The Dogs And The Horses
July 28, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Neil Hannon, aka The Divine Comedy, has both annoyed and charmed critics (often within the same song). Reviews of his most recent album, Bang Goes The Knighthood (released in Europe last May, now released in the US but only via iTunes) have described the split like this:
"Divine Comedy albums are always an arm-wrestle between two incompatible personas. One is the elegant and witty balladeer, a precocious hybrid of Scott Walker and Randy Newman, heard on such commanding cuts as The Dogs & the Horses and Sunrise. The other is the insufferably bumptious japester queasily evocative of Gilbert O'Sullivan, most notably culpable for the enragingly jaunty sing-along National Express (which, rather depressingly, remains The Divine Comedy's biggest hit)."
"And so it goes, a series of songs ping ponging, in (Noel) Coward's tradition, between cheapness and potency."
But while occasionally irritating critics Neil Hannon has been able to carve out a twenty year career that has outlasted & outclassed most of his contemporaries from the Britpop era and fans remain dedicated as he continues to produce his literate and singular brand of baroque pop music.

Standout tracks from Bang Goes The Knighthood: Down In The Streets Below, The Complete Banker, Bang Goes The Knighthood, Assume The Perpendicular, and When A Man Cries.

From his back catalog: The Wreck of the Beautiful, Geronimo (solo) (and with Yann Tiersen), The Booklovers, When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe, Charge, Songs Of Love, Becoming More Like Alfie, Sunrise, two interesting fan-made videos of Sweden (one & two), Eric The Gardener, a credible fan cover of Timestretched, Bad Ambassador, Perfect Lovesong, Tonight We Fly, Something for the Weekend, Mastermind (studio & live), Our Mutual Friend, A Lady Of A Certain Age, Certainty of Chance, The Plough (studio & live), Snowball In Negative (studio & live), The Dogs And The Horses.

Many of Neil's best songs (such as London Irish, Elaine, Birds of Paradise Farms and Get Me To The Monastery) have appeared only as b-sides.

Collaborations have played a large part in his career. Last year Neil sang the song Cathy on Portuguese composer Rodrigo Leão's most recent album and in the past Neil has either written for or sung on releases by everyone from Air, Ute Lemper and Charlotte Gainsbourg to God Help The Girl (Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian's side project) and Yann Tiersen not to mention many others including Tom Jones.

Besides writing and performing the theme songs for the beloved TV series Father Ted & The IT Crowd Neil's given Eurovision a go with his song Trafalgar. Quite a catalog of cover songs too.

Sometime after the release of Victory for the Comic Muse in 2006 Neil was released from his contract with Parlaphone who had released his last three albums. Hannon then started his own label, Divine Comedy Records, to release his new music as well as to reissue the portion of his back catalog originally released by Setanta. The first release from the label was last year's surprise "hit" from The Duckworth Lewis Method, (Hannon's side project with Thomas Walsh from Pugwash) a self-titled concept album about cricket. DLM songs include Jiggery Pokery, The Nightwatchman, Gentlemen and Players and Meeting Mr. Miandad.

The video for The Divine Comedy's next single, I Like, was released last week.
posted by ericthegardener (35 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I favoriting this on general principle.

on the National Express theres a jolly hostess serving criiiisps aaaand teeee
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 PM on July 28, 2010

I don't know if I've ever seen a singer/songwriter have as much fun as he does in the video for the National Express.
posted by Think_Long at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2010

My favorite. I believe it would be classed in the "enragingly jaunty sing-along" category.

Ba ba ba-ba-da-ba DA!
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:21 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not only a fantastic post, but the song of the title is my favourite Divine Comedy track.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:34 PM on July 28, 2010

Thew whole of Fin de Siècle is fucking fantastic, but I'm particularly bowled over by Sunrise every time I hear it. It brings me near tears again and again at the end.

Generation Sex has some great lyrics too. I love his cynicism, but when he goes earnest like in Sunrise, it's sublime.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:38 PM on July 28, 2010

MetaFilter: enragingly jaunty
posted by hippybear at 12:55 PM on July 28, 2010

Nice post. I think he's a great songwriter. I've known quite a few people who have played on the albums and orchestrated his music over the years, indeed an old friend orchestrated this new album. I actually like the fact that he exasperates critics, I think that's part of his appeal.
posted by ob at 12:57 PM on July 28, 2010

I wish I had made this post!

