The Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood

RIYL: Scott Walker, Pulp, Belle & Sebastian

After a three-year silence, Neil Hannon has suddenly reached Jack White levels of productivity. He and fellow Irishman Thomas Walsh made last year’s dead-brilliant, ELO-riffing Duckworth Lewis Method (the only concept album about cricket you’ll ever need), and a mere ten months later, Hannon has returned with yet another album, this one under his day job the Divine Comedy. It should surprise no one familiar with Hannon’s work that he has once again made a superb record.

Bang Goes the Knighthood boasts the same chipper tone as his last album, 2006’s Victory for the Comic Muse, though the first step out of the gate is a measured one. “Down in the Street Below” is half-ballad, half-baroque pop, exploring people’s tendencies to lose themselves in the hustle and bustle. Walsh delivers his trademark honey-dipped backing vocals on the scathing “Complete Banker” (“Maybe this recession is a blessing in disguise / We can build a much much bigger bubble the next time”), but the song that will have Gen X alt-rockers chuckling is “At the Indie Disco,” Hannon’s love letter to the Stone Roses and Wannadies, which finishes with one of his best couplets ever: “She makes my heart beat the same way / As at the start of ‘Blue Monday’ / Always the last song that they play.

The one song that might have people scratching their heads – and will give Anglophobes a scrorching case of hives – is “Can You Stand on One Leg,” which is what “Mack the Knife” might have sounded like had it been written by Monty Python, and ends with Hannon holding an obscenely high falsetto note for 28 seconds. (You read that right.) It’s a tough one to swallow, trying just a bit to hard to be silly. He redeems himself on the next, and final track “I Like,” a driving love letter to his wife about the things he, yes, likes about her. It’s all just another day at the office for Hannon; pristine ork pop with smarts for days. Even better are the extra tracks that come with the download version, where Hannon engages in some oddball electronic experimentation and Kraftwerk sampling clearly borne from the Duckworth Lewis Method sessions. He’s great the way he is, but if Hannon chose to go in that direction next time around, he would get no argument here. (101 Distribution 2010)

Divine Comedy MySpace page
Click to buy Bang Goes the Knighthood from Amazon


Pugwash: Giddy

RIYL: XTC, The Kinks, The Beach Boys

It’s hard to believe that a band as talented as Dublin’s Pugwash could have such a low profile in a post-MySpace world – though if we’re being honest, that band name is doing them no favors whatsoever – but expect that to change post haste. Thomas Walsh, lead singer and songwriter for Pugwash, was recently showered with accolades for his work in the Duckworth Lewis Method, a concept album about cricket that Walsh assembled with Divine Comedy singer Neil Hannon. Leave it to the band’s new label head Andy Partridge to strike while the iron is hot with Giddy, a collection of the finest moments from Pugwash’s first four albums. You can tell what Partridge sees in the band – namely, himself. “Song for You” is a dead ringer for Apple Venus-era XTC, and “Apples” is about as perfect a pop song as you’ll find. The unstoppably sunny “It’s Nice to Be Nice” will make Brian Wilson shed tears of joy, but the band isn’t stuck mining ’60s pop gold; “Monorail” out-Beck’s Beck, and look for Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics to cover “Finer Things in Life” in the near future.

Even better, Giddy features material from the band’s forthcoming album Eleven Modern Antiquities, and if the groovy “My Genius” is any indication (that has to be Hannon on backing vocals), it looks as though Pugwash are just getting warmed up. Pardon the cliché, but this is the best pop band you’ve never heard. (Ape House 2009)

Pugwash MySpace page
Click to buy Giddy from Amazon