The Divine Comedy: Edinburgh Liquid Room

New image for Neil Hannon as The Divine Comedy launch European tour...

If the almost universal scorn heaped upon the wonderful 'Velvet Goldmine' signified anything, it was that, in these desperately conservative times, anything smacking of 'pretension', would not be tolerated. In 2001 the Bloke is king, whereas the poseur, the ironist, the art-pop artisan is out on his delicate ear.

All of which rather renders Neil Hannon persona non gratis round these parts these days, what with his suits and his cellos and his songs about punting. And yet, here he is, looking like third-bloke-from-the-juke-box in every common room everywhere, long-haired and t-shirt-clad - the very epitome of indius shamblius.

Indeed, like the class nerd dispensing with his glasses for the school disco, Hannon's stylistic volte-face would appear to be a desperate attempt to fit in with the bloke-pop mundanity surrounding him and can't help but seem like a negation of all he once stood for. And yet, paradoxically, the material for forthcoming LP 'Regeneration' is some of Hannon's most uncommercial to date. Songs like 'Lost Property' and the excellent, languidly melodic 'Love What You Do' are infused with an air of sombre, urban European melancholy reminiscent of The Associates' monochrome melodramas. What's more, Hannon continues to improve as a singer, singing the lilting likes of 'Life On Earth' in a voice richer than Judith Keppel, while his shift into more understated musical territory proves that, to mature, one doesn't have to lose the plot.

Ultimately, the non-image is revealed as the red herring it is: Hannon's vision may have shifted focus but, thankfully, remains undimmed.

Paul Whitelaw

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