Neil Hannon covers the classics


My admiration for Neil Hannon and his The Divine Comedy is no secret. Their most recent album, Victory for the Comic Muse, is one of my favorite releases of 2006 for good reason. For over thirteen years, Hannon has been a devastating but quiet force in the music industry, being wildy consistent and entirely innovative throughout his discography of nine albums. I have posted plenty of original tracks by Hannon, so I figured it would be a good time to demonstrate Hannon’s astute ability to cover a song as well. Hannon has only included a cover song once in a final album, that being The Associates’ ‘Party Fears Two’ in Victory for the Comic Muse. Despite the little involvement, he has recorded a numerous amount of covers along with dozens of live renditions with great quality. He usually packs them away as a b-side (a track on one of his many singles) or doesn’t release them at all. As you can hear, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Ironically, the artists he covers are usually and strictly his influences, with the obvious inclusions of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Edwyn Collins, and Leonard Cohen. Suffice to say, he also works with songs by more contemporary or diverse artists such as Kraftwerk, Magnetic Fields, and Ride. I gathered up many of my favorite covers by Hannon, with most of them being done live (but in great quality).


The first song I would like to bring attention to is the portrayal of David Bowie’s reputable ‘Life On Mars’. Hannon uses some music box keys and a single lush set of strings to open the song off, until the famous chorus kicks in with Hannon’s high vocal range and a more complex string arrangement. Hannon’s vocals tend to be even more daring than Bowie’s in this cover, even if the music remains relatively the same. His smokey cover of the Randy Newman’s bar room favorite ‘Lonely At The Top’ demonstrates Hannon’s classical piano talents, while emphasizing his skill of mimicking vocal styles. Notice how he sets his vocals to be slightly thinner for the Newman cover, while deepening his already solemn tone to match Sacha Distel’s grandiose vocals in ‘The Good Life’. It only goes to show that Hannon could have placed well into any musical timeframe, from the classics of the 1950s to the modern aggression of the 1990s. Much like his idol Scott Walker, he does a presentable cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Jackie’, while his cover of Roxy Music’s ‘Oh Yeah’ makes his comparisons to Bryan Ferry sound even more accurate. ‘Split’, his collaboration with broadway vixen Ute Lemper is not a cover at all, but it’s hilarious as the two duet and present a couple in a bitter argument about a relationship unbound by adultery. “You were there for me… and him,” Hannon snickers, “and half of the Western it seems”. Of course, Lemper snaps back with her usual flair and Hannon mockingly replies with wit. The song is off Ute Lemper’s Punishing Kiss. ‘Suzanne’ reflects the usual sympathetic melancholy and poetic lyrics that Cohen is famous for and Edwyn Collins’ ‘Untitled Melody’ is another great showmanship of Hannon’s vocal cloak, almost sounding exactly like Collins himself during the introduction. The cover of ‘Radioactivity’ is fantastic as well, with both Hannon’s German linguistics and general musical presentation really making for one of the most collective Kraftwerk covers I’ve seen, with a haunting piano melody eventually leading to a musical eruption that results in one of the most epic covers you will find. He also managed to throw in a few fun ones, even including Nelly Furtado’s ‘Maneater’ which was admittedly a guilty pleasure, while the covers of Magnetic Fields and Ride is strong as well. Neil Hannon is arguably one of the most talented musicians of the past fifteen years and his tributes to his own influences does nothing more than solidify that.


The Divine Comedy – Life On Mars (David Bowie cover)


The Divine Comedy – Lonely At The Top (Randy Newman cover)


The Divine Comedy – The Good Life (Sacha Distel cover)


The Divine Comedy – Jackie (Jacques Brel cover)


The Divine Comedy – Oh Yeah (Roxy Music cover)


Ute Lemper – Split (with Neil Hannon)


The Divine Comedy – Suzanne (Leonard Cohen cover)


The Divine Comedy – Untitled Melody (Edwyn Collins cover)


The Divine Comedy – Radioactivity (Kraftwerk cover)


The Divine Comedy – Maneater (Nelly Furtado cover)


The Divine Comedy – Famous (Magnetic Fields cover)


The Divine Comedy – Love Is Lighter Than Air (Magnetic Fields cover)


The Divine Comedy – Vapour Trail (Ride cover)


The Divine Comedy – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths cover)


Official Web Site


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19 Responses to Neil Hannon covers the classics

  1. Mike says:

    Excellent cover of There Is A Light…
    I love the extended pause between Take me anywhere, and I don’t care… I thought he was going to skip the lyric entirely.

  2. Ainah says:

    Great list…there’s also a cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows” which is pretty remarkable, if not just for the banjo solo.

  3. Derek dK says:

    I also love his cabaret/techno rendition of Noel Coward’s “I Went To A Marvellous Party.” Truly awesome.

  4. great, wanted to hear vapour trail for ages. check my blog.

  5. Kevin says:

    Heil also does a killer cover of Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You make It”. Well worth tracking down.

  6. Katie says:

    Thanks for all of these uploads, particularly Untitled Melody because it’s annoying having to put the vinyl on when I want to hear it!

  7. hully says:

    Just discovered TDC last year…was wondering what tracks to seek out as ‘starters.’ Thanks so much for your help AND for posting these covers. Great material.

  8. Koen says:

    Thanks a lot, being a fan of the TDC for years now, some of these tracks are still new for me

  9. allison says:

    Just found this post after doing a search on the Divine Comedy on Hype Machine. Thank you for this absolute treasure trove of DC goodness! I’ve been a fan for a while now, but haven’t heard most of these covers. It’s my birthday tomorrow, and this is a wonderful, unexpected present. Thanks!

  10. Mario says:

    Thanks for this, i was looking for that suzanne track, his voice in this one is hypnotic. There is also a very nice ELO cover (mr. blue sky). If someone wants it i will try to send it.

  11. Sébastien says:

    Dear Marlo,
    I will bevery interessted by the cover of Mr Blue Sky. Anyway, this cover track list is a real gift.

  12. JunkThief says:

    I am speechless. I am not worthy of such riches! These tunes would be on my desert island mix tape, but to think I could hear them ALL covered by Neill Hannon is an embarrassment of riches that staggers me. Well, I guess you can tell I am a huge fan of his and now of this site.

  13. Sébastien says:

    I’m looking for a ELO ‘s Mr Blue Sky cover by Neil Hannon. Do you have any idea?

  14. Sébastien says:

    Does Mario still exist on this forum. MARIOOOOOOO, the last comment was for you!!!

  15. Rob says:

    The music from the Life on Mars cover is actually Yann Tiersen. The vocals are ace though.

  16. Jamie says:

    Neil also cover’s ‘The Good Life’ as the theme of the film ‘Gangster Number 1’. It’s a different recording, slightly slower and I prefer it but they are both gems! His voice is perfect for it, a lovely rich tone.
    Not sure where you can find the film version though…

  17. teri says:

    Thanks a lot. I’ve been a fan of Sir Hannon’s since I saw him in ’94 (London) open for Amos… Still have the ticket stub and promo postcard…

  18. edward says:

    That Smiths cover is far too sad
    The way he sings the second ‘ just driving in your car i never never want to go home’
    i think i blanked out

  19. David Bowie has some really eccentric personality but i like his style of music. he is a good actor too.;`’

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