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Fronted by Neil Hannon, The Divine Comerdy is an Irish band that was established in 1989. The band has gone through several line-up changes, as well as a diverse range of sounds, depending on the album. The albums normally revolve around a concept of some sort, and this is what is evident in Bang Goes The Knighthood. This latest outing focuses on the middle class lifestyles in cities (most probably London by the sounds of things), with the odd attack on the upper classes that are found within.
Bang Goes The Knighthood was released in May 2010, and sees band having it's only prominent member, Neil Hannon, who took the bandname solo in the past few albums, back once again as the only member. Aside from the odd backing vocals, and session musicians, this is definitely Neil Hannon's one-man band.
The album opens with "Down In The Street Below", a song describing the joys of domestic life in the throws of busy London. It is a sweet sounding song, and Neil Hannon is not afraid to change tempos several times during it. There is a large emphasis on Hannon's piano playing during this song, which you will soon find out as you listen to more of the album that this is the general sound that he has plumped for. Hannon's excellent piano playing is really enhanced when the rest of the instrumentation has been quietened down, and having this approach on the whole album really works.
The second song on the album is "The Complete Banker", a bitter attack at, what the title suggests, politics, and those behind the running of the economy. Even though it has quite angry lyrics at times (Neil at one point states they are the "malignant cancers of society"), there is a catchy tune and a chorus you will probably find hard not to sing along to.
Straight after this is "Neapolitan Girl", a song heavily laden with a 60's sounding string section, is a catchy little number that, like most of this album, is telling the story of another seedy exploit in the city. Neapolitan Girl centres on Lola, who gets her sexual kicks in graveyards. This is, in my opinion, one of the best songs on the album.
"Bang Goes The Knighthood" comes in next, bringing the happy sounding backbeat of Neapolitan Girl crashing down into something a bit more sombre. This song is about an S&M
"At The Indie Disco" is a nostalgic look back at indie themed discos in the 90's. It centres on the socially awkward stance of many people who would go along to these disco's, but brings the message that music does bring us together. Many of the clever lyrics that Neil Hannon is known for are found in this song, and it is the witty bringing together of indie songs in the lyrics that makes this so memorable. The best example is found in the lyric; "She makes my heart beat the same way, like at the start of Blue Monday."
Hannon brings a bit of romance into the preceedings with the next track, "Have You Ever Been In Love." A track celebrating the feeling of being in love-from the singing of cheesy love songs, to just looking into someone elses eyes and realising how great life is. It's a definite feel-good song to help put a smile on your face, and breaks up the bitterness, anger and seedy messages that can be found in a lot of the songs on this album
The typical Divine Comedy sound many fans have grown to love is still here, including the silly but incredibly witty lyrics. Take a listen to the next track,"Assume The Perpendicular", a song about visiting Stately Homes, for lyrics in this vain.
One of the catchiest songs on the album happens to be this next track, "The Lost Art of Conversation", about all forms of conversation-from the small talk you'll perhaps engage in when being the social butterfly at a party, to the more in-depth talk with your loved ones. Hannon manages to successfully link a huge variety of subjects into this one song, which on paper may not look like it would work, but Hannon's rhythm and vocals really help to make this song highly entertaining. (This is also a great one to hear live if you ever get the chance to see him perform).
The next track, "Island Life", moves the album in a different direction. Featuring backing vocals from Neil Hannon's girlfriend, Cathy Davy, Island Life is a floaty, relaxing song that transports the listener into a exotic island location. A complete contrast to the city locations that Hannon paints in the rest of the album.
Most people would probably remember The Divine Comedy for "National Express" in particular-a rather silly song about a National Express coach trip. Neil Hannon has always loved penning a silly song for The Divine Comedy, so there are many incedences where they are labeled with the label of "always making silly songs". So the next song on this album, "When A Man Cries", breaks this. The song really shows Hannon's vocal range, presenting a song about the differences between tears shed as a boy, and those shed as a man. The song builds into a crescendo, and really emphasises the power in Hannon's voice. Although not one that you would probably sing back, unlike the catchier, lighter songs, this is definitely not one to be missed.
Things go back to a silly tone once again in the next song, "Can You Stand Upon One Leg". Hannon starts the song by challenging the listener to "stand upon one leg", proceeded by other silly challenges before ending in a rather impressive challenge Hannon gives himself of holding a high note for as long as possible. OK, this song is rather silly, and will probably be seen as one of the weaker tracks on the album to many if you compare it to the messages in the other songs, but it feels good to draw the album to a close on happier and funnier tracks that will leave you with a bit of a feel-good feeling.
Bang Goes The Knighthood ends with "I Like", like "Have You Ever Been In Love" a few songs previously, this song is rather soppy. It brings together many reasons why, whoever Hannon is singing as, likes their object of affection so much. I suggest that someone happily in love listens closely to the lyrics in this song, and see how many reasons for this declaration of love are close to your own reasons. It's definitely a brilliant track to end the album on, as this will leave you smiling, and, if you are happily in love, leave you feeling pretty romantic.
Overall, "Bang Goes The Knighthood" is an impressive tenth studio album from The Divine Comedy. Neil Hannon has gone for a more intimate approach on this album by cutting back on the orchestra that is usually evident in most Divine Comedy albums, and instead adopts his "one man and a piano" feel that he is currently performing live all over the country. The Divine Comedy's music is probably not for everyone, but if you feel like listening to something with witty, often humourous lyrics, and great musical arrangements, then give this a go. The Divine Comedy are a highly underrated band, and this is one of their best albums to date in my opinion.
