# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - June 2010

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 1 / 6 / 2010

Miscellaneous - June 2010


In his regular 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' column, Ben Howarth writes of his favourite band the Divine Comedy's first new album in four years, 'Bang Goes the Knighthood'

Three weeks after my birthday, which conveniently fell on a bank holiday this year, and I have already played all my new albums. So, the obvious question follows, what’s next? For many of you, I’m sure the answer to this question lies out in the mad, bad world of new bands, new albums, insider tips, MP3 blogs, 'Guardian' podcasts and even (heaven forbid) online web forums. I’m not naturally hostile to new bands. Indeed, this year, I’ve listened to the fantastically catchy third album by the Dodos (‘Time To Die’, 2009, which was purchased entirely on a whim, before I’d heard a note of their music) so much that it now feels like an old album. Another new(ish) album getting regular spins at the Howarth estate of late comes from Surfer Blood, a bunch of young slackers from somewhere in America. But, I’ve come to realise that what I most like to listen to is the music of my all-time heroes. A new record that has been heavily trailed across the music press accompanied by lots of star ratings and glittering cut-out quotes? You never know, I might check it out. But a new album by Neil Hannon’s the Divine Comedy? Now, you’ve really got my attention. I have been frothing with excitement for many weeks now: ever since the release date for ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’ was officially confirmed – and added to my diary, in thick felt tip, underlined. Of course, he has been working on the album for some time, and a release date had long been pencilled in for the spring, it’s just that Hannon never specified which spring. Work on ‘…Knighthood’ was interrupted by his album of cricket-themed songs, which possibly angered some fans of his ‘secular’ work (as all cricket fans know, cricket is not a hobby, it’s a faith, and a particularly fundamentalist one at that), but left me happier than I had been for many years. But still, I wanted a new Divine Comedy as well… why couldn’t he have finished them both at once? The waiting game – it’s the one activity all music fans used to have in common, although these days it seems to only be for those of us who haven’t heard learnt where to steal music on line before its release date. On this occasion, I cheated slightly. Rough Trade were doing one of their periodical free in-stores, and on the day he released his new album, it was Hannon’s turn. Albeit performed solo and without the band or string section. The first time I heard many of these songs was in the flesh. Rebuffing calls for the oldies (though he may not realise that he played many more than is the standard fare on these occasions), he told his audience, “these are the ones you’ll be calling out for in six years time!” And I’m sure I will. He played ‘Down in the Street’, a paean to comfortable domesticity, contrasted against the hubble-bubble of the outside world – it’s a classic Hannon trick, ever so slight anxiety set against middle-class bliss, and a song I can’t imagine anyone else writing. Nor, frankly, could many songwriters pull off the title track – where he somehow calls in genuine empathy for a toff addicted to (and ruined by) sado-masochism. ‘Assume the Perpendicular’, meanwhile, is about travelling down to Somerset to visit a stately home. First single, ‘At the Indie Disco’ is knowingly silly, nostalgic, and keeps up a regular Divine Comedy tradition of keeping the non-believers at bay by launching the album with a novelty-hit. Freed from the shackles of a major label, and now releasing music on his own label (DC Records), Hannon doesn’t need to sell half as many records as before to make a decent living. He seems clearly to have decided that only his hardcore fans are worth pleasing. The private equity fat-cats who bought (and subsequently made a huge loss on) his old label are surely the targets of a little ditty, ‘The Complete Banker’, which is the only time his whimsical looks at the better half of society turn angry (“I’m the complete banker/A malignant cancer on society”). This album seems purposefully designed to infuriate anyone who insists on taking music entirely seriously – and to find out what this sub-class of society thought, you need only to take a quick trip to a prominent music message board. “I think Neil Hannon has brain crabs or something”, writes one. On the subject of “Have You Ever Been In Love?” - a harmless ditty, rather touching in the manner of Paul McCartney’s ‘Silly Love Songs’ – another comments that it will “be defined by the Hague as a crime against humanity”. Had Neil Hannon googled himself the evening after his new album came out, I think he’d be rather pleased at being able to inspire this kind of irrational anger with a collection of deliberately frivolous pop-songs. On stage, he showed off his ingenuity with the pop song format with musical panache and self-deprecating wit. I left the Rough Trade shop with a spring in my step. After that, the rest of my evening wrote itself. Walk home rather quicker than usual, make a cup of tea (delaying gratification for just one moment longer), put the CD into the stereo and press play. I wasn’t hoping for much – an album in essentially the same vein as his other ones, but somehow still different and also still life-affirmingly brilliant. Not to much to ask, at least not inflicted with the typical mania of the long term music obsessive. So, it's four years (or more) until the next Divine Comedy album, and its accompanying tour, when no doubt, I’ll be calling out for my favourites from that old classic, ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’. I can’t wait.

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