Saturday 19 May 2012

Mini Opera submission - brief commentary

I admit I haven't spent a huge amount of time on this, but I got married during the competition period so I've been busy! It isn't very polished, but I'm submitting it anyway as I've run out of time.

I went for blank dialogue; it suited the material better. I imagine it being set quite sparsely, like say Turn of the Screw. The direction I took with the given subject matter is probably not what the judges will expect!  This may not be a bad thing, though I can't imagine it will get any further in the contest. I hope it doesn't come across as axe-grindy, but I fear I haven't captured the Sweeper's pro-woo point of view very well. Ach well.

ENO Mini Operas submission

Enough Questions


APPRENTICE: At the birth of the day, I am there, sweeping away the glowing embers of dreams, freeing my patients from the malignancy. I bring them hope. I am the Sweeper of Dreams.

APPRENTICE: Who taught you the litany?

SWEEPER: Nobody knew him.

APPRENTICE: Right now nobody knows you.

SWEEPER: A sweeper lives in the shadows.

APPRENTICE: I don't. My blog gets 1,000 hits every week.

SWEEPER: Your what?

APPRENTICE: Number 15 have bought the sign. (GESTURES TO THE SIGN BY THE FIRST DOOR)

SWEEPER: They've had it 40 years. I will sweep them, watch closely. (RECITING) At the birth of the day, I am there.


APPRENTICE: Are you family proud of you?

SWEEPER: The street is my family, this broom my wife, the years our children. Enough questions, I have a job to do.

APPRENTICE: Tell me why you sweep.

SWEEPER: To free people from malignancy. When you have it, nothing goes right. Your health, your friends, your job, your money.

APPRENTICE: Like bad luck?

SWEEPER: Luck is superstitious nonsense. The malignancy is real, looking for a way in, every night. Enough questions! Take this (HE OFFERS HER THE BROOM, RELUCTANTLY), make yourself useful.

APPRENTICE: (RECITING) I sweep away the glowing embers of dreams.


APPRENTICE: What do you write down?

SWEEPER: How my patients are. Sometimes they get the malignancy too; that's when they most want my help.

APPRENTICE: Why do so many people pay you if sweeping won't prevent malignancy?

SWEEPER: I make them feel better.

APPRENTICE: Do you know about regression to the mean?

SWEEPER: Enough questions! I know about people. They want my help, they need my help.

APPRENTICE: I know about people too. If they believe you're sweeping they'll feel better, even if you do nothing.

SWEEPER: Don't you care about people? Why are you even here?

APPRENTICE: Of course I care, but people are amazing enough without your rain dance.

SWEEPER: It's raining.

APPRENTICE: It must be wonderful to be certain like you. So warm, so soft, so comfortable. I will never feel it. There are no certainties, only science. That's what my blog is about. Sweeping has been proven a hollow sham. I wanted to see it for real, here on the street, and tell people what it's really like.

SWEEPER: Damn you all, poking your noses in! This is my life's work, I've helped thousands of people, and you insult me like this. Keep your proof! If you had an open mind maybe you'd have learned something.

APPRENTICE: I have, and I have. Enough questions.


Sunday 1 April 2012

Mini Operas

ENO are running a Mini Operas competition. I intend to submit an entry, not with any genuine expectation of winning, but purely because I find very short operas to be an interesting form (I have a 15-minuter in my trunk). It'll be nice to have a short project - I intend to post every stage of the process onto this meagre blog.

Of the three choices of source material, I'm opting for The Sweeper of Dreams. It is unlike the sort of things I tend to write about. There is also a lot of scope to expand upon the intriguing snapshot that we are given, all of which I'm choosing to use.

One question the material doesn't answer is whether this sweeper attends to the entire population through some Santa-style magic, whether only those people he can reach benefit from his work, whether there are other sweepers everywhere, and whether there is some co-operation or organisation. It also treats its central conceit as being unquestionably true, yet we know it is fantasy - there is mileage here in leaving its efficacy unproven and open to question.

