a short site about The Divine Comedy

London Brixton Academy

There's a very fine line between love and wanting to garrotte someone with their own tie, and all things considered, Neil Hannon might want to try the casual, open-necked look next time out.

This mole-like figure in the geometrically perfect suit, looking like he's just burrowed out of a theatre production of Wind In The Willows and onto the Brixton stage, is still the man who tried too hard. The man who seemed too wry. The man who not only knew too much, but insisted on reciting lists of Scott Walker rarities to prove the point. Listen to the intro tape, swivelling between self-conscious fragments of Kraftwerk and Prodigy and Peggy Lee, look at the huge Klimt-print backdrop, and it's more like being in the bedroom of a young man carving out a new image in the first week of his Classics course than basking in the presence of well-established pop greatness.

Just as you twitch to tighten the tourniquet, Hannon pokes his arm through the gaping holes in his own cool, waggles his fingers, and makes himself all the more loveable. "This is insane," he mutters over the crowd's happy screaming. "I shouldn't be here" - and it's clear here is the perfect example of a life changed by pop music; an initiate into the finest records of the past 40 years, yet still incredulous that anyone would take him seriously as one of the in-crowd. So he has to send himself up before someone else does, using the 'nul points, Bulgaria' stridency of 'Europop' to dance like Niles Crane after a night of passion with Daphne, or dedicating 'Commuter Love' "to my chick" and making everybody laugh, well aware he might have a 'girlfriend' - a 'lover' at a push - but certainly never a "chick".

There's even a startling humility when Mark Eitzel, who earlier occupied an unenviable support slot with customary flammable grace, reappears to sing his own 'Johnny Mathis' Feet' accompanied by the band. Hannon shuffles, mutters about living gods, and looks nervous at this burst of raw, hessian-hatted reality. For good reason.

Because, for all the alleged seriousness of 'Fin De Si├Ęcle', The Divine Comedy excel at the unreal, at the ridiculous let's-pretend, whether sharpening the knife for bedpost-notching on 'Becoming More Like Alfie', turning into a Soho basement Flanders & Swann for 'Something For The Weekend', or crooning through herring-and-suicide theatrics of 'Sweden'. It's only the encores where true seriousness seeps in, the black-armband lament of 'London Irish' followed by the rippling nostalgia of 'Songs Of Love'. "That song was about the shit you get in London," sighs Neil in between, "and this one is about the shit you get in Ireland. You can't win." And that, maybe, is the lesson of The Divine Comedy - doomed if you do and doomed if you don't. The outsiders pushed to the inside, not quite knowing how to behave. A man who knew too much but who, somehow, didn't know that.