a short site about The Divine Comedy


“I’ve always liked strings in pop music,” admits Neil Hannon, the man behind the Divine Comedy. “But it’s against my better judgment, because strings are often used in pop to cover up what is really just a boring tune. So if you can possibly avoid it, it’s worth shying away from.” But before you heed this advice, consider that the Divine Comedy’s latest, Casanova (their first U.S. release and the third for U.K. indie Setanta), is awash in sweeping strings, soaring brass, tubular bells, celeste, timpani… you get the idea.

“When I use strings - or any orchestration - I make sure that they’re there for a reason,” Hannon insists. “A lot of bands will say, ‘Well, I think a large church pipe organ would be good on this track,’ but it’s more to do with creating a mood or atmosphere, rather than a musical thing. If you use an instrument, you should have a musical reason for it, so it’s not just simply a pop song, with strings stuck on. It’s one thing to use these instruments, but it’s another thing to use them properly.”

Hannon is no newcomer to orchestral pop - a post-grunge movement toward fuller, cleaner arrangements that also includes artists such as Eric Matthews and the High Llamas. The Irish native started composing his brand of baroque pop more than six years ago. This latest collection of songs sounds something like Scott Walker covering Pulp, with liberal flavorings of pomp, romance, and cheek.

The budget for Casanova was big enough to bring an entire 40-piece orchestra into Abbey Road for a couple of numbers. “We were in and out of the studio for about seven months, which is six months longer than anything I’d done before,” Hannon smiles. “During mixing we were spending four or five days on one track, which is ridiculous. Suddenly I thought, ‘Oh, dear, we’re turning into Def Leppard!’” Not a chance.

Dev Sherlock
Musician 12/1996