At the very least, to be able to exposit the scenario to the audience requires either the single character to address the audience directly, to have some other contrivance for talking to himself, or another character to talk to. I favour the latter. This leads quickly to the admittedly-tired trope of a master/apprentice relationship, which makes it easy to tell the audience what's going on without needing any Your-Father-The-King contrivances; it also sets out with no further effort the idea of some organisation surrounding the sweepers.

SWEEPER (further to source material)
A life-long loner who takes on apprentices only when forced to. Opinionated on any subject. Misogynist. Unshakeable belief in the efficacy of his work, based on decades of anecdotal evidence, but nevertheless wearily losing interest in his patients.

A young woman, dressed in jeans and a geeky t-shirt. Given to asking questions, without always considering the answers carefully - primary concern is having something to write about for her daily blog. Takes Instagram photos assiduously. Wants to see everything for herself and tell others about it. Didn't know much about sweeping, but needed a job. When ready, will take over sweeping for her local area next to Sweeper's patch.

The central tension will be whether Sweeping, trusted by its practitioners and a good portion of the population, does any good, or whether it is a fallacy. This will be left ambiguous, but the Apprentice's rather imperfect questions provoke imperfect defences from the Sweeper. Thus it will reflect the real-world tension between sceptics and e.g. aromatherapists. There's scope for a little discussion of gender-prejudice, and a cynical sick-in-the-mud like the Sweeper has plenty of prejudices to examine.

As for the style of the writing, I'm still undecided. I'll write a basic script of ordinary dialogue, and go from there. It's possible that I'll leave it at that, or I may then set it into proper verse.

OK, we have a setting, the characters, and the theme. The next thing to add is some words…

Saturday 17 March 2012

The Novelty Wears Off

Last year I looked at some songs of the Divine Comedy in more detail than you might want. Now I'm going to do the same to songs you don't even want to think about: Novelty Songs.

Yep. Accepting that they are all awful in a variety of awful ways, we come to an interesting question: is there merit underneath all those strata of awfulness? Is there evidence of craftsmen, unenviably tasked with writing an awful song, making an effort to produce something that didn't offend their professional pride?

I have a personal reason to believe that this is sometimes so, which I'll share later (see? Setting up tension to strengthen the later resolution. That's craftsmanship right there.), but let's dive into some places you never wanted to revisit, and see what we find.


Can We Fix It? - Bob The Builder (2000, UK #1)

Firstly, allowances must be made that this is an adaptation of a 1-minute TV theme song, with lyrics probably written by the writers and not a professional song-writer ('Pilchard and Bi-ird, Travis and Spud/Playing together like good friends should' being a) witless pish; b) half the length of the previous verse). Likewise the fact than Neil Morrissey has been pitch-bent to the point of cyborghood. The single is no more than the hook, plus padding, padding, padding.

Verdict: Tossed off in five minutes. At most.

The Fast Food Song - Fast Food Rockers (2002, UK #2)

This is a 2-line playground rhyme blown out of all proportion. By 27s they've run out of material, and verses like 'You like it, you love it, you know you really want it/ The voices I he-ar whenever you're around/ I want it, I need it, - nothing else can beat it, - Hotter, - spicy, whenever I'm in town' make Agadoo sound like Cicero. I pity the poor sods in the video.

Verdict: MY EYES!

Baby Got Back - Sir Mixalot (1992 US #1)

This charming paean adopts a rhapsodic construction, boldly stating its central premise and then inventively meandering around a labyrinthine path of ingenious variations upon it. Or, to put it bluntly, it's a structureless rant about fat arses. (On a side, or possibly rear, note, Jonathan Coulton pwned the song with his ballad cover.)

Verdict: Get thy behind, my Satan.


Because I Got High - Afroman (2001, UK #1)

This is a conventional list song. The AABC rhyming structure adequately conveys the idea of a man with some ability (the halfway-inventive AAs) being squandered by being a stoner (the jarring BC non-rhymes). Content Dictates Form. The list escalates to progressively worse occurrences - competently - with the sad exception of his becoming paraplegic in the middle of the song, which rather diminishes the effect of his subsequently-unfulfilled promises to lick pussy. Should have left that injury until last.

Verdict: Spoiled by a structural blunder.

