Review Summary: "Elegance against ignorance. Difference against indifference. Wit against sh*t."
Released in 1996, The Divine Comedy's third album Casanova represented a significant commercial breakthrough for the band. They had been slowly gaining traction in the early nineties, with their first two LPs Liberation and Promenade garnering a heap of critical acclaim. With britpop still in full swing, the label smelled blood in the water and put a lot of muscle and financial backing behind the release. The pressure was on and a hit was expected. Thankfully, the timing was right and a hit was indeed delivered as planned.
The Divine Comedy's previous album Promenade had been a concept album about two lovers sharing a romantic day together. With Casanova, Neil Hannon once again opted to take the concept album route. This time around, however, he created his most enduring image and character; that of an unscrupulous bohemian playboy who would lie, cheat and steal to get into anybody's knickers. It was all incredibly perverse but also very, very funny.
An album dedicated to the joys of casual sex doesn't sound like a clever idea at all, but The Divine Comedy not only knock it out of the park but out into the stratosphere. Filled to the brim with witty couplets, ridiculous innuendo, arch camp and catchy tunes for days, Casanova is a truly masterful pop album.
It's hard to pick highlights from an album entirely comprised of highlights, but we'll give it go. The mid album chamber pop epic 'Charge' is the funniest song Neil Hannon ever wrote. Using images of battle and war as euphemisms for sex, the innuendos get progressively sillier and sillier, peaking with the falsetto lyric "You're going over the top / Rolling around in no-man's land / Getting caught in your barbed wire / Baby, baby I'm gonna set your village on fire!" It doesn't sound much when written down like that, but trust me, the way it's delivered in the song will have you pissing yourself.
The Smiths-esque 'In & Out Of London & Paris' also pushes the camp carry-on sex capers with witty abandon, subverting the Hokey-Kokey to amusingly smutty effect ("In out in out, shake it all about"), while the beautiful 'Songs Of Love' is immediately nostalgic and recognizable for being the theme-tune of the popular British sit-com Father Ted.
Elsewhere, 'A Woman Of The World' sees Neil Hannon do his best Frank Sinatra impression amid a 1930s Vegas showgirls routine. it's a lot of daft, feather boa flicking fun. The trumpet adorned 'The Frog Princess', meanwhile, is probably the best single The Divine Comedy ever released. The song features so many memorable lines that it's a work of genius; "I met a girl, she was a frog princess / And yes I do regret it now / But how was I to know that just one kiss / Could turn my frog into a cow / And now I'm rid of her I must confess / to thinking back what might have been / And I can visualize my frog princess / Beneath a shining guillotine". It makes for an unforgettably catchy and witty addition to The Divine Comedy's oeuvre.
However, the best track on the record comes in the form of the snarling 'Through A Long And Sleepless Night'. Spoken word verses take you on a lyrical tour-d-force through sexual frustration and feverish perversions ("I know you'll be the death of me / But what a cool death that would be / I'd rather die than be deprived / Of wonderbras and thunder thighs") before exploding in an impressive maelstrom of guitars and strings. Over the storm, Hannon growls his life advice at you; "Pickle your liver and addle your brain / Live the bohemian life / And die young and penniless somewhere in spain / Then again, you could try just to live your own life in the way that you find most amusing" before concluding "I DON'T REALLY CAAAAAAAAAARE!!" with a deranged punk scream. It's an utterly awesome track and one of the best the band ever put to tape.
I could go on waxing lyrical about Casanova, but you get the point. It's a bloody brilliant, slick, intelligent, big budget pop record that easily stands the test of time. It broke the band into the mainstream with panache and made Neil Hannon into a bonafide star during the late nineties. I'd stop short of calling it the best Divine Comedy record, as the youthful passion and offbeat eclecticism of the band's first two albums is nearly impossible to top. But Casanova is easily the band's most accessible and popular LP. It's the place that everyone should start with The Divine Comedy and remains an absolute masterpiece of fop-pop.