Pop & Jazz: Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy play the Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) 26 and 27 Mar

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The Independent Culture
Of one fact there can be no doubt - when Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy pens a love song, he writes in primary colours. Last year's album Casanova draped his tales from the heart with orchestral strings and pure pop razzmatazz which nudged him into the charts.

The live new arrival A Short Album About Love comprises even more opulent and adorable stuff. Hannon obviously has much passion to exorcise, and it's intriguing to watch. There is just one nagging problem; while Mr Hannon is definitely Mr Romantic, he's certainly not Cupid or Mr Prince Charming, even though many seem keen to paint him as such. I refer not to the recently acquired beard - though that is awful enough. No, the evidence is all in A Short Album About Love, a beautiful bouquet of songs if ever there was one. You will be hard pressed to hear anything else presently which matches its shimmering elegance. Somehow the diminutive Irishman has managed to wrap up the dark drama of the Tindersticks, the wry wit of Baby Bird, and the vocal inflection of Scott Walker all in one.

As just one example, the song "If..." is tender and swoonworthingly gorgeous - "If you were a road, I'd go all the way, if you were the night, I'd sleep in the day".

But Hannon, ultimately, is a man of craft, and his fantasies are a substitute for the real thing. The album does not make you smile, strangely enough - it's too rueful to be the product of a man truly in love and at ease with himself. Dearest Neil, by taking romanticism to such extremes, proves that he is to love what a hypochondriac is to illness - an obsessive - but it's mostly in the mind.

But what a mind Hannon has. If Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't get on the phone to him in the wake of the Broadway-esque "Timewatching", he's missing out. Neil's songs were made for tap dance musicals, not sweaty pigs. We are privileged to have him treading the boards himself. Undoubtedly

there is a piece of the jigsaw missing as far as his loverman persona goes. But I reckon we'll have fun watching him look for it.


As an alternative to the Vans, Marys, Sineads and all the other big names in "Irish music" come the Limerick melodic rock newcomers, The Driven. They've been dubbed a Goth Radiohead - a compliment, apparently. The tour by the moody, intense Irishmen precedes the April release of their single, "Monkey in a Cage".

Sheffield University, The Park (0114-222 8553), tonight; Leeds, Joseph Well (0113-245 1634), 24 Mar; Manchester Hop and Grape (0161-275 2930), 25 Mar