My favorite DC track, after all these years, is still "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," an arch musical version of the FS Fitzgerald story of the same title. Can't find the recorded version, but here's an acoustic in-store in which Neil forgets the words a lot.

Really, his whole 1993 album Liberation is a marvel. Jaunty sing-along? I'm not sure he ever did it better than "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count," a heroically swinging rave-up about allergens. "Blow your nose, baby!" And what to call "Your Daddy's Car" -- peppy death pop?

His best "insufferably bumptious japester" song, I think, is "Everybody Knows That I Love You (Except You)." The whole song is in the title, basically -- but jeez, he sells it.
posted by escabeche at 1:17 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had grabbed Fin de Siecle when it came out, and enjoyed it for a time. Haven't listened to them since though. Still really enjoy a lot of his work though, even if it just be Oh Lovely Horse or the IT Crowd theme (which is perfect and brilliant).

The one song I always come back to though, and suspect I'll have stuck in my head for some time yet is a b side he did around that time - London Irish - which is probably about as far from jaunty as they get.
posted by opsin at 1:25 PM on July 28, 2010

I HATE that the new album is only available on iTunes, which I won't use. Giving a single retailer an exclusive is heinous.
posted by twsf at 1:38 PM on July 28, 2010

Whoops, never mind - turns out Amazon now has it available for download, too...
posted by twsf at 1:40 PM on July 28, 2010

This is a great post, but did the reviewer actually use Randy fucking Newman as a positive comparison?
posted by mikoroshi at 1:51 PM on July 28, 2010

Whoops, never mind - turns out Amazon now has it available for download, too...

That's great that Amazon is selling the downloads too but, sadly, only iTunes is selling the 4 bonus tracks. I've already bought the import CD & vinyl, don't really want to buy another copy of the whole album.
posted by ericthegardener at 1:58 PM on July 28, 2010

Oh! Oh! Oh! I love The Divine Comedy! Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count is my favourite. Though just yesterday I was muttering "Gosh, the theme tune of the IT Crowd is great (pity about the programme)"

Anyway, Neil Hannon story. I was at a recording of some BBC Radio 4 programme, one of the Saturday night light entertainment shows. The Divine Comedy was there doing "Tonight We Fly" which (warning: non-musician) has an off-tempo piano/percussion thing going on. The band just couldn't get it right, and Neil Hannon insisted on doing it three times (assuming it was the band) and would have done it four times if the audience hadn't rebelled, being about to miss the last Tube home (big deal in London). So if you heard the 2000 (?) New Year's Day BBC recording of LOOSE ENDS and thought "that Divine Comedy song isn't right", well, then, it wasn't Neil Hannon's fault.
posted by alasdair at 2:08 PM on July 28, 2010

Gin Soaked Boy is one of the all time great list songs, especially as the images and contradictions get more and more deranged as the song goes along, culminating in "Jeff Goldblum in The Fly".
posted by kersplunk at 2:19 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm not sure he ever did it better than "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count"

Complete with insanely long held note coming out of the bridge.
posted by kersplunk at 2:20 PM on July 28, 2010

Tonight we fly has to be the most romantic song ever.

Fantastic post.
posted by elmono at 2:37 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm with opsin. Loved Fin de Siecle, but haven't listened to him/TDC since. I will rectify that. Thanks!
posted by mrgrimm at 2:41 PM on July 28, 2010

escabeche- I thought it was a homage to Pope's Rape of the Lock- does Fitzgerald use the same theme? (What other contemporary tunesmith could you have that sort of conversation about?)
posted by Gratishades at 2:49 PM on July 28, 2010

Thanks for the post! I have a few of his CDs, but haven't fully delved into some of the older stuff, and hadn't known about his newest release. Time to get a move on here.

