a short site about The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy - focus

Ahh, the terrific, terrible world of the Divine Comedy, wherein the choirboy son of a Church Bishop couples his dual fascinations of literature and romance with lavish orchestral arrangements and a mercilessly dry wit. Dressed in a suit of fine linen as he sings of love, lust and revenge, bon vivant Neil Hannon offers Britain a sophisticated respite from all that rude rock music. christelle MasureElegance against ignorance! Difference against indifference! Wit against shit!” he proclaimed on his breakthrough classic, Casanova, and thousands of pint-toasting Britons took up the mantle, and heeded the charge.

Originally the Divine Comedy was a trio, but Hannon took the reins when his chums returned to school, leaving him to forge his own wicked vision informed by his heroes Scott Walker, Kraftwerk, William Wordsworth and Mantovani. Accompanied by the ample talents of keyboardist/arranger Joby Talbot, he proceeded to tailor an elaborate world of harpsichords, lavish strings, French horns and organs. Their debut, 1993’s Liberation, features such evocative titles as ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear Of The Pollen Count’ and ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’. With a fine pop sense, Hannon seemed a full-born media personality--a unique character in early ’90s England, perhaps too unique. Promenade (1994) was equally impressive, its opening salvo of crashing waves, stark piano and cello figures announcing Hannon’s return with a serious note. And who could resist such preposterous tracks as ‘The Booklovers’ or the overwrought ‘Geronimo’? Still too precious to charm the masses, Hannon continued to refine his unique approach.

Whether from timing or savvy calculation, Casanova catapulted Hannon to national success. Appearing on magazine covers as an evil playboy, light on his feet and fast with his tongue, intent on deflowering both young girls and ripe older ladies, he was suddenly a sensation. And deservedly so, as his gifts coalesce on Casanova. Depicting a savage world of lust and despair, our hero searches through a maze of one-nighters, finding himself alone at the end. Graced with captivating melodies and Hannon’s hilarious wit, Casanova is a dark treatise on the male ego.

Since Casanova, there have been two more Divine Comedy releases, 1997’s A Short Album About Love and 1998’s Fin De Siecle, both featuring even more grandiose instrumentation (including full orchestras and choirs) and both continuing Hannon’s streak of commercial success in the U.K. Will American recognition ever arrive for this very British artist? Hannon’s recent signing with EMI suggests it’s not completely out of the question.

Ken Micallef
Launch, 1998-1999