Barbie Girl - Aqua (1997, UK #1)

The underlying problem with this is that it takes the 'blonde bimbo girl' at face value. There is no tension or character development there, pretty much by definition, and therefore the song goes nowhere. It's fun kitsch, but the songwriter could have done a lot by giving us a glimmer of Barbie wishing to be more than she is. An opportunity missed.

Verdict: The set designer had a blast.

The Chicken Song - Spitting Image (1986, UK #1)

This is really an anti-novelty song, embarrassed to be classified with that which it so savagely parodies. Written by Red Dwarf's Grant & Naylor, one of whose subsequent scribblings I happily hacked to pieces, it quite deliberately makes no sense at all.

Verdict: Not as good as the outrageously offensive B-side. Fully.


Do The Bartman - The Simpsons (1991, UK #1)

Co-written secretly by a Michael Jackson at the height of his powers. The verses are bland, mere snapshots of Bart's well-trodden existence, but the hook is a good one. Unlike most novelty songs, this is actually a genuine middle-of-the-road pop song from its era.

Verdict: Barring its subject matter, not novel at all.

Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby (1993, UK #1)

There is craftsmanship here, at least in the two verses. Firstly 'as far as he can see/ he's the same as you and me' deftly gives insight into a hitherto unsuspected depth to his character - it hadn't previously occurred to ponder Mr Blobby's self-image, and of course he'd believe himself to be normal. It's a pleasant surprise so see the songwriter bother to give the ridiculous Blobby a realistic human trait. Secondly 'Although he's unconventional in hue/ his philosophy of life will see him through/ and despite the limitation/ of his poor co-ordination…' is a nice way of setting down, err, what Blobby does best. The director of the video has obviously had a lot of fun (the clichéd novelty crowd-surf works a lot better than Bob The Builder's did), and we here at the Wordplay Guild know well-executed slapstick when we see it. Look out for Jeremy Clarkson and the odious Vorderman.

Verdict: Yes, it's awful, but it's also quite good. (Also, WTF were the spandex-dancers at the beginning for?)

Two Little Boys - Rolf Harris (1969, UK #1)

Cards on table, the craftsman here is the arranger, who is my grandfather (he's also here at 1:20, as MD of Name That Tune). He doesn't talk about this piece of work because I think he's a bit embarrassed by it (having two sons probably adds to this), but it was a quick job that was never expected to get where it did. The song itself is charming, and much older.

Verdict: This song makes me cry. Sorry, but it does.

Anyway, the point I would like to make is this: strip away the veneer of novelty, and is there anything left? Picture yourself as a jobbing songwriter - what would you do if you'd had to write it? Would you churn out some witless, meaningless padding, or would you write a competent song that stands up in its own right, and maybe adds something to its subject matter?

I know what I'd rather do.

Tuesday 6 September 2011


I have a confession. A portion of my reading diet comprises what I dub 'Man-Fiction'. A Man-Fiction book will: be heavily plot-driven; be vast in scope; involve people either in or aspiring to high office; rely heavily on battle and/or intrigue; have little or no character development in its expansive cast; be subject to accusations of misogyny; have bland prose driving on its sprawling plot. Done well, Man-Fiction is tremendously entertaining to read, even though probing examinations of the human soul may be subordinated to weapon statistics.

This post is a response to mockery I have read, and received personally, of such works. As such, all books of this nature are often assumed to be artless, worthless genre-fiction churned out by third-rate authors for a quick buck. I don't deny that this is often the case, and don't presume to defend it all. Equally, it doesn't all deserve to be tarred by the same brush.

Before refuting that, though, let us state that there is nothing wrong with reading artless genre fiction, and not dieting solely on what Jeeves called 'improving books'. What a reader chooses to enjoy between the covers is his own business, improving or not. I try to eat 'improving' food, but I'm not above the odd guilty pleasure, though like any self-respecting foodie I at least stick to good-quality treats where possible. Likewise, better good Man-Fiction than bad.

