a short site about The Divine Comedy

Palladium, London

Odd that Neil Hannon persists in disowning his first record, a mini-album called Fanfare for the Comic Muse, released at the beginning of the 1990s, when the Divine Comedy were still a band. Even more odd, now history is repeating itself. Fanfare… betrays an obvious REM influence; Regeneration, Hannon’s last album, his most collaborative for years, clearly owes a debt to Radiohead who are, of course, big fans of REM. And, again, Hannon has jettisoned his band and headed for lusher, more orchestral, territory.

Tonight, he has a 15-piece orchestra, with brass, strings, timpani and a sylph-like girl backing singer dressed as a Venetian glass lampshade. You’d think with all this, and the grand setting, he’d enter triumphant - but no. Irish roots notwithstanding, he is ever the self-deprecating Englishman. Shuffling on, he couldn’t seem more wry. It’s this Englishness that’s most problematic. For every grand gesture, there’s a clipped quip, an apology, a reminder that at his worst, Hannon is a little man reaching for big things. Certainly, there is more ambition in this music than in virtually all of current pop. But when troublesome sound makes the often stunning orchestrations sound tinny and reveals Hannon’s voice, slow to warm up, as thin and stiff, the effect is strictly toy town. Dreadful recent single, Come Home Billy Bird, is a sub-Kinks character study even Britpop-era Damon Albarn would have dismissed as two-dimensional. Sticks and Stones sounds fantastic, which it should since it shamelessly rips off Scott Walker’s Montague Terrace in Blue, albeit with an unforgiveably banal chorus.

When he’s good, however, he can be really good. A cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s No One Knows is an unexpected riot. Our Mutual Friend, highlight of the new album Absent Friends, is magnificent, with a devastating vocal swoop at the climax. A run of much older songs, subtly revamped, is delightful; a new song for his young daughter not mawkish but genuinely touching. When Hannon forgets himself, he can really do damage. He should be less of a Coward.


David Peschek
The Guardian 28/04/2004