Pop al Dante

By Ray Rogers


Interview, March 1997

Under the banner of the Divine Comedy, picaresque singer/songwriter Neil Hannon gives new meaning to the term classic rock, as his obsession with Greek mythology, masterpieces of English literature, and Italian Romantic poets infuses a new brand of fanciful, orchestral Brit pop. "Plenty of bands around now are completely stuck in the 60ís," he explains. "Iím just stuck in other eras." But Hannon is no highbrow plagiarist; he uses nineteenth- and twentieth-century references to bolster his own commentary on modern life.

Decked out in sleek suits, dark shades, and oversized scarves, Hannon has modeled himself into a kind of rock Ďní roll Percy Bysshe Shelley. He encourages his audience, in one song, to "wage the unwinnable war: elegance against ignorance, difference against indifference, wit against shit." But beneath the musicís grandeur and sweeping textures, the Divine Comedyís third album (and U.S. debut), Casanova (Setanta), is, at heart, a purely carnal affair. Written as a reaction o the pristine, idyllic songs on his previous two albums Ė "which," he laughs, "were about as sexy as a small prune" Ė this record elves into "the pleasures and pains of sexual intercourse, and all the pseudopsychological malarkey that goes along with it." It is an album about "shagging," as they say across the pond, on which Hannon recounts the foils and foibles of a licentious modern-day Casanova, loosely based on his won misadventures.

"Everybody else is always writing songs about it, but they donít usually tell it in a very honest way. When people talk about getting it on in pop music, they usually say, ĎHey baby, letís get it on.í Thatís not very illuminating." Instead, Hannon has written songs like the winning metaphorical work "Something for the Weekend," what he calls "a bawdy restoration play," wherein a roguish, persistent suitor gets tricked, beaten and robbed by the object of his lust. "It comes to a sticky end because of his naughtiness. Itís a play with a moral."

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