a short site about The Divine Comedy


Hail Neil Hannon, son of Bishop of Clogher, musical raconteur and wonder worker at the epicentre of The Divine Comedy. "Promenade" is not rock, and not much like pop, either. It is too good to be either. Imagine John Cale singing with the Michael Nyman Band. Imagine arguements with God, literary reminiscences, meditations on seafood, dreams of French arthouse movies and nobly drunk carousing. Imagine a record that's not afraid to do it's piano practice in public, that spends 45 minutes teetering right on the brink of quaint, embarrassing, pretentious, stupidity.... and frequently falls in. That's "Promenade". It's great.

Where The Divine Comedy's esoteric gem of last year, "Liberation", alarmingly fitted from chamber music diversions to Europop stomps, all with a distinct undertow of melancholy and self -doubt, this years model is much more confident and cohesive. Gone are the dark, fractured dissertations on lust and inadequacy to be replaced by an epic sense of playfulness. So "The Booklovers" flagrantly pillages A House's "Endless Arté with a litany of authors' names and an attendant host of silly voices. And "A Drinking Song" staggers along, giggling in the face of hallucinatory pink elephants and toasting all the French fans who worshipped "Liberation", with Hannon summing up all the ruffled hauteur of Richard E Grant in Withnail & I. Marvellous, darlings.

In it's own little way, "Promenade" is a phenomenally audacious record, chiefly because it dares to be straight: to be straight laced, to be so proper it sounds positively improper in the midst of a million rock stars all trying desperately hard to be debauched. There's a style here, urbane rather than urban, that's oddly affecting, often thanks to the gorgeous baroque sweep of the strings that permeate every track.

Hear "The Summerhouse", a pulsing, rose-tinted tale of lost innocence , or the frenetic, sky walking rhapsody "Tonight we Fly", and you'll find Hannon flaunting a lush, glorious ambition that deserves to put down its pipe, kick off its slippers, emerge from the drawing room and take on the world. And even if "Don't Look Down" steals almost every one of it's luxuriantly gilded moves from Nyman's score for The Draughtman's Contract, it still stands - with Hannon challenging God (if he exists) to prove he exists - as a magnificent, swelling piece de resistance.

Whether "Promenade" actually heralds a dashing young movement of Regency bucks remains to be seen, of course. Whatever - even on the grounds of sheer poncy bravado alone, you can't help but love it. "When I was just a kid/ I was free to do what I wanted to/ But I never ever did," Hannon muses winningly at one point, forever the most decent and defective of rebels. He means it, ma'am.

John Mulvey
NME 02/04/1994