a short site about The Divine Comedy

French version

When The Lights Go Out All Over Europe

Lyrics & Music: Neil Hannon

Published by: Damaged Pop Music / BMG Music Publishing Ltd.

Originally interpreted by: The Divine Comedy

Covered by: The Divine Comedy & Duke Special / Pablo Jubany


To see the lyrics, click on the name of the version you are interested in (on the left).




‘When the Lights…’ is about how much Neil likes French movies (more than American movies). When he went back to Enniskillen in 1992, he never left his room but to watch some old French film during the night.

The song has been regularly played with almost every Divine Comedy line-ups: band, piano solo, quartet, orchestra.

The song starts with an extract from ‘Commonplace’ by James Joyce, followed by a quotation from a speech by Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the First World War: “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Then, three films are refered to:
  • Jules And Jim, with Jeanne Moreau (from “Jeanne can’t choose” to “little girls”)
  • Claire’s Knee (from “who play” to “Claire’s knee”)
  • Breathless, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg (from “And when” to “reason why”). This quote refers to a passage in the film where the heroin, who’s a journalist, interviews a writer. It echoes the ‘Booklovers’’ “names will live forever”. The meaning is that an artist, here a writer, becomes immortal when his works are famous and are known by generations by people. Thus, once he’s reached fame and recognition, he wants nothing but to die.

The dialogue in the middle also comes from Breathless. Rather than a dialogue (which implies two people talking to each other), it is two soliloquies, for the characters seem to be thinking aloud. The scene is the climax of the film.

Within Promenade, the song is placed between ‘Don’t Look Down’ and ‘The Summerhouse’: after going to the fair, the two lovers go to the pictures (quite typical, isn’t it?). As said earlier, the song echoes ‘The Booklovers’ upon the theme of the artist’s immortality.