a short site about The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy has the last laugh.

“Feel free to not write about that.”

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon has just found out the members of his inner circle are not the only ones in possession of the information that he and his wife are expecting their first child. It’s not that he thinks he’ll be in conflict with his somewhat extravagant image. Instead, he appears to have unexpectedly discovered where his private and public selves diverge. Nevertheless, he lets down his guard and reflects on the reality of impending fatherhood, as faced by a deep-thinking, uncommon pop star.

“It’s not a question of how can I bring a child into this world, because I think that’s complete crap,” he insists. “It’s more a question of how am I going to relearn the ability to concentrate on playing with a ball for an hour – just trying to sort of be happy and patient with the extremely simple things. I’m sure it’ll be fine when it happens. I have to trust the people like me have done this before.”

What’s most poignant about the timing of this event is that he seems to already have taken a step forward that same sort of simplification creatively, in terms of nearly everything that has been associated with the divine Mr. Hannon and his equally divine band over the last ten years. Firstly, his personal aesthetic manifestation has been toned down a bit (he’s occasionally seen without a suit or a cigarette these days); and the new Divine Comedy record, Regeneration, partially does away with the washes of musical grandiosity that were always Hannon’s hallmarks and signifiers. He’s still Scott Walker’s elegant, pop-disposed offspring, but the music nevertheless sounds suddenly more immediate and personal and less intentionally stylized – an off fact considering it was produced by Nigel Godrich, the chap who was responsible for taking Radiohead deeper and deeper into esoterica and inscrutable bafflement.

“We used to kind of pick and choose styles for each song,” explains Hannon. “Like, this song sounds like it could have a Bacharach feel, or that song a Morricone feel. But we took it as far as it could really. And [previous Divine Comedy record] Fin De Siècle, although I find it wonderful, everything including the kitchen sink was on it, and it just became too much style. Not that there wasn’t plenty of content, it was just being submerged by the weight of arrangement.”

Should all this be of concern to Divine Comedy devotees? Know that on Regeneration, Hannon is still lyrically tearing at the fabric of a very wrong modern world. ‘Eye Of The Needle’ unflinchingly takes on Christian hypocrisy; ‘The Beauty Regime’ points a finger at the marketing of shallow imagery; and ‘Dumb it Down’ attacks the glorification of ignorance, an especially relevant topic, as chart toppers the likes of Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and the rest of their appalling ilk seem to absolutely revel in the stupidity and apathy of their public presentation.

“It’s weird,” Hannon observes, “because there always was a reasonably large disenfranchised group of young people who wanted to be enlightened in a way, or given a different option. Now they all seem to be quite happy with dumber, just basically quite dark music… these new metal bands, for instance, when 15 years ago, it would have been The Smiths, which was obviously the opposite – extremely intelligent.”

Suddenly zeroing in on everyone’s favorite pop music subject, he continues the line of thought. “Although I think Eminem is sort of literate, and often his lyrics make me laugh, he’s still so eaten up with bitterness, it kind revolts me. He’s only observing where he was brought up, and how life has treated him. I mean, why not use that [anger] to change things?”

How exactly does a new, sleeper Divine Comedy and its now slightly more grounded leader continue to fly in the face of all this apathy, misdirected anger, general dumbing down of pop culture, and avoid becoming exasperated with it all? Or, for that matter, avoid just becoming Sting?

“The longer you go one,” offers Hannon, “especially in [the U.K.], the more people think, ‘What are you still here? Go away. We’ve had enough.’ And I’ve always has the fear of Phil Collins-ing. But we’re not going to go away, because we need to work, and I feel like I’ve got things to say. I’m fine with ditching the [old image], now I just have to try to become something else, which I haven’t quite worked out yet.”

Does that mean we can expect Hannon to become the next Ziggy Stardust? “Oh, I would love to do that, but I wouldn’t have the never, you know?”

Perhaps fatherhood will do then.

Ken Scrudato
Flaunt 11/2001