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The Divine Comedy – Casanova (1996)

May 17, 2014

[Album 311/1001]220px-TDC_Casanova

“It is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

(or 137 years later)

-The Divine Comedy, the opening line of the song, In & Out of Paris & London.

Casanova may be a bit like a Dickens novel: for maximum appreciation, it should be studied.

Thanks to Professor Duncan on Community, I understand what Neil Hannon means when he sings “my slap ‘n’ tickle made her giggle” and I picked up that the “Alfie” references are a nod to the Michael Caine character.

I’m still not sure if I ‘get’ most of the rest but it doesn’t really matter: the eleven tracks are bizarre and baroque, weird and wonderful.

I’ve decided my most reliable measurement of an album is how much I look forward to repeated listens; despite its unusual nature, or more likely because of it, Casanova passed this test with flying colours.

It occasionally starts to veer off course when I feel like Hannon is “doing a voice.”  Released in the mid-90s, the peak (or rather, trough) of the Eddie Vedder impersonator era, to Hannon’s credit, he fortunately doesn’t go down that road.  There’s a chance all these vocal variations are contextually appropriate in that he’s doing ‘character’ voices (like I said, I could use a Coles Notes on this one) but I found them somewhat distracting.

I’ve since learned he was likely referencing the poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, when singing “cannon to the left.”  If you grew up with Fresh Prince of Belair, good luck not picturing Geoffrey the Butler when listening to Charge!

.

Evidently, the lyrics were not the major selling point for me.

The arrangements however are, to borrow the Beck tune from the same calendar year, where’s it at.

It’s always a pleasure hearing a full orchestra sound and there’s a full page of instrumentalists credited in the cd booklet.

I was also pleased to acquire a new expression, courtesy of Theme from Casanova: “(the musicians were playing) under the baton of Jody Talbot.”  And both the conductor and his ensemble did a fine job.

For maximum enjoyment, maybe brush up on your poetry & prose from the 18th/19th century.

If you’re happy when you hear terrific orchestrations, dive right in and enjoy!

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From → 1990s

14 Comments
  1. I have never heard of this record!

    • It was news to me as well – and its follow-up is also on the list!
      I think it must have been considerably bigger in the UK

  2. Wow-dredging the depths for this one to end up in the net—but it sounds like I might love it 🙂

    • The first listen may elicit a “what the…” response – but the relistens are quite rewarding, especially the first two tracks and a few in the midset!

  3. It’s interesting that Divine Comedy sounds so English (especially to non-English ears) when Neil Hannon actually comes from Southern Ireland. He first came to my attention as the writer of the theme tune “Songs of Love” to the very funny 1990’s Irish sit com “Father Ted”, which now holds a cult status in the UK. But the song that really hooked me was “Something for the Weekend” – a song of deception, intrigue, theft and a blow to the head! Piqued your interest?

    I’m a fan of DC. I love his voice and Hannon is an incredibly talented musician. I can see why some of his references seem be a little odd (the song National Express for instance is a ironic love letter to the UK coach company of the same name – similar to the Greyhound coaches in the US) but they can be enjoyed all the same.

    More recently he embarked on a joint project with the Irish band Pugwash to create the supergroup “The Duckworth Lewis Method”. Two wonderful albums devoted to their love of cricket have been released so far. If you think the DC references are obscure, you ain’t heard nothing yet!! I saw them perform live last Summer and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been too.

    • Songs of Love was one of the highlights for me here – nice and subdued after the big sound of Charge.
      A short album about love is also on the 1001 and I look forward to hearing that one now that I’ve caught the DC bug!
      A live DC show sounds promising – Does he bring the whole orchestra out when playing a show?

      • Sadly not when I saw him. The Duckworth Lewis Method was the standard band set up with Hannon on keyboards and joint vocals with Thomas Walsh, the guitarist and lead singer of Pugwash.

        “A Secret History”, DC’s best of from a few years ago is a good jumping off point – most of the better known stuff is in there.

        Both TDLM and Pugwash are also worthy of further investigation if you get the chance. But it seems you have your hands full already!

      • I suppose the next 7+ years are sort of mapped out for me, but I try to fit in recreational listening as well – thanks for the suggestions!

  4. Like Mike, I’ve never heard of this. Might have to check it out.

    • I enjoyed – the song ‘something for the weekend’ is probably a good starting point. And if you check it out today or tomorrow (love the Victoria day weekend), the title is also apt!

  5. I remember National Express when it came out. The DC are quintessentially English, Noel Coward was a big influence I think. Whether it translates to other countries I have no idea.

    • From the small sample here, 3 out of 4 Canadians had not previously heard of the DC. It’s unlike anything that was on the Canadian airwaves in the mid 90s, as I believe the Monty Python line goes, and now for something completely different!

  6. Neil Hannon is a genius, full stop. However, I am fully aware his genius is lost on a large portion of the population, especially here in North America. Once bitten though you’re likely to spend a large sum of money investigating his back and side catalogues. The best of his side catalogue is no doubt the self titled The Duckworth Lewis Method, and is as brilliant as it sounds. After Casanova, which I rate highly, I’d suggest Liberation, Promenade, Victory For The Comic Muse, Absent Friends. Stay away from Regeneration, a way too obvious attempt at branching out. Too serious, not so great.

    • This is bad news for the wallet – I’m afraid I’ve been bitten!
      Interesting you say that about Regeneration, the 1001 book had a similar take, I think the line was something like “when the DC returned with Regeneration, fans looked elsewhere”

      I’m impressed you knew about them – you’re the first Canuck I’ve spoken with so far that’s been aware of their existence – Thanks for the suggestions!

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