The Beauty Regime

Back in 2001, Neil Hannon decided The Divine Comedy should just be a straight up indie-band. Gone were the thick orchestrations – the strings, the woodwind and brass were still there but took more of a backseat role.

This was back to basics stuff.

Hannon grew his hair out and discarded the suits that had defined him as a late twentieth century dandy. More importantly, musically, he put his Scott Walker albums and Noel Coward sheet music in the back of a cupboard (they would come in handy again one day) and demonstrated to the world that, just like everyone else, he too had been awed by Radiohead’s OK Computer.

Regeneration (see what he did there?) marked a new phase in The Divine Comedy. A new label. A new sound. A new start.

It’s a gloomy record – peppered with the occasional bursts of light (‘Perfect Lovesong’ being the most obvious anomaly).

There was always a darkness to The Divine Comedy – from picking a fight with God on Promenade’s ‘Don’t Look Down’ through to Fin de Siècle’s apocalyptic ‘Here Comes the Flood’.

Here, though, the humour is stripped away to reveal frustration and deep-seated anger – a painful unease with the world. There are complaints about church hypocrisy (‘Eye of the Needle’), the descent into vacuous-ness on the part of politics and the media (‘Dumb it Down’ – in 2001 he hadn’t seen nothing yet)  and a great dollop of existential angst (‘Note to Self’).

But it’s the album’s final song that we’re all gathered here to discuss.

‘The Beauty Regime’ turns its eye on fashion magazines and make-up companies offering skin deep remedies for all the world’s ills. It’s ‘Generation Sex’ without the tongue in cheek.

“Cover up all the pain in your life/with our new project range”, Hannon sings early on in the song as he assumes the role of a Max Factor marketing exec.

By the end, though, the guise is gone and Hannon’s commentary returns:

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.

And on that tender note, the album ends. Soon the suits and tidy hair cuts would return. With them would return the luscious instrumentation and the arch wit of the lyrics.

But for now – just for now – there was a bit of open hearted, absolute sincerity to cut through the new millennium’s “mindless fluff” with which Hannon was clearly already growing uncomfortable.

Eighteen years later, it might be worth digging this album out again…

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