a short site about The Divine Comedy

Star Trek

Life is too good, after all, it appears. At least, Neil Hannon says so and dammit, he’s convincing. Of course he knows, as you must, that gloom abounds – friendships fragment, heroes depart and leave you lost, the halitosis from hell drops by to say ‘well hello there’ on the same enchanted evening than Joan Chen does – but he gets over it.

Promenade, you see, is a record which acknowledges the obvious, that life often consists of disasters and disappointments, and then choose to ignore it by documenting one of those rare and precious things, a good day. Mostly, but not exclusively, its songs are small and warm, reminding you of the simple, everyday pleasures – food, drink; art, loving, being loved – which you seldom pause to ponder but which, whether you know or not, are the reason why you can stand up, fling open the French windows and smile at the sun after you topple out of bed at 3pm.

It’s traditional to start at the beginning; Neil Hannon does, and I will. The opener is ‘Bath’. Those of you well versed in the norms of rock ‘n’ roll songwriting may be taken aback to learn that the first lyrics in this song is “Rub a dub/It’s time for a scrub.” But this isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, it’s Scott Walker with a ticklestick and a fez, and ‘Bath’ is an invigorating, inexcusably sexy alarm call.

The day continues with some early-morning exercise (‘Going Downhill Fast’), a trip to the library (‘The Booklovers’) and a light lunch in ‘The Seafood Song’, in which Neil rather saucily and jauntily sings the praises of not only marine animals (“If there’s a fishy smell/I’ll be there”) – come back Sid James, all is forgiven if not forgotten), but also fishermen everywhere, those who “soak their socks for me.” Delicious.

These are mere appetisers, though. The real cordon bleu stuff arrives in the form of ‘Geronimo’, a short film (as are most of these songs) in which a young loving couple sprint home in the pouring rain with “nothing vaguely waterproof to wear:” and, simply, dry each other off. It’s about love, companionship, mutual trust, dampness. It’s a picture riddled with tenderness, and it will fill your heart.

‘Don’t Look Down’ is perfect – the story of an argument, taking place on a Ferris wheel he was afraid to board (“Old-fashioned Ferris wheels are no big deal/They’re just big wheels with chairs/So don’t be scared/Set yourself free/She tells me it’s alright/To open up my eyes/She holds on to my hand/And the clouds float by”, with a God he doesn’t believe in but who makes him suffer anyway by perching him many miles above the ground for longer than most vertigo sufferers like. Funderland, fundamentalism and, again, astonishing affection in one gleaming package; there’s nothing else like it.

And there’s ‘The Summerhouse’, which is Five Go To Finniston Farm set to music, only more poignant (the oboe aches), and is maybe unhealthily nostalgic for a man in his early twenties but then, I’m in my even earlier twenties and it gets me there, so I’ll shut up.

The day/album is rounded off by ‘The Drinking Song’, ‘Ten Seconds To Midnight’ and ‘Tonight We Fly’, which veer between raucousness and anhedonia in the space of not very many minutes. Then, a snippet of Dryden about living for today, and that’s it.

It’s shocking that this man is only twenty-three years old; it will be more shocking if he isn’t a living legend by the age of twenty-four. He makes music that beams or grins ruefully rather than snarls, and sometimes you need that. So if you’re still in the dark, here’s how it is – this is a record to wake up and sleep to, a record to grin and weep to, a record to breathe to. Much obliged, Neil.


Niall Crumlish
Hot Press 04/05/1994