The Divine Comedy: What Makes Neil Hannon Such A Huge Talent

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I’m going to admit it – I came to The Divine Comedy relatively late in life, which might explain my almost evangelical need to share my enthusiasm with others. It was in January that I heard the most stunning song on my local radio station. Beautiful, melodic and haunting, its lyrics made me stop what I was doing and actually listen :

You chased the sun around
the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth Became obscured
And left you on your own And in the shade
An English lady of a certain age


I promptly Googled, Wikipedia’d and finally YouTubed The Divine Comedy , and thus started a musical love story that has continued throughout the years.

Here’s the thing. Neil Hannon is the son of a Northern Irish bishop, and chose the name The Divine Comedy after seeing the book on his father’s bookshelf. He freely admits to not having read it at the time, but must have caught up at some point as literary references run throughout his work – one of his earliest singles was Wordsworth put to music, for goodness sake! Despite not being classically trained, he has an innate understanding of music and composition, drawing on influences as varied as Scott Walker, Michael Nyman, Jacques Brel and Bach. He’s got an extraordinary voice that puts far more successful ‘singers’ to shame, never letting him down, even live. But it’s his lyrics that make my jaw drop. Intelligent, witty, sensitive, wry – only he can make you want to laugh out loud one minute and burst into tears the next.

Below please find my top ten – in no particular order – favourite The Divine Comedy songs and performances. What does anyone else think?

A Lady of a Certain Age (Victory for the Comic Muse)

This was the song that started my love affair, about a lady, getting on a bit, who lives on the Cote d’Azur. Elsewhere on You Tube you’ll find the recorded version, but this, I think, is a particularly lovely recording in Paris.

Our Mutual Friend (Absent Friends)

This has to be my favourite of all his performances – what a man, what a song, what a note to end on!

National Express (Fin de Siecle)

Probably his most successful single – a wonderfully jaunty song with a nicely dark video.

Lucy (Liberation)

Just stunning, gorgeous. Wordsworth to music, and possibly my ultimate Desert Island Disc.  A part of me would like to change my name to Lucy just so they can play this at my funeral.  Weird, I know.

Europop (Liberation)

Very different from the album version, but I just love this performance, and how the song goes from chirpy ditty to something much darker.

The Summerhouse (Promenade)

Taken from the same concert (in Paris 2008), I just love the passion, the memories and the underlying sense of loss.

Middle Class Heroes (Casanova)

Just love the jaunty/dark mix again. Not to mention that voice.

The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count (Liberation and rerecorded for A Secret History)

Seriously, how many pop stars would dare to write about hay-fever and include the line: ‘So blow your nose, baby’? One of those infectious, smile-inducing numbers you can’t get out of your head.

Diva Lady (Victory for the Comic Muse)

Just glorious – funny, clever and a video that always makes me laugh.

Edward the Confessor

Unbelievably, this doesn’t even feature on an album, but I think it was once a B-side. Gorgeous, heart-breaking and romantic.

Trafalgar

Here’s one last treat for you – it’s not that I can’t count, I just couldn’t resist. Taken from the BBC’s The Culture Show , it’s Neil Hannon’s analysis of the perfect song for the Eurovision Song Contest – a cheesy annual event we Europeans have to put up with. Even when he’s parodying something (which he frequently does), he does it miles better, and the resulting song’s laugh-out-loud genius.

There are many, many songs I’ve missed here: Tonight We Fly, Gin-Soaked Boy, The Certainty of Chance, Commuter Love, Your Daddy’s Car, When the Lights go out all over Europe – I could go on, and on.

What does anyone think of my line up, and what other favourites are out there?

STOP PRESS: Mr. Hannon's masterful side project, The Duckworth Lewis Method, the world's first concept album about, er, cricket, has been nominated for a prestigious Ivor Novello award! UPDATE: OK it didn't win but it's still a fantastic album, even if you don't give two hoots about cricket.

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Comments 14 comments

tmmvds 6 years ago

Great to see your list here, and find someone who is as obsessed about Neil as I am :) If you want to compare our favourite DC songs, you can check my list here: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/Tiia/hats_off_to_han...


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 6 years ago from South of France Author

Thanks, tmmvds, I love your list! (Did a Stumble Upon recommend). Am planning a 'best lyrics' hub myself...yes, totally obsessed! Counting the days for the new album to arrive in the post - not long to go now.


Wiwia 6 years ago

Hi there! Glad to see good people are finally falling in love with Neil. Don't miss out on any acoustic version of Bad Ambassador and, if you can, get hold his version of Brick (with Ben Folds Five) from... 2004, I think. It's really worth the time.

C u!


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 6 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Wiwia, thanks for commenting. I'd never heard of Brick so will definitely check it out. His version of The Smiths 'There is a light that never goes out' is, well, divine and, I think, better than the original.


epiphone 6 years ago

What a very interesting choice of songs here - some very obscure. It's so difficult for me to come up with a top 10 divine comedy song list, there are so many. I fall in love with each album on a continual basis. I have currently returned to Fin de Siecle, after hearing a sublime live piano version of Generation Sex at the DC gig in Paris this week. Congratulations on your enthusiasm for Neil Hannon and for bringing him to a wider audience. In the UK he is generally only known for National Express - people are missing out on so much more!


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Riviera Rose 6 years ago from South of France Author

Thanks Epiphone, glad you enjoyed the selection! I've been able to hear the older albums since I wrote this hub, so keep thinking I should write another... He's such a brilliant, versatile musician and I never tire of listening to him. I really envy you going to the concert, something I've yet to do. Sigh.


Mar 5 years ago

Nice, I too recently discovered Mr. Neil. Or rather, I saw his National Express on MTV about 10 years ago and I've been humming to it to and fro since then. I was just a year ago that I really started to look into Neil's music and were totally smitten.

And for a small correction: the album is known as Victory for the Comic Muse, not Common.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Mar,

Thanks for your comment - I keep meaning to do a follow up hub...one of these days I'll finally get round to it.

And thanks for the correction - I've changed it now! I even own the CD yet still managed to get it wrong. Oops.


pat94 5 years ago

Neil Hannon is fantastic. But there are other artists following (or sharing?) his musical path IMO which I think is a good sign like Jens Lekman (Sweden) and Richard Kapp (from Austria). You should really check them out if you like TDC.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Pat94,

Thanks for the tip - I hadn't heard of either of those artists so should check them out. Hate to be disloyal to Neil, though... ;)


Greenthumb 4 years ago

'Mastermind' or 'Lost Property' from Regeneration - which must be the most under-rated album ever made.


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Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Greenthumb, yes, I totally agree with you about Regeneration - very different from his other work but there are songs there I just love: Eye of the Needle probably a favourite. And yes, Lost Property. And Timestretched. And Love What You Do...


tattuwurn 2 years ago

A hub on Neil Hannon! Oh jolly good.

I only have a few TDC albums, and the latest ones at that (Victory For The Comic Muse, Bang Goes The Knighthood, and Live at the Somerset House). I wish I could have the earlier releases. And still in wait for his new album hehehehe.

@pat94 Jens and Richard Kapp are both great too -- Kapp is obviously influenced by Neil. :)

Thank you Riviera Rose for featuring Neil in your hub... he deserves to be far more recognized. :)


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 2 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Tattuwurn, thanks for your comment and I couldn't agree more, Mr Hannon does indeed deserve more recognition. I haven't seen him live yet but would love to one day.

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