As for misogyny, my term of 'Man-Fiction' stereotypes its readers as being men, or at least male. In my experience this is overwhelmingly the case, but this is descriptive rather than proscriptive. Provided people don't look down on people because of their choice of anatomy, it's fine for men and women to want to do whatever they like; perhaps they will tend to like and to do different things, and that's fine. Man-Fiction itself is criticised for its abundance of male characters, and either paucity or ill-treatment of its female characters. Given that it's almost invariably set either in history or in the military (often both), this is hardly surprising, and generally realistic. It seems churlish to expect that the gender values of some modern societies should be grafted anachronistically into historical settings, however one may agree with those values - some reviewers appear to disagree.

Anyway, back to art. Not all Man-Fiction is artless, and if you dismiss as worthless anything with bland prose, thin characters, and expansive plot, then you get in trouble.

Der Ring Des Nibelugen.

I don't suggest a gender imbalance in its appreciation, but it certainly fulfils the above criteria for Man-Fiction. It's not above criticism, but describing it convincingly as 'not art' is going to require some powerful arguments. Sure, there's an appealing profusion of phenomenal music and musicianship in the Ring, but separate that from the libretto and you miss the whole point of Wagner's drama. The Ring is art, and it is Man-Fiction, therefore some Man-Fiction is art, therefore not all of it is worthless.

By all means mock Tolkien, or Robert Harris, or even George R.R. Martin if it's not your thing, but don't dismiss it as being devoid of merit. I for one regard a well-constructed, intricate, and epic plot to be an art in itself. I'll happily tear apart literary fiction for shallow characters or lifeless prose, but if prose and characters are your currency then you must spend them wisely. Man-Fiction trades on other assets.

I'm off to indulge in a little fantasy - not in the sense of goblins and dragons, but in the sense of dreaming. Dreaming of times and places where men fight for themselves and for what they believe in, and have the chance to be honourable, valourous, chivalrous, gallant, heroic. Virtues indeed. In my life I aspire to these things in my own small way, but it cannot be denied that a software engineer has fewer chances for valour than a knight, or an SAS trooper - and in this fiction, art or not, the basic urge for such virtues gains what vicarious satisfaction it can hope for. Is that so wrong?

Saturday 23 July 2011

Merrily We Roll Along

This post is partly by way of fleshing out some thoughts which are directly relevant to my book, but mostly as Dear Diary Catharsis.

It's now ten years since I committed myself to learning to make music. Not unusual in itself, but combine the fact that I started from scratch as an adult, and that I've actually managed to reach a competent standard (on which more later), and we at least arrive at a topic worthy of a blog post - How Did You Get Here From There, Mr Shepard? (Sondheim)

Briefly, I didn't have any significant musical tuition as a child, barring a couple of abortive attempts lasting a month or two: violin at age 7, drums at 11. Both ended for trivial reasons, which a simple kick up the backside (surely every child needs this?) would have overcome. There was a grand piano in the house, which was left unlearned. What a dreadful, dreadful pity. To avoid earning a #middleclassangst tag, happier times came at age 17. We attended the county youth orchestra playing Holst's The Planets, in which my friend was principal trombone. This left an indelible impression! This was Stage I: I Wish I'd Learned An Instrument.

Many people get to this stage.

I splurged my savings on a beginner trumpet. The excited, my-precious-stroking of the car journey home was followed immediately by a deep nadir which was to serve as a pattern for the years to come. Left in the cellar of an empty house, my few timid, muted notes sounded so awful that I couldn't bear the neighbours being able to hear them, so I cried, and put the instrument away again after only a few minutes. Stage II: Timid And Total Shit.

A few months of self-taught practice, and some Andrew Lloyd-Webber songbooks (my musical taste has progressed since then too!) brought me to Stage III: Confident And Shit. I didn't mind people hearing me, and lived in blissful ignorance of how terrible I was - though I at least realised that I was fighting the instrument rather than playing it. A trip to John Packer killed my interest with one note - even with my bloody-awful embouchure an experiment with a trombone was a hundred times easier and more satisfying to play. The trumpet then gathered dust. Stage IV: Got Nowhere And Gave Up.

I think this is where the story ends for most adult beginners.

