Divine Intervention

By Henry Porter


Vanity Fair, March 1997

Every boom in British rock music is accompanied by at least one group that makes a point of pitching its songs at a more sophisticated audience. In the 60s the Beatles spawned the ironic genius of Ray Davies and the kinks, and now, in the slipstream of bands such as Oasis and Blur, comes Neil Hannon, a brilliantly sardonic Ulsterman whose third album, Casanova, suddenly took off in the second half of last year.

Hannon, 26, who leads the Divine Comedy, is by no means an obvious candidate for rock stardom. He is an odd combination of confident dandy and tentative adolescent. He admits to being socially inept, but at the same time his lyrics in songs such as "The Frog Princess" and "Something for the Weekend" have a knowing quality which falls somewhere between NoŽl Coward and Jarvis Cocker. They are among the finest being written in Britain at the moment, and yet he has no qualms about borrowing from literature. On his first album, Liberation, he appropriated a poem by Wordsworth in the song "Lucy"; another song was inspired by a Fitzgerald short story. On one level his work dwells on the usual theme of disappointed love, but there is an uncomfortable edge to it which is best represented by "Something for the Weekend." The title of the song comes from the traditional code of British barbers, who discreetly sold condoms with the phrase "Something for the weekend, sir?" The whole tone of Casanova must baffle Hannonís father, who is Bishop of Clogher, in Northern Ireland. "Heís tried his darnedest to understand where I am coming from," says Hannon, who nearly flunked out of school and turned to music only in order to avoid work. The success of Casanova means that for some time yet Hannon will be working harder than he had ever planned.

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