Bang Goes the Knighthood is The Divine Comedy's tenth album, and he's showing no signs of slowing down! Personally I think it's a return to form and his best album since 1998's Fin de Siécle. The front cover is an indication as to the theme of the album and shows it's a lot lighter and it is a much poppier sound than previous albums, though there is some of Neil's trademark dark lyrics on the album too.
Down in the Street Below: This is a genuine instant classic. Musically and lyrically it's a real treat. Neil often takes the melody in surprising places and he does it with great aplomb here.
Neil's voice croons the lovely lines:
Kiss her sleepy eyes closed and say it's time/ to slip beneath the shadows of the bedroom blinds/
There is not one duff lyric in this song, it's a superb album opener.
Men and women go about their business/ picking up the last few things for Christmas/ trying not to step upon the pigeons/ praying to the gods of their religions/ that they might be spared a little longer/ that they might become a little stronger/ down in the street below.
It's fast becoming one of my favourite Divine Comedy tracks, and trust me there's a lot of competition!
The Complete Banker: It's pretty obvious what this song is about. A topical and scathing song, this is rather cheeky with it's obvious rhymes without ever mentioning the W word. It's a funny song despite Neil saying he wrote it in a rage.
Well that's just me the complete banker/In a black Bentley/Margaret Thatcher riding next to me/How I hanker for the good old days
Although a light song you can get a glimpse into Neil's anger: 'I'm a conscience free/malignant cancer on society/and one day you'll let your guard down/and I'll come round again...
Neapolitan Girl: The dark lyrics are wonderfully undercut by a really light, jaunty melody. It tells the story of Lola who goes to the cemetery for her sexual kicks! With the light melody it almost sounds quite exotic until you hear the lyrics:
This dirty needle leaves/a trail of scars/and keeps her at/the peak of her sexual powers
It reminds me of the type of song Jacques Brel would write, so if you're a Brel fan this might be the song for you.
Bang Goes The Knighthood: The title track is, despite it's irreverent title, a pretty dark affair. The narrator, a rich toff of high social standing is incredibly unhappy and gets his sexual kicks in an S & M club, yet despite it's seediness you do feel sorry for the narrator:
You make me feel/you make me feel something/and feeling something/is better than feeling nothing at all
It's a real highlight of the album for me, if I had one gripe it's that it's too short!
At the Indie Disco: The first single of the album, it's a pretty lightweight affair. Nice enough pop song but nothing groundbreaking. The video is great though! It references lots of 80s 90s indie bands. Best lyrics?
She makes my heart beat the same way/as at the start of blue monday
Have you ever been in love?: Aww. Neil wears his heart on his sleeve here, as he sings about the joys of being in love. I adore the instrumental on this song and it's starting to grow on me, despite me being a miserable, cynical grump. Almost ventures into lovey dovey territory but Neil's charming vocals stop it from being too schmaltzy.
Assume the Perpendicular: A song about National Trust properties! I love visiting stately homes and castles so this is a favourite of mine. It's incredibly catchy. The chorus in particular is bound to put a goofy smile on your face.
Ben's impressed by the buttresses/ thrust up the chapel nave
When was the last time you heard the word buttresses in a pop song? Superb! Only Neil could get away with that...
The Lost Art of Conversation: I think this one is about the rise of the Internet and texting, MP3 players and technology in general stopping people from talking face to face.
Don't try this in public or they'll think you've gone insane/and it won't be long before the men in white coats come and take you far away
Another light affair, but it's got a nice tune and is another toe-tapper, and some great little 'list' moments.
Island Life: Apparently written for the upcoming musical 'Swallows and Amazons' it found it's way on this album. A nice duet with Cathy Davey, it's a lovely ditty but it does feel like a little out of place on the album to me. The lyrics are fairly simplistic and they paint a nice picture but it's one I tend to skip (sorry Neil)
When a Man Cries: I love the music box sound on this - it's a great song that showcases Neil's voice.
When a man cries/ it's choked and throttled/ it's all been bottled up/ for far too long/ and when at last the pressure cooker blows/ it's hard to stem the flow
It's a heartfelt and powerful song, get those tissues out gents. Erm, for your eyes, not the other thing, you filthy buggers!
Can You Stand Up On One Leg - this is as utterly daft as it sounds. It's already got up some fans noses, and I can see why. It's a silly novelty song of the kind Neil seems fond of, that does make you wonder why on earth he uses his talents for this... but I can't begrudge him the odd silly number and that held high note for 30 seconds is pretty damn impressive!
I like: The catchiest song Neil's written since National Express, you'll hear this and it will be stuck in your brainium for days after. Another fun tune, it's lyrics are simple but endearing:
I like the songs/ you sing when you're bathing/I like the dog/when he's behaving
Again, Neil is wearing his heart on his sleeve, and it's hard not to be sucked into the sheer fun of this song. A great song to end the album on.
Neil's first album on his own label (Divine Comedy Records) it's already doing pretty well - currently sitting pretty at number 20 in the charts. It's a perfect summer album so if you fancy something a bit different, give it a whirl! The CD artwork is a great laugh (especially the back cover), the song lyrics are in the booklet, it's been put together with a lot of love and it comes highly recommended from me.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Down In The Street Below
2 The Complete Banker
3 Neapolitan Girl
4 Bang Goes The Knighthood
5 At The Indie Disco
6 Have You Ever Been In Love
7 Assume The Perpendicular
8 The Lost Art Of Conversation
9 Island Life
10 When A Man Cries
11 Can You Stand Upon One Leg
12 I Like