In praise of The Divine Comedy

by Stephen Tall on July 5, 2010

I see it’s over four years since I last blogged my appreciation of my favourite ever popular beat-combo, Neil Hannon’s creation The Divine Comedy. High time to rectify the omission.

Bang Goes the Knighthood, their tenth album, has (as usual) divided the critics, many of whom bemoan his career trope to mingle arch-camp silliness with poignant heart-rending lyricism. Of course it’s exactly that juxtaposition the rest of us so love.

True, it may be an acquired taste … there are, after all, few pop songs abut the pleasures of visiting a National Trust home (“Lavinia loves the lintels – Anna, the architraves / Ben’s impressed by the buttresses thrust up the chapel nave”), nor indeed paeans to the lost art of conversation which name-drop Frank Lampard, Thrace, Joan of Arc and transubstantiation inter alia.

The stand-out song – surprisingly not chosen as the first single – is The Complete Banker, which echoes Hannon’s previous satirical toe-in-the-water, 1998’s Generation Sex (“Generation Sex elects the type of guys
you wouldn’t leave your kids with / And shouts ‘off with their heads’ if they get laid”).

This time, though, it’s not public hypocrisy which attracts his scorn, but the financial system – or, as he terms it, “a conscience-free malignant cancer on society”:


(Also available on YouTube here).

But my personal favourite from the album is also the most emotionally charged, When a Man Cries:

When a child cries the tears rise quickly
Spill hot and prickly down the reddened cheeks
Just to leave as quickly as they came
And peace returns again

When a child cries you know about it
They scream and shout until the hurt is gone
Like a shower of rain that for a moment
Hides away the sun

But when a man cries it’s choked and throttled
It’s all been bottled up for far to long
And when at last the pressure cooker blows
It’s hard to stem the flow

When a man cries his body shakes
And his eyeballs ache
And his mind vibrates
But he doesn’t make a sound
Don’t wanna wake the house now

Well the reasons are vague and hard to put in words
Just a dull abstract ache, don’t wanna worry her
She would only ask what’s wrong and I’d try to say
Then she’d take all my pain and explain it away
But who can explain why a man cries

When a man cries he cries alone
And for just a moment he’s back at home
Cradled in his mother’s arms
Free from guilt and safe from harm

Sublime. As ever.