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Cover coming: Peter Bjorn & John have remade The Divine Comedy’s Songs Of Love

There was a time around the mid to late ’90s and then into the early oughts when new-gen Dublin crooner Neil Hannon, publicly known as The Divine Comedy, might seriously have been the coolest human being on this big spinning planet (accepting of course that David Bowie was possibly a couple of levels above humanity).

Indeed, his trio of albums Casanova (’96), Fin de Siècle (’97) and Regeneration (’01) defined a new kind of postmodern cool, where philosophical decadence, existential heartache, and probably a few too many cigarettes and bottles of Beaujolais coalesced with a sonic manifesto perhaps best described as Nick Cave being filtered through Burt Bacharach, all to striking effect. He literally had no peers.

Other than the coruscating Carry On innuendo of Something For The Weekend, one of the most captivating tracks on Casanova was Songs Of Love, which was a reworking of the theme music that he had written for the bonkers British sitcom Father Ted. Despite its seemingly innocuous title, it was instead a pre-Millennium paradigm of biting social commentary, Hannon as usual taking aim at the mundane and scoring a direct hit.

“Pale, pubescent beasts roam through the streets and coffee-shops/ Their prey gather in herds In stiff knee-length skirts and white ankle-socks/ But while they search for a mate my type hibernate in bedrooms above/ Composing their songs of love”

The song may have faded into hazy memory for some, but a fascinating new project by American music mag Under the Radar is now giving it a whole new life.

Indeed, to celebrate the publication’s 20th anniversary, they challenged 20 indie artists (Cults, Sondra Lerche, Piroshka, etc.), some more well known than others, to each cover a song by another artist – with the only requirement that the artist had to have appeared on a cover of one of UTR’s print editions over the years. The result is, naturally, Covers Of Covers, out March 4, but available for pre-order via Bandcamp.

For it, Stockholm stalwarts Peter Bjorn & John went and chose to remake Songs Of Love – mostly due to band member Peter Morén being such an enthusiastic fan of Father Ted, a DVD box set of which he apparently forced his bandmates to watch repeatedly on their tour bus. The guitarist/vocalist recalls, “This madcap ’90s series about three bonkers Catholic priests on a remote, fictitious island called Craggy Island, hit me hard when it ran late night on TV in Sweden. Apparently it’s been banned in the United States and voted second best British comedy after Fawlty Towers by some poll in 2019.”

Hannon’s original version was even a bit of an odd one for him, musically coming off like the folkier side of early period Kinks. But PB&J significantly speed it up, and add some spacey, psychedelic atmospherics – so it seems a bit like Spiritualized going scat; or maybe it’s something like what The Beatles would have eventually done had they not so prematurely broken up.

Morén even sounds slightly Lennonesque here, as he recites the line, “Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice / Fortune depends on the tone of your voice.”

As with most things written by Hannon, you can be pretty sure there is some priceless wisdom in those words.

Steve Pafford

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