The Divine Comedy, Bang Goes The Knighthood
Melodic and observational powers only increasing with age
Neil Hannon, dandified son of a Bishop in Northern Ireland, was always a literate — and, occasionally, pretentious — chap. He named his band — essentially a one-man operation for most of its 20 years in existence — after Dante's 14th-century epic poem. Early songs were titled in honour of works by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Bernice Bobs Her Hair) and Anton Chekhov (Three Sisters). He's recently completed work on a musical adaptation of Arthur Ransome's children's classic Swallows and Amazons.
But as Hannon, now approaching 40, recently admitted: "I listen to the records I made when I was having hits and cringe. They're so 'look at me! I'm clever! I've read lots of books!' And the truth is, I hadn't actually read most of them."
This 10th studio album, coming 11 years after The Divine Comedy's last UK Top 20 hit single, is pleasingly free of affectation, and jammed full of wit and melody. "At The Indie Disco," sparkling with strings and a flight of female backing vocals, is irresistible. The gently baroque "The Complete Banker" is a wry look at the global financial crisis ("Can anyone lend me ten billion quid," Hannon asks over a music-hall piano motif, "So I caused a second Great Depression, what can I say, I guess I got a bit carried away"). The Broadway-friendly "Down In The Street Below" is a beguiling showcase for Hannon's ripe, Scott Walker-meets-Noel Coward vocals.
Hannon's record as one of the Britpop era's whipsmartest and most erudite songwriters won't see him joining the Jaggers and the McCartneys in the ranks of musical "Sirs." But as Bang Goes The Knighthood shows, his melodic and observational powers are only increasing with age. How about a medal, then for his ongoing services to contrarian pop?