Repeat the process for clarinet, and again for trombone, and we reach the point ten years ago, when I was 20. I desperately wanted to be able to play, and I knew I'd had the wrong approach, and that it was worth only one more go. I dusted off my trombone (Bach 300), booked a lesson, and promised myself that I would make it work this time. Stage V: Determined But Still Shit.

Early progress was rapid, but required a bucketful of determination. Most beginner music material is aimed at children, for obvious reasons. I hated hated hated playing Merrily We Roll Along (on the deep blue sea...) the fifty times it took to master. Throw in the gut-wrenching embarrassment I felt at people hearing my practice, and the burgeoning knowledge and self-loathing of my own incompetence, and we have a very steep hill to climb. Others may find this stage easy, but for me (personality summary: whore for people's respect) it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I persevered. Fast-forward a few months, and I joined the university wind orchestra, and had a crash course in ensemble playing, sight-reading, rehearsal geography ("upbeat to 5 before figure A" seems easy now...) and following a conductor. Stage VI: You're Shit And You Know You Are.

I practised obsessively. I refused to visit people for a weekend without bringing my trombone (now an 88H). I was very serious about improving. Too serious. I listened to a lot of my then-hero Christian Lindberg - himself a latecomer to trombone if not to music - with the earnest objective of getting as good as him. Yes, I really believed I would one day be able to play something as insane as Winter on a trombone. Within a year of starting, I was practising some serious solo repertoire (Ferdinand David, Saint-Saens, Hindemith!), oblivious to how horridly unmusical it was, even if I could play most of the notes. Stage VII: Inflated View Of Competence.

This balloon was rightly burst by a new teacher (now co-principal of the LSO, incidentally). I was forced to accept that I was still bad, just a different colour of bad. Self-loathing and embarrassment returned, never to go away fully. Fast-forward a couple of years, and we reach another nadir. Following an orchestra rehearsal at which I'd played very badly and was upset, I got a much-needed arse-kicking from my now-fiancée. She pointed out how little I enjoyed playing, and how unhappy it made me. Did I want to give up? Absolutely not. Then I would have to learn to enjoy it. I was in Stage VIII: Paralysed By Fear.

How did you get here from there, Mr Shepard? What did you have to go through?

No musical instrument can be played well by anyone who fears how it will sound. Brass doubly so - flaws in one-to-a-part fortissimo are blatantly obvious, and this does not lend itself to introspection. Anything less than total commitment will inevitably lead to split notes, wrong notes or wobbly notes at worst, poor ensemble balance or OK-but-uninspiring at best. I had to learn how to play without fear, and to do that I had to have fun in the process.

This took six years.

I deliberately stopped practising, playing only in ensembles. I forced myself to laugh off any obvious errors. I revised my goal down to the more realistic one of being a competent amateur player who is fixed to play for people. Sometimes (at the suggestion of the only sentence of The Inner Game of Music that was any use) I would wear ridiculous comedy underwear for concerts, because already feeling ridiculous freed me from fear of appearing so to others. Inch by inch I hacked my own mindset towards a healthier one, and my playing improved beyond recognition as a result. Stage IX: Enjoyment And Occasional Competence.

So we come to the present. I play regularly for two local orchestras, respectively OK and OKish in standard. Playing first trombone in The Planets was an extraordinarily satisfying experience, a dissonance that took 8 years to resolve. I've played as a guest for most of the other local ensembles, ranging from terrible to semi-pro standard and - crucially - am still on the fixing list. Probably, and justifiably, somewhere near the bottom, but good enough to invite back if needed. This means a very great deal to me.

Am I any good? I try to keep a realistic view of this. I've sat in sections with pro and semi-pro players and, if I did myself justice, made a positive contribution to the section and not looked out of place. In the lesser ensembles, I think and hope I stand out as a strong player. My solo playing is still dodgy, and to be honest I'm still too afraid of it to have a chance of being any good. There is a lot to improve upon, especially since I switched to bass (great fun, easier to play badly but harder to play well - Oh, 50B clone btw). One day I hope to be good enough to sit in the same good ensembles and actually be as good as the players next to me, rather than merely keeping up with them, but the learning curve is exponential and each jump forward is ten times further than the last - so I may never get there.

