror and seeing just how amazing we all are as individuals. Sings Hannon, "Beat stress and rebalance your life/All you need to do is forget all the useless advice and live your life for you/Don't let them sell you impossible dreams/Don't be a slave to the beauty regime/Look again in the mirror and see exactly how perfect you are."
To me, this album is near perfect. And although Hannon bid adieu to most of his bandmates after this record and trudged on solo (still recording under the full-band moniker), this is a wonderful example of many pieces achieving cohesion. I fully recommend Hannon's other work, but this is by far the most accessible for a first-time listener.