a short site about The Divine Comedy

So Divine, the hand of Godrich

From Radiohead, hair-shirted masters if angst-rock, to The Divine Comedy, velvet-suited purveyors of witty lyrics in the Cole Porter tradition, is a long, long way. But that was the journey made last year by the producer of the moment, Nigel Godrich.

One week he was helping Radiohead make the bafflingly obscure album Kid A; the next, he was working with The Divine Comedy’s leader Neil Hannon, who not only wants people to understand him, but tries to make them laugh with lines like “Even the barmen / knows extracts from Carmen”.

Hannon says hiring Godrich was the best move he ever made and you can see why. If The Divine Comedy had a fault over the past few albums, it was that they didn’t seem very interested in music. The words were the thing: the backing track was just there to wash the witticism down.

The hand of Godrich can be detected immediately. For the first time, The Divine Comedy sound like a band.

Or rather they sound like two bands; themselves, with extra instruments and stronger rhythms – and Radiohead. A couple of tracks display the qualities that made Radiohead famous – stadium-fold arrangements and raw but unearthly vocals – making for a strange blend of intimacy and grandeur.

A whole album of this might be a bit pointless, but in moderation it makes a good counterpoint to Hannon’s more Hannonish moments. And there are still plenty of these.

On a song called Eye Of The Needle, echoing Jesus, he observes: “The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German, completely at odds with the theme of the sermon” – which is not just clever, but nicely conversational.

Best of all is Mastermind, a song about sanity and alienation with a stirring melody. Hannon sings higher and rougher than usual, almost resembling Bono, and when he alludes to drugs it is with distastes rather than nostalgia: “Every nose is a vacuum cleaner / In the loved-up London arena.”

Time de Lisle
Mail on Sunday 15/04/2001