The Divine Comedy The Divine ComedyBang Goes The Knighthood
It was always inevitable that Neil Hannon would at some point put out a record that was more like a musical than an album. His flirtation with television series theme songs ( “The IT Crowd”) and soundtracks (he contributed vocals to Joby Talbot’s compositions for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the satire starring Zooey Deschanel and based on the bestseller by Douglas Adams) led him behind the scenes, to compose a musical based on a novel by Arthur Ransome. And now comes his tenth album as The Divine Comedy, “Bang Goes the Knighthood”, or “How Oliver Twist grew up and wanted to bum around wearing a beret and pretending to rub elbows with Marcel Duchamp.” On the cover of the album, Hannon is being assaulted by a photographer in the bathroom, while he raises a glass of champagne. There is a dog’s collar around his neck, and a diamond necklace around the dog’s neck. He has a pipe between his lips and a beret on his head, and the sentence tattooed on the album: “Ceci n’est pas la divine comédie,” a direct reference to the surrealism of Duchamp, the guy with the pipe and the toilet. The streets of Dublin are surprised by a clumsy Jack the Ripper, who would rather talk about Francis Bacon than take out his scalpel.
All of this is very “Bang Goes the Knighthood”, with the baroque perfectionism Hannon navigates as he abandons the dark (and more melancholy) corners of “Victory for the Comic Muse”, his last release, and surrenders to the party -a costume party- from another period. Let’s go back a couple of centuries, and we’ll be there—a period of light and shadow that perfectly embodies the subject that gives the album its name, a poisoned candy wrapped in blue velvet (the story is about a man doing something he shouldn’t, which is meet his lover - the only woman who makes him feel something). So are we looking at his best album? It’s very likely. Everything Hannon tried before was looking to reach a peak in an album like this one. He began with the tremendous “Casanova” in 1996, continued in the indispensable “Absent Friends” ( “Come Home Billy Bird”, will always remain among the top five songs that Hannon has composed), and matured infinitely with the aforementioned “Victory for the Comic Muse” (whose calling card, “A Lady of a Certain Age” must also appear in the top five songs of his career. This list could also include the first song on that album, the three-dimensional, practically nouvelle, “Down in the Street Below”), and has now polished the rough edges and become a genre unto himself with “Bang Goes the Knighthood”. It’s a genre related to the Walker Brothers and, of course, with the solo career of their leader, Scott Walker, incorporating a debt to Jacques Brel, and, on a symphonic level, to what Ravel and Stravinsky would be doing if they had started a band in Dublin at the end of the 80s.
“Down in the Street Below” is practically a Carver story riding on a clattering carriage, heading carelessly down the streets of foggy London. There is no better way to borrow some money than by singing the irresistible chorus of “The Complete Banker”; the sentimental adventures of Lola, “The Neapolitan Girl”, couldn’t be spicier, and there is no song that can wrap you up better than “Assume the Perpendicular”, or give you back the pleasure of literary (and hallucinogenic, “ beachboysian ” ) conversation better than “The Lost Art of Conversation”. Yes, there are also fun, elegant songs ( “Have You Ever Been in Love”), flirtations with pulp-pop ( “At the Indie Disco”), music boxes with a story ( “When a Man Cries”) and playful songs ( “I Like” is in the style of “When I’m 64”). As a whole, it is a magnum opus, written and produced by the increasingly clear contender for the prize of having his own seat, next to the genius Scott Walker.