What to do after the success of Casanova… not so much the success of the album itself, which didn’t quite make the Top 40, so much as the success of singles like Something for the Weekend, The Frog Princess, and Becoming More Like Alfie - three top 30 singles, two of them top 20 - top 15 even.
Why, record a live mini-album with a full orchestra, of course, the recording to take place at a sound-check before a gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Well, what else? I’ve mentioned before that the plus orchestra album is not always looked upon favourably by critics, and seen as the move of the desperate, the contractual obligation effort, or the album that comes after the well of inspiration runs dry. A Short Album of Love feels so much like a perfect progression, and was carried with such a feeling of fun and enjoyment that you’d have to be particularly churlish to apply any of those to it.
Apart from a rerun of Timewatching, which first appeared on Liberation, it contains entirely new material, beautifully performed by Neil Hannon, the band, and The Brunel Ensemble, and was timed for release, appropriately enough, just before Valentine’s Day, 1997.
It opens with the dramatic In Pursuit of Happiness, the middle section of which later became better known after it was re-purposed as the theme music for BBC’s friendly science programme Tomorrow’s World. The exuberance of the track is best summed up by its listing on one lyric site. The first verse ends with:
And if it’s all right I’d kind
Of like to be your lover
Cause when you’re with me I can’t help but be
I don’t know if that exclamation is included in the official lyric sheet, but it seems quite entirely apposite, and sets the tone for much of what follows. If it’s excessive, it’s all done with a sincerity that carries the day. The nudge and wink of Casanova is largely absent, replaced with disarming charm. If you were a tree I could carve my name into your side he sings, in If… before the early-to-mid Divine Comedy era horsey imagery takes over - If you were a horse I could ride you through the fields at dawn. There are more horses in ‘I’m All You Need’ - along with frogs, and dogs, and a chorus punctuated by stabs of brass - and even if it’s not all cleaning crap out of stables without complaining, even in the more melancholy moments - ‘If I Were You (I’d Be Through With Me) with its country-esque title but typically Divine Comedy-esque melody, and the re-recorded Timestretched - there’s the warmth of a comforting arm around the shoulder from start to finish.