Begininning as an adult, by far the hardest battles have been fought inside my head, and the technical progress has happened almost as a side-effect. I've had to effect fundamental shifts in my attitude, and how I feel when I'm playing. I cannot express how torturously difficult this is. Embarrassment and fear of embarrassment have been my constant, unwelcome companions. They are still there, but sometimes I don't listen - you can't get from 'timid and poor' to 'confident and good' without going through 'confident and poor'.

My last two concerts sum this up nicely. The first, Tchaik 4 - a really plum and challenging bass trombone part, for the OKish orchestra. During the concert I was utterly fearless, committed to the music and thoroughly enjoying myself. I am immensely proud of how I sounded, which was, I believe, firm evidence that I can press on to become a properly good musician. The next day, the second, Brahms 1 - a short and moderate bass part for an excellent orchestra. Afraid of playing badly, I played badly and did not sound like I deserved to be there, even though I did. I was unrecognisable from the previous evening, and firmly in Stage X: Jekyll And Hyde.

I know of nobody else who has got this far from a similar starting point as mine, though I'm sure they're out there and I'd love to meet them. Even accepting my manifest flaws as a player, getting here has been no small achievement.

It's frustrating to be unable to play my best when it matters, but this is just the next problem to overcome, the next hill to climb. Probably another few years' worth, but nobody said this would be easy.

Monday 24 January 2011

Bang Goes The Scansion

This is a post about song-writing, and the Divine Comedy (Hannon, not Dante). It's been simmering since the latest album was released in May, and has come to the boil as I work my way through the book Finishing The Hat - specifically the sections commenting on the work of other (dead) lyricists, which I'm shamelessly going to imitate, and so highlight a series of distinct songwriters' sins. I should emphasise that I'm not setting myself up as being a 'better' lyricist (whatever that means) than he; from the point of view of a writing blog it makes sense to learn from those one admires, both from their strengths and from their shortcomings.

Hannon's work has got me through many a dull work day and will continue to do so. I love the lush orchestral sound lent by Jobi Talbot, sitting beautifully with Hannon's consitently inventive and often touching lyrics. However much I enjoy his work, I contend that he is sloppy and technically-limited (or -disinterested) as a lyricist.

By technique I mean the craft of choosing words to fit into the rhyming and rhythmical structure of the song, done in such a way as to match natural speech patterns (without putting the emPHAsis on THE wrong sylLAble), and not intruding on what the song is saying. To take extreme examples, contrast Cole Porter's You're The Top - an ostentatious display of technical brilliance - with Alicia Keys's Empire State of Mind - a study in broken scansion (and an 'of' that has no right to exist).

Bang Goes The Knighthood is, to my ears, a very irritating album. The scansion is consistently very poor; by the time we reach the title song it is already grating on my nerves, and I'm afraid I cannot truly enjoy the album because of it. However, I don't intend to pick it apart - though one easily can - save to mention that the carelessness of its author can be summarised in two words "Frank LamPARD".

No, it's much more interesting to take several of my favourite songs, and pick them apart instead. All of his work has scansion problems, but Bang was the point where it went from a tolerable imperfection to a real annoyance. You may think me pedantic for this, but my whole point is that otherwise excellent songs don't hold up to close scrutiny.

We'll kick off with my favourite: Our Mutual Friend. It tells a rich and interesting story, at times touching, and has a tension running through it, paying off at the last line. This is a very strong and effective structure. Look a little closer, though, and cracks appear. Read the first couple of lines as though you were speaking them:

No matter how I try
I just can't get her out of my mind.

You probably put the emphasis on ma-, how, try, can't, out, mind. Hannon's setting emphasises ma-, try, just, get, out, my.
The effect is to make the lyric sound forced and unnatural. Furthermore, if I were reading it aloud, the 'peak' of the phrase would be "can't", but the setting lands it on "my". Contrast with:

Then privately we danced
But couldn't seem to keep our balance.

