a short site about The Divine Comedy

Interview

Can it really be five albums since The Divine Comedy were indie-schmindie REM copycat chancers from Enniskillen? Now the toast of the international playboy set, Neil Hannon is The Divine Comedy, the choice of a new generation. As Fin de Siècle hits the shops with its tales of Princess Di overload and end-of-the-millennium pychosis, Leagues listens to ‘Moon River’ with Mr Hannon.

The scene. A perfectly lit corner in a quaint guest-house on the periphery of Dublin’s city centre. Two black leather armchairs, a foot table and a glimmering red lampshade. Beyond the Victorian wood panelling, the quintessential piano-bar sounds of ‘Moon River’ waft and linger above the head of a small man in an impeccably tailored suit. He is The Divine Comedy superintendent Neil Hannon and he’s waxing lyrical about Fin de Siècle, his fifth, most elaborate, ambitious and downright poshest album to date.

Neil is getting slightly carried away though. Maybe it’s the setting, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the Guinness...

“I see the music style in a very visual way, sort of like a Gustav Klimt painting, very brash and big, lots of gold, a bit of green and a bit of brown. Very rich, almost decadent in its breath but it’s a bit more puritanical in some ways.”

And then....PLONK!

The pianist hits a bum note, shatters the illusion and stops Neil in full flight. He scrunches up his face like an artist in real pain. “I wouldn’t mind but he’s not even playing it in the right key. I’ve a good mind to go over and play it myself!” Divine intervention anyone?

In fairness to Neil’s grandiloquent self-analysis, it’s all the more credible when you actually hear the record. Fin de Siècle begins where his last, most successful venture Casanova left off, on the snappy baroque pop of ‘Generation Sex’ (the first single release), and finishes on his most elevated pair of aces to date, the windswept West End apocalypse of ‘Here Comes The Flood’ and the feelgood consciousness of ‘Sunrise’. The album is indeed The Divine Comedy’s most symphonic opus to date.

“This album has been the most adventurous project ever, by a long way. And it went so much more smoothly than anything we’ve done before because we knew what we had to do and we knew we had to do it properly. The music is probably much more Fin de Siecle than the lyrics, but the term really refers to the late 19th Century artistic goings on. The original idea was to make a sort of ten song, small, dark album called Fin de Siècle but when I came round to really going for it I thought “Small? Small? Why small? Let’s get a choir! And an orchestra! Let’s make it a big one!”

The aforementioned ‘Generation Sex’ has stirred a little controversy across the water with its references to the late Princess Diana, more specifically the circumstances and affects of her death. “What I wanted to say I said as concisely as possible in the song. The first half of the verse is just what happened. The second half I suppose you could say is the (said in mock-drama voice) ‘controversial’ bit, but it’s not really controversial.

“The great general public en masse went mental. I don’t deny that they mourn the passing of someone who was dear to them, I personally have no opinion on the subject of Diana and I’m by no means a monarchist. But it was just the hypocrisy of certain people blaming the tabloids when they were the people who bought the tabloids. And the reason they knew so much about Diana in the first place was through the tabloids. And they keep buying them afterwards.

“As an odd little sideline to that though, myself and my girlfriend went to Paris a week after the time of Diana’s death to see U2 in Le Parc de Princes. It was the best night of my life because I got to meet the guys and we partied with them all night - but that’s not the issue. But I found myself in a limo with The Edge, flying top speed through the streets of Paris, police escort, paparazzi, one week after the Diana thing thinking ‘hold on a minute’”.

Pretty much every Divine Comedy album has taken a leap of some description. It’s in Neil’s nature to instinctively think big, and then bigger again. “Who knows though, if I was still doing the old indie-guitar thing I might’ve been in the biggest band in the world”, he slips in with a wry smile. But Neil knows better not to omit the essential “But I doubt it!” at the end of that statement.

If anything, Neil is inspired by a search for this elusive, strange music that he’s never heard before, music that encapsulates the magnitude and sophistication of classical, but in the context of pop. “Basically, yes. Scott Walker was my first sort of way into that. And from him to (Jacques) Brel and Brel was getting close but it still wasn’t quite it. Michael Nyman was another thing, classical music but it rocks. But I still couldn’t find it. And I think what I’m basically doing is trying to make the music that I can’t find.

“I’m very easily influenced and I don’t really want to be. I don’t listen to terribly much music to be honest. Especially if you’ve been in the studio all day or rehearsing all day and your ears are being bombarded with music, the last thing you want to do is go home and listen to some more. You want peace and quiet. I don’t really get the chance to sit down and listen to a record. But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”

And as an off-key ‘Moon River’ starts up again for the umpteenth time, Neil concludes his point. “Music is all around us anyway and”, as he nods towards the piano, “I think that’s a testament to it”.


Muse