Time Out New York

September 18-25, 1997

Casanova Complex

The Divine Comedyís Neil Hannon seduces his listeners- and drops his pants for the press

Rock god Robert Plant is sitting in Fezís glittering lounge, watching the Divine Comedyís show. I tug on his sleeve and ask what he thinks of the London-based musical group. "Theyíre wuunnnnderful," says the loin-maned ex-Led Zeppelin singer. Heís right: The aesthetically anachronistically Divine Comedy is one of the two most compelling Brit-pop acts to emerge in the past year (the other is Belle and Sebastian).

Earlier that April day, DivComís pianist-vocalist-guitarist Neil Hannon, 26, is lunching at Savoy in Soho. Itís a bleak, rainy and noonish, and he orders sorbet and port, which help soothe his big, dramatic singing voice. "It gives you lovely roasty feeling as itís going down the tubes," he says in his posh accent. "It just comforts me."

Port seems an appropriate beverage for the smooth Hannon, a bishopís son who grew up in Londonberry and Enniskillen. Although he would just as soon forget its 1991 debut, DivCom has since made three tantalizing albums full of electropop, new wave, literary and semiclassical music (1993ís Liberation, 1994ís Promenade, 1996ís Casanova, which will be released here in October). The band has even had several hit singles in England- including "Something for the Weekend," a breezy, energetic, impossible-to-dislike piece.

For three years, DivCom was basically composed of Hannon and various session players Ė until 1994, when Hannon hired Joby Talbot to play oboe and sax. "I thought, Who is this strange, hulking fellow whose repartee is so astonishingly diverse?" says Hannon. "He was 22 when I met him, but he could hold a table of eight enthralled with these strange stories." If Talbot is a raconteur, Hannon is a great showman, a self-created romantic lead. As such, heís already dressed as cupid for the cover of NME, donned a suit for Vanity Fair and posed naked in a bathtub for Londonís Time Out. He swears heís just done a nude photo shoot for Cosmopolitan. "I canít say no," says Hannon. "Itís my natural lust for publicity. Oxygen equals publicity."

Despite his shameless quest for mass exposure, Hannon writes some of the best lyrics around about lust and desire: "If you were a horse, Iíd clean the crap out of your stable and never once complain (from "IF". But some of misogyny: On "The Frog Princess," he sings, "I can visualize my frog princess/ beneath a shining guillotine." Hannon insists that his lyrics are "anti-male if anything," but he adds, "I enjoy putting myself up to be shot at. I have extremely ordinary heterosexual yearnings, which just get me down totally."

Although Hannon loves F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as he does Scott Walker, heís quick to reveal another misconception about himself: "That I read a lot of books, that I am incredibly well tutored in the ways of art and literature and all this stuff," he says. "I should be, and I want to be, but Iíve always been too lazy."

- Gail OíHara

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