Here the lyric sounds natural, because the ebb and flow of the lyric and melody match that of how it would be spoken. The song, sadly, is littered with other examples of the same problem. The song tells a story, but there are holes in that, too. "We all went back to his place" is followed by the (lovely) sequence of the couple being alone, but it's never explained where everyone else went. Credibility is stretched by the girlfriend having presumably been so drunk as to fall unconscious, but not so hung-over to resist shagging someone else first thing in the morning; it's told through his eyes, so I suppose he could have misinterpreted her. He also doesn't seem to blame her for the incident.

On to Lady Of A Certain Age. This is a poignant vignette of a whole life, again with a last-line pay-off, this time from a refrain. I'll leave the scansion problems as 'an exercise for the reader' as I don't want to repeat myself, but there are a couple of other comments to make:

You chased the sun around the Cote D'Azure
Until the light of youth became obscure.
And left you all alone and in the shade
An English lady of a certain age.

The second of these lines is a weak lyric; it sounds like it's quoting a cliche, but it isn't. Anyway, light doesn't become obscure, it is obscured - the line exists only because it rhymes with D'Azure. Did the light of youth leave her all alone? Sloppy use of language. Shade/age is a pretty weak rhyme, at that, especially for the main idea of the song.

The biggest sin, at least in the recording on Spotify, comes in the payoff. The whole song is in the second person, as though sung to the subject. The "nice young man" who buys drinks is referred to as "he" in verses one and two, but in the otherwise fine climactic payoff, the subject abruptly switches to:

And you'd say "No, you couldn't be"

This is probably a slip of the tongue, but whatever the reason it's unforgivable.

Now Jiggery Pokery, from the cricket-themed album Duckworth-Lewis Method. Very much in the tradition of English light comic songs, it tells the story of the so-called ball of the century bowled by Shane Warne to Mike Gatting. I once attempted an inebriated rendition of this after a dinner-party, in full cricket gear (plus pillow up the shirt), to a non-cricket-literate audience, with predictable consequences. It's a fun, and funny, song about a subject dear to me. Dubious scansion and rhyme (Trafford/Athers - really?) aside, there are still problems. First, the language doesn't ring true:

But such was its rotation that it swerved out to the right.

Nobody ever describes cricket deliveries in terms of right and left, it is invariably in terms of the batsman's off or leg/on side. At any rate, from Gatting's point of view (as is the entire song), it swerved left...

Second is a structural problem. As with the previous examples, we have a last-line payoff. Anyone familiar with the incident knows it was Shane Warne's big moment, and mention of him is (rightly) saved for the climax:

I might as well have been holding a cob of corn.
Jiggery Pokery, who was this nobody making me look so forlorn?
I hate Shane Warne!

Yet the equivalent parts of the preceding verses are all -oon rhymes:

I might as well have been holding a contrabassoon.
Jiggery Pokery, who was this nobody making me look a buffoon?
Like a blithering old buffoon.

I might as well have been holding a child's balloon.
Jiggery Pokery, who was this nobody making me look a bufoon?
Like an accident-prone baboon.

It would have been far more effective to have them all be -orn rhymes, building tension to the Warne payoff. I had a stab at this, within the existing structure, and couldn't get anything which was better than OK and not flawed in some other way. Within this structure there aren't many useful rhymes, and I suspect Hannon tried this before settling as he did. Personally, I'd have restructured once I realised I couldn't do -orn effectively - maybe to make room for something like "wish I had never been born"; songwriting is like a sudoku puzzle with a blank page, where you have to figure out the grid shape yourself, and you have between 0 and 100,000 possible entries for each box. Blind alleys are inevitable, and I argue that this is one.

Worth mentioning is also Don't Look Down, which has the interesting lyric:

The wind that’s blown us dies a quick and painless death
The air gets clammy and we hold each other’s breath

"We hold each other's breath" is a gloriously evocative and economical lyric, and a real favourite of mine. Pity then that "the air gets clammy" is little more than padding, and 'quick and painless death' is a cliche padding out the previous line. A good example of a great payoff with a poor setup. Also "disgraceful or distasteful or distilled" is an admirably inventive bit of alliteration.

I think that's more than enough! To sum up, I'll continue to listen to, admire, and enjoy the Divine Comedy, and I look forward to his/their next offering, warts and all.

Always to thine own self be true
Not to fools like me
Who change their minds
For the sake of rhyming schemes.