While 5:4 isn’t a forum where i’d like to spend much time discussing bad music, there are times when one feels compelled to say something, simply out of a sense of duty to one’s fellow humanity. This is especially the case when an artist who, generally, has received a fair amount of praise and respect, starts to lose their marbles and inflict audiences with something far less worthy. Apropos: The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood.
To be fair, signs of Neil Hannon’s creative decline have been evident for a while, nowhere more so than the inept and, frankly, bizarre farrago he proffered last year as one half of The Duckworth Lewis Method. It was a self-indulgent, shameful album, the one good song (“The Age of Revolution”) turning out to be a slap in the face when followed by such half-hearted, stupid effluvia. i can’t have been the only person shocked to find Neil Hannon actively involved in such an album; in hindsight, it did at least unwittingly prepare one for the experience of Bang Goes The Knighthood.
The title, at least, is accurate; there’s no way a knighthood is going to be put Hannon’s way on the strength of pap like this. As with The Duckworth Lewis Method, the album starts reasonably strongly; “Down In The Street Below” is a song of quite broad scope, gentle but with a curious jaunty episode; nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, such music is commonplace in the Divine Comedy catalogue. But then, things start to change; “The Complete Banker” sounds like a generic song from an equally generic (mercifully) unwritten musical, while “Neopolitan Girl” is seemingly trapped in a nostalgia trip, bringing to mind the more simplistic sounds from the 50s and 60s—one can imagine girls in Mary Quant twirling to it on a black and white TV. Hannon then decides to take a stab at a chanson parisiènne, replete with accordion, in the title track; for all its relentless pastiche, it’s very good, proving conclusively that, when not oscillating between sonic brocade and childish high jinks, Hannon’s a superbly-gifted songwriter. Recently released as a single, “At The Indie Disco” comes across as the recollections of an aging pop fan, but one can’t help feeling embarrassed at it all; even the phrase “indie disco” feels uncomfortable, and lines like “Give us some Pixies and some Roses and some Valentines/Give us some Blur and some Cure and some Wannadies” are just cringeworthy. To be extolling the virtues of indie music is no bad thing of course, but to be doing it from such a mediocre platform as this doesn’t do The Divine Comedy any favours.
The remainder of the album can be swiftly described; it’s simply a disgrace. Six of the last seven songs (not “Island Life”; it’s tolerable) are so awful there’s no point getting into them individually. They obliterate the few enjoyable moments from the first half in a tirade of sonic blather that i won’t pretend i wasn’t horrified to sit through. This is Michael Bublé meets The Strokes meets The Sims meets Chas ‘n’ Dave for the Radio 2/Muzak generation; it’s not big and it’s certainly not clever.
What it is, however, is desperately sad, to witness an artist one’s respected and admired for a long time getting things so badly wrong. and while this isn’t as egregious a monstrosity as The Duckworth Lewis Method, it still represents 45 minutes of my life i would dearly like back. “Bang Goes the Quality Control” would have been an infintely more apposite title; AVOID.