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5 great Divine Comedy songs

Published on August 29th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams

To celebrate our interview with The Duckworth Lewis Method, Rocksucker has gone trawling back through the archives of constituent duo Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh to bring you five great songs apiece from their respective ongoing projects, The Divine Comedy and Pugwash.

This round belongs to Mr Hannon (aka Lewis), whose relative commercial success on these shores demands a restriction on our part: nothing allowed, then, from 1999 compilation album A Secret History

“Don’t Look Down” (from 1994 album Promenade)

Promenade might not have been 100 per cent a bolt from the blue since its predecessor Liberation was pretty great too, but it remains one of the most breathtaking start-to-finish listening experiences that Rocksucker knows.

This particular ‘cut’ has it all: it’s pure songwriting sophistication, disarmingly sweet in its first person portrayal of young lovers on a Ferris wheel, spectacularly arranged with its gradually intensifying extended intro…

…and when it lets fly with that tempestuous spoken word section, it ceases to be of this realm altogether. This is just as well, given that it comprises of a direct conversation with God Him/Herself…but to have been able to capture in musical form a tête-à-tête with the big (wo)man upstairs, so aptly as to be quite beyond reproach, is one of the all-time great musical achievements in our book.

When we saw Hannon perform it at Somerset House the other year, a sudden gust of wind broke out when he reached this section and started flapping his sheet music about. Could be He/She was a trifle miffed about all the “atheistic tosh” about to be “spouted off”, but if He/She has any taste then it was surely a ripple of approval.

Now *that’s* a divine comedy for you.

“Through a Long and Sleepless Night” (from 1996 album Casanova)

This exhilarating culmination of Casanova‘s furtive dark side decimated any notion that (actually quite brilliant) singles such as “Something for the Weekend” and “Becoming More Like Alfie” might have given rise to of The Divine Comedy as a foppish novelty act.

As forceful and mighty as anything that came out around that period – quite possible even more so – “Through a Long and Sleepless Night” takes in peaks and troughs without ever surrendering its astonishing intensity, its seething restlessness and its cinematic sense of drama.

“The Beauty Regime” (from 2001 album Regeneration)

Conceivably exhausted from the dizzyingly expansive (not to mention typically glorious) pair of 1997’s A Short Album About Love and 1998’s Fin de Siècle, Hannon turned in the strikingly organic and distraught-sounding Regeneration, a sort of existential crisis set to music.

Subtler and ‘doomier’ than anything he’d done before, Regeneration ended with a piece of weary, fireside reflection in which he appeared to be at once offering consolation with one hand and batting it away cynically with the other.

“And if your life depresses you / Just live it through your favourite movie star” neatly encapsulates “The Beauty Regime”: sarcastically dismissive of ‘glossy magazine’ culture, yet too worn down to fight it. Such wry acceptance burns like a candle, slowly and sadly until it melts away entirely and resilience is replenished on the final verse…

…in which Hannon executes one of the most affecting lyrical ‘switcheroos’ we’ve ever encountered by ditching the prior instruction to recognise one’s own worthlessness in favour of “Look again in the mirror and see / Exactly how perfect you are”.

Hit. For. Six.

“My Imaginary Friend” (from 2004 album Absent Friends

Despite the facade of silliness presented by its plinky plonky banjo line, gentle bounce and child’s-eye lyrics, “My Imaginary Friend” is Beach Boys-worthy in its songwriting sophistication. It’s also a touching account of childhood innocence and how it inevitably is eroded, not to mention the amusement and bemusement with which a parent observes their sprog at play.

On an album of wall-to-wall luxuriousness, “My Imaginary Friend” offers arguably the most telling glimpse into Hannon’s ingenuity.

“Assume the Perpendicular” (from 2010 album Bang Goes the Knighthood)

The air of contentedness that permeates the most recent Divine Comedy LP could have been mistaken for complacency if it weren’t so gosh darn joyous.

Even in jest, as on this somewhat mocking number (“Lavinia loves the lintels / Anna, the architraves / Ben’s impressed by the buttresses thrust up the chapel knave”), the melody is so loved-up you’d think Hannon had spiked his piano with ecstasy.

Bang Goes the Knighthood slipped seamlessly into the lineage of truly great Divine Comedy LPs; roll on the next one, basically.

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.

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