Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVIII - Bad Ambassador

The forty-eighth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

The trouble with any kind of long-running blog series (and 48 isn't especially long, but it's getting there) is that eventually you start to repeat yourself. Not necessarily in content, but insomuch as certain tropes start to appear... and reappear. For the Clandestine Classics, that trope is the question, "What do you think about when I say <insert band name here> to you?", after which I'll rattle through the obvious choices for that band and then pull a rabbit out of the hat, a non-obvious choice that is, hopefully, a belter. So, on that basis... what do you think about when I say The Divine Comedy to you? National Express, probably. Generation Sex too. Becoming More Like Alfie, hopefully. Maybe Something For The Weekend too and, with luck, the theme tune from Father Ted. And unless you're a big fan, that's probably about it.

When I think about The Divine Comedy, I think about all those songs too, of course. And I think of how their 90s flirtation with the big time, for want of a better phrase, was probably made possible, indirectly, by the sudden, unexpected but zeitgeisty prominence of Common People-era Pulp. If Jarvis could be a star, record labels doubtless mused, then so could Neil Hannon. There's probably some logic in that too, as there are doubtless similarities in their approach to the so-called rock star life, their performance style, even musically. But there are plenty of differences too, not least Neil's love of a good croon. But I digress - what about today's classic?

Bad Ambassador dates from 2001; the crest of the Britpop wave that scooped up Pulp, The Divine Comedy and so many other bands, had long since broken, there was no TFI Friday to plug your songs on anymore, no more Shine compilations to showcase your work, and no Radio 1 playlisting for Neil and his crew. Record label Setanta were replaced by Parlophone, the quirky suited look was ditched, Nigel Godrich was drafted in on production duty... it all got a bit serious, in other words. The album Regeneration was the result - less twee, less quirky, slightly harder sounding, the critics lapped it up, but the record-buying public...? Not so much. The Divine Comedy would split soon after its release.

Today's classic was the second single to be drawn from Regeneration, and it limped to a lowly 34 in the UK chart, and that's a shame because, regeneration or not, all the hallmarks of what made The Divine Comedy great were still there: whip-smart lyricism, knowing delivery, great melodies... Were there really 33 better songs in the chart that week? I find it hard to believe.

Anyway, Mr Hannon has reformed The Diving Comedy, and I had the pleasure of seeing them live in October. Let me tell you, in a live setting this song really takes off - it properly rocks out! Or, to put it more eloquently, this song works on many levels and, if there was any justice, would feature in the first five songs you mention when I ask you what you think of when I say The Divine Comedy to you. Always assuming you don't go down the Danté route...

You can pick up Regeneration on Amazon, and you won't regret it. Bad Ambassador is not on the obligatory best of compilation though, as that only mops up the Setanta years (a.k.a. the glory years). So instead, courtesy of YouTube, here's today's clandestine classic in video form. Enjoy.


  1. I don't think he's ever made a bad record. I'll be saying more on that subject next week.

    1. I'm inclined to agree. And truly excellent live.