sound in the dark
Ah, The Divine Comedy. Creators of my first ever album (Fin De Siecle on cassette) and my favourite band until I discovered Belle & Sebastian (sorry Neil). From the scattered whimsy of Liberation, through the perfect baroque pop concept albums Promenade and Casanova to the darker, subtler and analytical Fin De Siecle I have been awed by Neil Hannon (the sole creative force behind the ‘band’) and his work, enjoying nearly every second of his output. Things have dipped a bit since then with the sporadically insightful Regeneration, lacklustre Absent Friends and patchy Victory For The Comic Muse. Nevertheless, there have been moments of incredible songwriting throughout, and it’s enough to keep me excited about their (his) latest album, Bang Goes The Knighthood.
As Neil is a much-admired artist by his fans and a complete mystery to everyone else, I shall take my favourite option of reviewing albums by my most-respected bands and review each track individually before a summation of the album as a whole at the end.
Down In The Street Below
The opening track is by far the strongest song on the whole record*, and feels very much like an early Divine Comedy song, along the lines of the Casanova era, and it reminds me of ‘Songs Of Love’ despite having very little in common with it. It’s both moving and zippy in equal measure and in the right places. Sure to please everyone.
*Don’t worry – there are plenty of high points to come yet. There’s no downward spiral here.
The Complete Banker
Considering the title, this could have been a lot worse. It’s a rather lyrically simplistic view of the economic collapse, but thankfully it’s a bouncy enough tune to pull it off. You’ll learn the words to this track first and be singing along rather quickly (especially to the rather wonderfully delivered “I’m a conscience-free, malignant cancer”). Even the presence of Pugwash in the background can’t stop this being enjoyable at the least, though its shine dims after a few listens.
An opening hat-trick hit here, as this is another early-DC style track, mixed with some more of the quirky nature of later era b-sides. It initially sounds like it’s from the soundtrack to an old film about a couple having a holiday abroad, though the lyrics jar somewhat with that image. A bouncy pop song with plenty of warmth.
Bang Goes The Knighthood
And so does the run of good tracks. Unfortunately, this track is so plain and dragging that you’ll forget it before it’s finished. Quite why the whole album takes its title from this skippable mundanity I don’t know.
At The Indie Disco
The poppy feel returns for the lead single and it’s not horrifically disappointing. While the lyrics aren’t particularly brilliant, it’s easy to imagine the couple from the Promenade storyline being the characters depicted in this track. Enjoyable enough that you won’t skip it, but not so much that you’ll sing along, it’s a much better, more polished version than any live version could hope to be. Not the bombastic ‘Europop’-style affair I was hoping for though.
Have You Ever Been In Love
A song written to be crooned by Bobby Darin, Michael Buble or some other smooth-voiced dullard. Neil lifts it above what it would be in their hands, but it just sounds like something your parents would dance to. I feel that it has the same overpowering panglossian tinge to it that ruins Perfect Lovesong for me.
Assume The Perpendicular
This is easily the song most influenced by The Duckworth Lewis Method, thankfully in a good way. A springy pop song with a similar feel to ‘Love What You Do’. Not in terms of music, but insofar as it’s a good song that’ll never be anyone’s favourite. Easygoing and perfect for a sunny day.
The Lost Art Of Conversation
Another song in the same vein as ‘Assume The Perpendicular’, but about talking instead of the power of doing. If you were to read too much into it you could say that it’s an anti-Twitter song, but really it’s just a fun track without being too oddball that you get sick of it after 3 listens. Neither Assume the Perpendicular nor this track are in competition for most lyrically intelligent song in Neil’s repertoire, but while they’re not particularly memorable, they are well-crafted pop songs that are leagues better than Diva Lady or To Die A Virgin.
An incredibly ethereal track featuring Cathy Davey’s mysterious female vocals. It’s almost enjoyable, but it feels too much like it was created for a travel company to use on a holiday advert. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I do but after a persistent few attempts I just skip past to better things. Might have been better served as an instrumental track with a little more experimentation.
When A Man Cries
A rather beautiful track with delicately emotional lyrics and a light-touch on the piano, this is another high-point for those Divine Comedy fans who crave a return to the depth and insight of ‘Three Sisters’ and ‘The Dogs And The Horses’. Has a slight Absent Friends era feel to it, but not enough to water it down.
Can You Stand Upon One Leg
Pugwash returns with a vengeance to present one of the two most awful Divine Comedy songs I’ve ever had the misfortune to listen to (the other being the mercifully unreleased Guantanamo – hmm, I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere). It seems to be aimed at those who are anticipating their 3rd birthday or have suffered some terrible brain damage – it’s incredibly simple, incredibly sickening and just unbearably atrocious. Skip it now and forever more. And the less said (and heard) of that held note the better.
An uproarious belter of a pop song finishes the album off wonderfully. While the lyrics are simple once again (I’m sure the repeated use of the unimaginative titular phrase would infuriate every English teacher in the country), it’s such a catchy, infectious piece of music that you’ll eventually love it whether you want to or not. In short: I like.
So overall, Bang Goes The Knighthood is further proof that Neil’s talent isn’t dead yet, even if the wheels are wobbling and the bodywork needs some repair. 8 of the 12 tracks here are winners, and that’s more than either of his previous two albums could conjure up. As long as you’re not expecting too much or a return to his earlier style, you’re in for a treat. Neil is more confident, freer and happier than he has been for a while, and it really shows through on Bang Goes The Knighthood. It’s poppy, bouncy and highly enjoyable – a worthy purchase, and another great Summer album.