on 11 March 2005
Like harrycornelius, 'songs of love' played at my wedding, and 'theme from cassanova' in all it's lift music style, cheesy glory ended the ceremony.
What can I say, after 9 years this album is STILL my favourite album of all time. The Joby's orchestration is superb. Neil's Scott Walkereque vocals are deliberately over the top, with funny, ironic lyrics. TDC haven't really released a bad album. But this is still Neil's most perfect record to date.
"I suggested, she protested, I persisted, she said... "Well, OK", and I said... "Wayhey!!! yeah"
on 28 February 2008
It's something of a shame that Casanova would be many listeners first experience of Neil Hannon's particular blend of witty-wordplay and arch romanticism; as it remains the complete antithesis to the two Divine Comedy albums that came before. Here, Hannon shuns the wilting choral passages and depictions of summery innocence found on the first Divine Comedy album, the warm and eclectic Liberation, whilst also perverting the lush strings and underlining sense of giddy glee that marked out second album Promenade as the masterpiece it always has been. Instead, he created a piece of work that gives us bombast where once was beauty and, in the process, creates an album that on first appearances might seem like something of a pop novelty. This is only half the truth though, with many of the song being of an exceedingly high-quality, due in part to the range of talent and ideas possessed by the band that Hannon had assembled for his previous tour and who would go on to become the band nucleus for the next three albums. So really, this is where the Divine Comedy, as an actual, serious pop project, began to take shape.
As with the first two records, we open with a sound sample, though here there's no hint of autumnal summer fields or waves crashing on rocks amidst a recitation of a famous prayer; instead, we get giggling school-girls snickering as Hannon plays the leering English dandy. The subsequent song, Something for the Weekend, is a definite progression in Hannon's ability to craft the perfect pop song. That said, the swinging melody coupled with the humorous lyrics and crooning baritone means that Casanova might be there first instance where many people started to see The Divine Comedy as a novelty act; something set in continuation by the success of later singles like the National Express and the Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count. With this in mind, the songs on Casanova can be broken down into two distinct halves; the first half being the more refined, melancholic odes to love and innocence - wrapped up in strong lyrics and some wonderfully imaginative instrumental flourishes - and then the second half, which sees a shift into operatic bombast; with school boy humour, screaming vocals and bold, ostentatious production techniques. These latter songs now seem like a severe misstep for the band and is certainly the reason why Casanova figures as a slightly lesser work in the Divine Comedy cannon, for me personally.
The best songs are the ones that go for wit and creative growth as opposed to self-gratification, with Becoming More like Alfie featuring as a loving 60's style-pop tribute to Michael Caine's eponymous anti-hero, complete with a fantastic horn line and some wonderful lyrics. Middle Class Heroes is next, and is a fine song; nothing life changing admittedly, though it does represent the first time that Hannon would attempt social commentary, something that would become more apparent on later albums like Fin de Siècle and Regeneration, with lyrics like... "all these things will come to pass, for heroes of the middle class, face up repent and pay the price, for accidentally creating life...". Songs of Love is one of my favourite Divine Comedy songs, first heard as a youngster through its use as the Farther Ted theme tune, however here fitted with lyrics that make light of the ironic fact that those who dedicate their life to writing love songs are often the ones who spent their teenage years sitting alone in their bedrooms. It's a definite throwback to the sound of Liberation, with acoustic guitars and soaring vocals creating a warm and rich pop/folk sound.
The Frog Princess is another standout; one of those songs that looks back to the earlier style, with heartbreaking lyrics, a cheeky French horn refrain and a juxtaposition between arch humour and soaring, emotional melodrama. The chorus, "you don't really love me, but I don't really mind / because I don't love anybody, that stuff is just a waste of time", remains one of Hannon's most impassioned constructions. A Woman of the World is another fine 60's pop pastiche, with lots of horns and a whistling chorus that certainly ties in well with the first two songs, "Weekend" and "Alfie"; though for my money, the closing tracks Theme from Casanova and The Dog & the Horse are much, much better! Theme from... is one of those rare Divine Comedy instrumentals, with epic strings and a "la, la, la, la" vocal, though taken further into the realms of post-modernist experimentation, by also featuring the album credits spoken over the top of the intro, like a Radio 4 broadcast. The Dog & the Horse meanwhile is simply a great ballad in the Jacques Brel/Scott Walker mode. The song ends with Hannon heartbrokenly pining 'goodbye', which ties in with the opening of "Weekend", which begins with 'hello', ably demonstrating that the spirit of the concept album was alive and well, and living in the mind of Neil Hannon!!
From this, it would seem that Casanova really is a masterpiece and I've just been going back and forth unable to make up my mind. Well, that would be true, if it wasn't for the inclusion of - in my mind lesser tracks - In & Out in London & Paris, Charge (which has rather crude lyrics and a mid-song Barry White parody) and Through a Long & Sleepless Night (which alludes to abuse and cross-dressing, with far too much emphasis on screaming). These tracks slow the album down a little for me and detract from the charm and enjoyment of those songs don't fall back in Britpop-type posturing. If you're new to the Divine Comedy, I would suggest you bypass this album and get Liberation and Promenade first, then move onto Fin de Siècle, Absent Friends, A Short Album About Love and then come back to this one later.