Before Neil Hannon turned into the swaggering parodic cabaret artist of "National Express" and "Something For The Weekend", he used to sit alone in his parents' house in Londonderry, all hay-fevery and wheezy, and write delicate piano songs about the local girls, imaginary girls and Parisienne ballerinas. As a consequence, his first three albums--Fanfare For The Common Muse, Liberation and Promenade--are as lovely as Easter morning: all harpsichord half-minuettes, and gorgeous melodies as small and warm and perfect as a wren's egg. The Michael Nyman fixation was showing through, but so was a nascent interest in shoe-gazing: the ravishing "Lucy" is a Wordsworth poem set to a Cocteau Twins-esque FX swirl, and quite possibly one of the loveliest things he's ever recorded. These were the years Hannon sounded like a virgin, in the best possible way. --Caitlan Moran
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