a short site about The Divine Comedy

Casanova

Like most tortured artists, Neil Hannon is filled with anguish and frustration. But Hannon, the Irishman who is the Divine Comedy, has little use for the raging noise of the typical angst-ridden rocker. No, his pain comes with its very own orchestra – the better to underscore guileful songs that could serve as a soundtrack for teatime at the Noel Coward Appreciation Society.

Hannon nurtured his savage wit and cabaret popcraft with two previous albums of modest chamber arrangements; now, with Casanova, he and conductor/pianist Joby Talboy have unveiled a cheeky, grandiose masterpiece. On a foundation of guitar and piano, Casanova build to a florid musicality that reflects its thematic conceit: It’s a song cycle, inspired (accord to a BBC-sounding narrator at the record’s end) “by the writings of the 18th-century Venetian gambler, eroticist and spy.”

So here’s Hannon, armed with (among other things) trumpets, violins and a Scott Walker-derived croon, leaving behind a loveless, voluptuous trail of broken hearts and torn peignoirs. His lyrics, drizzling with metaphorical bluster (“Carefully cut the straps of the body traps / And set the captives free”) and plain-spoken lust (“I’d rather die than be deprived / Of Wonderbras and thunder thighs”), are bathed in melodramatic crescendos and melodic swoons that straddle the line between Brit-pop glamour and music-hall sing-alongs. On the jaunty ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’, Hannon looks to Michael Caine’s famous ‘60s film character and realize he’s a bit of a cad… and, what’s more, he likes it. Yet at the same time, he hates himself for embracing the role.

For it’s really quite a lonely business, the ‘eroticist’ thing. In the end, Hannon’s orchestral maneuvers in the dark are riddled with self-contempt and emptiness. When he declared on the majestic and nasty ‘Frog Princess’ that “I don’t love anybody / That stuff is just a waste of time,” it’s both a big truth and a big lie. Especially since the next line finds him leering, “Your place or mine?”

4/5

Jason Cohen
Rolling Stone US, 17/04/1997