It may be 10 years since The Divine Comedy's ground-breaking Casanova, but sex is still a favourite topic for Neil Hannon. On the cusp of his new album release, Jane Graham talks dirty with the Enniskillen native
Talking to Neil Hannon, the man known collectively as The Divine Comedy, is rather good fun. The Enniskillen-born son of a Church of Ireland bishop has, on the one hand, always seemed rather too literary and self-aware for the pop industry, surveying his chosen environment like a lofty Oscar Wilde glancing amusedly over the huddled masses.
On the other hand, he's always up for a good old chat about sex, parties and premieres.
The Divine Comedy's eagerly awaited new and ninth album, Victory for the Comic Muse (see our review on page 10), opens with the tale of an adolescent boy feverishly investigating his older brother's porn collection 'under the covers', before his girlfriend comes round and rewards him with the birthday present she's long promised - the loss of his virginity.
Surely, as a happily settled husband and the father of a four-year-old daughter, Hannon can't still be obsessed with sex - can he?
"Oh yes," he confirms, good-naturedly. "It's a daily preoccupation. I wish it wasn't - it takes up lots of time, stops me getting on with practical things. But its not my fault, it's the way I'm made."
Hannon's interest in sex and the sexes has long been documented (the title of Divine Comedy's breakthrough 1996 album, Casanova, being an early give-away). But really, I chastise, shouldn't the responsible father be over all that randy lustiness by now?
"Actually," he cleverly rationalises, "I'm really doing teenage girls a favour, telling them the way things are. Because the truth is, no matter how interesting your conversation is, he's just thinking about sex."
To be fair, Victory for the Comic Muse has more to it than teenage sex fantasies, even if it does have a track tantalisingly entitled Threesomes - which turns out to be an instrumental ("Its for three musicians," Hannon reprimands. "Shame on your dirty mind".) The album is strewn with beautifully realised portraits of Hannon's favourite muses - women of all ages, at different stages in their lives.
Mother Dear is a paean to the woman Hannon says he has just realised "is a person in her own right". Diva Lady is about a nameless celebrity princess who demands that the blue Smarties are removed from her dressing room, and whose special needs mean she requires "extra make-up for her extra face." Lady of a Certain Age eulogises the faded memories of a once beautiful and glamorous society queen with as much wit and poetry as Hannon has ever mustered.
"Yes, I'm very pleased with it," he says proudly. "I think it shows how much better my writing has become. One upon a time, in my early 20s, I would either have tried to be literary just to show off, or I'd have written the first verse and got bored and rushed on through to the end. Now I can fill a song with ideas without that impatience."
He does seem to prefer writing about female characters, I point out, also noting Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World, in which he salutes the woman whom he loves but cannot begin to understand because she seems "completely logic-free".
There seems to be something delectable about the mystery of the opposite sex for Hannon - the less knowable the better, perhaps.
"Hmm, yes, I do tend to write a lot about women," he admits. "I expect its because I'm not one. One is always fascinated by what one is not. I did realise when I looked at the songs I'd written that there was a common thread, but it wasn't deliberate. One needs to write about something - and women are rather interesting."
None more so than Hannon's daughter, apparently, who has made acute for him the innate differences between the genders.
"At her age I just wanted to kill things, but she is so girly," he delights. "I love it, I even get to do her hair for her."
Has she helped his songwriting, given him an added depth I wonder?
"She has made a big difference. I realised, 'My God, life really does go on'. Having a child - it lessens the ego, the idea you have that the world revolves around you, reminds you there are other people on the planet. And that does help when you write songs, because you always need empathy."
So she's softened him up a bit?
"Well, I was always rather soft anyway," he replies. "When I was very young I wanted to kill things and get aggressive, but I realised quickly I just wasn't built for it - I was rather flimsy. So I decided to become a pacifist instead."
He's adaptable, this Neil Hannon, if nothing else. Answers come easily to him. A man who found sacking his entire band often proved the best solution to conflict, he has also come to terms easily with his fall from Top 10 grace, reasoning that at least he's "still here".
Sick of London? He moved to Dublin. Public not buying his solo persona? He changed his showbiz name back to The Divine Comedy. Not much fazes Hannon - although a new concern has crept into his consciousness of late.
"Ah yes, mortality - something I find occurring more and more vividly to me as I get older," he confesses. "Basically, if I'm not thinking about sex I'm thinking about death."
Does he worry about the continuing life of his songs?
"Not really" he says, philosophical as ever. "I don't worry that they'll be forgotten. As long as I give people a laugh along the way I don't care."
It must be nice being Neil Hannon, I decide. He's a thinker (though, he regrets, a very slow book reader) but he usually finds the funny side and he's rather content with his life.
"I don't regret anything, even the stupidest things I ever did," he says. "It's all part of being a pop star person. I enjoy the fluff and the parties. I'd rather have fun than be thought of as some old fuddy duddy."
He needn't worry. So long as he keeps writing joyful tales of hidden porn stashes, he's not in much danger of being considered a fuddy duddy ...
From Belfast Telegraph