Oh, and my favorite is Tonight We Fly. Driving through the country on a warm summer night, with that song on repeat. Perfect fit!
posted by dorey_oh at 3:02 PM on July 28, 2010

Love love love love loooooove.
posted by at 4:36 PM on July 28, 2010

Gratishades: "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
posted by escabeche at 5:47 PM on July 28, 2010


This is one of my favorite songs ever.
Tonight we fly
posted by hal_c_on at 7:05 PM on July 28, 2010

love the Divine Comedy so much. I think "Assume the Perpendicular" is one of the greatest songs i've heard in a while but doesn't top my previous favorite "Our Mutual Friend:"

We played old 45s
And said it's like the soundtrack to our lives
And she said: "True, it's not unusual."
Then privately we danced
We couldn't seem to keep our balance
A drunken haze had come upon us.
We sank down to the floor
And we sang a song that I can't sing anymore
And then we kissed and fell unconscious.
posted by neustile at 7:36 PM on July 28, 2010

Our Mutual Friend is a stunner but this is my favorite couplet from Assume The Perpendicular:

Lavinia loves the lintels - Anna, the architraves
Ben's impressed by the buttresses thrust up the chapel knave

posted by ericthegardener at 9:27 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm not sure he ever did it better than "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count," a heroically swinging rave-up about allergens.

That superb song always makes me think of Jeff Noon's Pollen, a beautiful rhythmic mess of a book. The callously manic menace of the song suits it perfectly.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:44 PM on July 28, 2010

I've been a Divine Comedy fan for a long long long time. For years they've (and later, he's) been my favourite band. This year, however, with the release of the new album, I gave up.

On Victory For The Comic Muse, I was prepared to overlook the awful Mother Dear and Diva Lady thanks to the presence of Count Grassi's Passage Over Piedmont and Snowball in Negative. But Bang Goes the Knighthood doesn't have a single redeeming feature.

It feels like Neil's absolutely given up trying to make things beautiful. There's no compelling imagery. It sounds like an album that someone would make if they were trying to make a Divine Comedy album but lacked Hannon's magic touch.

Having said that, just thinking about his earlier work is giving me goosebumps. I'm off to go listen to Fin De Siecle.
posted by radioedit at 3:29 AM on July 29, 2010

This is a great post, but did the reviewer actually use Randy fucking Newman as a positive comparison?

I'm going to go ahead and assume you've never listened to, say, Newman's Good Old Boys album.

I'm quite sure Hannon would be honored by the comparison.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:41 AM on July 29, 2010

radioedit - I largely agree with you about Victory For The Comic Muse (that no one has written a song as bad as Diva Lady is pretty easy to take when the same album contains A Lady Of A Certain Age, The Plough and the songs you mentioned) but I'm surprised that you don't find any beauty on Bang Goes The Knighthood.

No love for Down In The Street Below or When A Man Cries? And while I wouldn't describe Assume The Perpendicular as beautiful I do think it's brilliant. I'd put these songs among the best songs he's ever recorded. Even the runt of the litter, Indie Disco, has grown on me in ways that Diva Lady never did.

Not to dismiss your opinion, I'm just surprised that you didn't at least like some of it.
posted by ericthegardener at 7:46 AM on July 29, 2010

Thanks for settling which version of Bang Goes the Knighthood I wanted to buy, guys.

Where do you find the older stuff? I have Victory for the Comic Muse, Regeneration, and Absent Friends (and the Duckworth Lewis Method), but I've had trouble locating the older albums. I like to buy and put money in the artist's pocket, but I hate paying import prices, and some of the albums aren't that easy to find.
posted by immlass at 8:01 AM on July 29, 2010

They've been promising for a couple of years to give the older albums the deluxe reissue treatment on Divine Comedy Records but who knows when that will actually happen. In the short term the old albums will be up on iTunes hopefully in a matter of days or most of the old stuff is available for download at their webshop:
posted by ericthegardener at 8:15 AM on July 29, 2010

Bless you, ericthegarderner. I'm very happy even if my wallet won't be!
posted by immlass at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2010

Hmm, nobody seems to have linked to his exquisite adaptation of Wordsworth's "Lucy," which remains my favorite thing on the completely marvelous Liberation album. Gotta agree with radioedit, the beauty quotient has been falling off since Casanova (1996), as Neil Hannon plays up his arch and boisterous aspects, and neglects the gentle, brainiac ones. Nice work if you can make a career out of it, but terribly disappointing to those of us who fell in love with his early recordings. (And just to add something to this wonderfully archival post, here's a badly transcribed link a fan site's put up to the interview with him from Scram #5--which makes it not a self-link, really, since the typos aren't mine!)
posted by Scram at 7:01 PM on August 1, 2010

All of the 90's albums, except Fin de Siècle, are now available in the US iTunes store. I would imagine that Fin will be there soon.
posted by ericthegardener at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2010

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