a short site about The Divine Comedy

This month's guest reviewer: The Divine Comedy

Refined and retiring, that's Neil Hannon. Right. So slagging off indie singles would be beneath him. Wrong.

"I'm feeling a bit peevish," warns The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon as he beckons us into the Setanta label's informal nerve-centre, unglamorously located under a south London railway-arch. A slight unshaven figure in anonymous brown jumperings, Neil doesn't loo, much like the polished boulevardier in shades who appears on his record sleeves. As one of the few custodians of manners and finesse in the beery arena of pop, he's entitled to kick back a little of his time off. "The problem is, when I listen to singles I listen to them like an A&R man," he adds uneasily, settling in his plastic chair and sparking up the afternoon's sole cigarette. Still, after going Top 20 with 'Something For The Weekend', the composer of the theme from Father Ted has been hard at the interviews. The last one, with a German whose beard and hair were different colours, would be rum enough to put anyone off being force-fed the latest in pop.

The Robster: 'papery-thin'
The Robster: 'papery-thin'
First up's the sparkling Robbie Williams frolic, 'Freedom' (Chrysalis). Immediately, nervous tedium sets in. "A more papery-thin sound than George Michael had. What do you think he's trying to say covering this, eh?" adds the wry fop archly. "I admire George greatly. Never listen to his records, but he definitively tried." And Robbo? "I never want to hear it again as long as I live."

One we roll to Nas' 'If I Ruled The World' (Columbia), and Neil starts looking like Godfrey off Dad's Army. "Erm, good beat. What's he saying? I s'pose that's the style, though. Gives me the willies. I'll take pretend rap any day. This leaves me colder than Harry Secombe's version. Get out the long stick with the curly bit on the end and yank the bugger off."

The Boo Radleys' 'What's In The Box (See Whatcha Got)' (Creation) roars out and our retiring tweedy guy shudders and rattles his cup and saucer. "Quite amiable tune, rather strange too. It's got indie-guitar rock energy, but rather meaningless, not that you can tell on a first listen."
Such lucidity has no place in Julian Cope's 'I Come From Another Planet, Baby' (Echo). As the Krautrock/leyline-fried noise segues into a ringing 'phone, Setanta's answer to Noel Coward asks, "You know what I am looking for? A song. And this is quite nice, 'Ba-hy-bee', I dig them drums. He's not afraid to go beyond the realms of human endurance for the sake of his art, and I like that."

Not so Dodgy. "Oh no," Neil mutters through gritted teeth. 'Good Enough' (A&M) may be to common taste, but not Neil's. "In the name of God! Can't sing, can't play, look awful and they write dire, infuriating songs. Oh God, this makes me wanna throw," he voice taking outraged fruity cadences, like his records. "How can their fans echo these mediocre sentiments? I don't like being so terribly adversarial, but you need a reason to make music. Just enjoying life is not a good enough reason!"

Thankfully, The Cardigans' lissome ATV Swede-pop 'Lovefool' (Polydor) restores the balance. "She's dead cute, her," muses Neil. "Their last LP was lovely easy-listening, but they've really rubbing it in here, so easy it's almost unbearable, which I like, but they mean it. Slightly melancholic but you could groove to it. Honkhonk!"

Such jubilation is, inevitable, short-lived. East 17's 'Someone To Love' (London) trundles on in a welter of acoustic guitars and strings. "Big trousers, beards," Neil freeforms. "They might do a 'real people' video for this instead of having millions of sexy models - lots of ugly people proving they're beautiful too. Terribly MOR, under-the-top, which is unfortunate because when they blast on all pop cylinders, they're great." Responding to the rumour that Tony Mortimer's lavvy is full of mirrors, Neil's disgusted. "You don't want to see yourself in a million dimensions while shitting!"

Heads are still shaking when The Charlatans' fierce slab of Chemicals-produced rawk 'One To Another' (Beggars Banquet) roars into life. Everybody likes them, don't they? They've lived their whole life on that '69/'89 beat," says Neil playing air guitar. "That's stinky, groovy piano and bass. They've got an amazing naivete, even though this is pretty evil. But so what? You continually beg. Good for getting shitfaced to, but I wouldn't have it in the house. Next!"

The 'Swear: 'laughable, at least'
The 'Swear: 'laughable, at least'
Pausing to order a McChicken burger, even though he preferred the old formulation over the next recipe, Neil admits to a very limited CD collection. "If you get obsessed you start regurgitating, I got away with Michael Nyman and Scott Walker myself." Hence, the rompingly banal Menswear's 'We Love You' (Laurel) freezes Neil into silence. "Lord!" he finally splutters, "Are they showing their musical side?" This is sub-everything that's ever been sub-The Beatles. It's like the Bay City Rollers, but that's unfair to them. Listen to that Yamaha synth-piano. At least it's laughable, though. I can't help being an elitist snob wanker, that record still made me very irritable and annoyed.

"I have a desperate need to hear something great. I don't like being men to people, they're all trying hard," he says, testily scraping the cheese off his burger with the box it came in. Neil prks up when George Michael's 'Spinning The Wheel' (Virgin) is touted. "Hmm, swingbeat. 'Faith' was a genuinely massive record, but this is just cool elevator music. Damn!" Neil's so disappointed he accidentally spits out a tiny projectile of chicken burger. Would he write any of these bans' names on his schoolbag? "I used to write 'Marx Is God' on mine, to annoy people, but they ignored me. Never got my head beaten in once."

He leaves us with one thought: "I thank God for pop music - but I don't have to like it. If there's no record to make, don't do it. There's too many bands and most of them are shit."

Craig: 'I can feel a rush...'
Craig: 'I can feel a rush...'
Neil Hannon's singles of the month
Cursh 'Luv'd Up' (Telstar)
Crush: 'kicks shit'
Crush: 'kicks shit'
The Innerzine Orchestra 'Bug In A Bassbin' (Mo'wax)
Neil inexplicably perks up at the re-release of the Carl Craig-produced 1992 slice of seminal ur-jungle, 'Bug In A Bassbin'. "This is actually original. I admit I only venture onto dancefloors once every blue moon, in fact the last time I did was at my cousin's wedding, but I like the feel of this very much. Can I discern some strings coming in there? You can hear the thought in this. It's clearly not been made a lazy person… it's building, I can feel a rush coming on! Listen to that dischord. Chewn! And this,' he wolfishly smiles, wielding 'Luv'd Up' by Crush, "definitively doesn't make me want to say 'There's no point in talking about this, to hell with it!'" The ebullient Shampoo-Tamla of the female PJ & Duncan has Neil doing the first proper dance of the afternoon and actually singing along. "It's been done a million times before, just like those horrible guitar records, but it's a well-arranged good tune and it sounds live. Quite frankly, it kicks shit out of most of the things I've heard this afternoon."

Ian Harrison
Select 09/1996