As ever, Neil Hannon’s way with a tune is magnificent.
Andrew Mueller 2010
Ten albums into a (largely) distinguished career, it might have been hoped that The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon could have resolved the struggle for his soul that has defined and dogged his progress.
Divine Comedy albums are always an arm-wrestle between two incompatible personas. One is the elegant and witty balladeer, a precocious hybrid of Scott Walker and Randy Newman, heard on such commanding cuts as The Dogs & the Horses and Sunrise. The other is the insufferably bumptious japester queasily evocative of Gilbert O’Sullivan, most notably culpable for the enragingly jaunty sing-along National Express (which, rather depressingly, remains The Divine Comedy’s biggest hit).
Bang Goes the Knighthood finds Hannon still struggling to accommodate both mutually deleterious instincts. Vexingly, the wrong one gets the upper hand. Too much of this collection represents Hannon at his worst: smug, trivial and infuriatingly self-amused. At the Indie Disco and the title-track are both trite swipes at wretchedly obvious targets (young people are socially awkward and musically unadventurous, we learn, while aristocrats are apparently drawn to risky sexual adventures). And The Complete Banker is actually as cringe-inducingly ham-fisted as its title.
The likeable whimsy of Can You Stand Upon One Leg asks, “Can you write a silly song? It’s harder than you think”. This may be true, but Hannon’s efforts in this direction do little but demonstrate that some challenges are best left unmet. Someone of his vast musical gifts must be able to tell that his best melodies and arrangements invariably accompany his better lyrics: for, as ever, the tunes accompanying those words not written to raise cheap laughs are magnificent.
Have You Ever Been in Love is a joyous descendent of Perfect Lovesong – the glorious highlight of 2001’s Regeneration; When a Man Cries may even be Hannon’s finest moment yet, a thoughtful evocation of masculine vulnerability. Hannon summons a brooding symphony behind it, illuminated by the tinkling of a music box. It could have come from 1997’s A Short Album About Love – which, not coincidentally, remains The Divine Comedy’s least amusing and most compelling album.