Many Thanks Mr Hannon: The Divine Comedy’s “A Secret History”, Hot Press, 1999

The Divine Comedy: A Secret History, The Best of The Divine Comedy (Setanta).

The genius of Neil Hannon lies in his ability to take the most mundane situations and transform them into the most glorious of reasons for living.

I’ve had quite a few problems with his band’s last couple of LPs, but for all that this particular gift continues to shine through: the man who tricks a nation in 1999 into finding public transport sexy is to be feared and admired in equal measure.

It was Promenade‘s lyrical evocation of the simple pleasures of a single day by the sea that reeled me in. It’s still my favourite album by anyone: the record honestly glows. ‘Summerhouse’ is here, and ‘Tonight We Fly’; pop at its most warm-hearted.

Astonishingly, ‘Don’t Look Down’ isn’t, but Liberation is well-represented by ‘Lucy’, pristine as ever, as well as ‘Your Daddy’s Car’ and ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear Of The Pollen Count’. What these songs have in common with the later, more embittered likes of ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’ and ‘Songs Of Love’ is that they all throw down the gauntlet and go out and live.

Exactly the same, but more obviously, there’s the drenching unguarded abandon of ‘In Pursuit Of Happiness’, or ‘National Express’ – a song about nothing more than the delight to be taken in the company of other people. That Neil Hannon can be called snide when his biggest hit is so blatantly benevolent, beggars belief: even his hardest and coldest moments – take ‘Generation Sex’ – have a dash and a verve about them that steer them miles away from misanthropy.

Two flaws in this record, other than the ‘Don’t Look Down’ debacle: ‘Gin Soaked Boy’, a new song, is barely a B-side, while the hollow bombast of ‘The Certainty Of Chance’, emblematic of a recent slide into over-elaborate arrangements and cerebrality at the expense of simple soul, should have been banished long since.

When Neil sings “I must break free from that part of me/That values the art over the humanity” in ‘Too Young To Die’, I hope that’s what’s in his head.

Otherwise, I could pick holes in The Divine Comedy’s songs all night, but only in the same way as you can pick holes in the personalities of your parents: it doesn’t mean you love them any less.

More power to you and many thanks, Mr Hannon.

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