Track 16: Songs Of Love, The Divine Comedy

Casanova, 1996

The boundaries of Britpop are decidedly fuzzy. What counts, in terms of sound, attitude, look, time? Who’s in and who’s out? Who gets to decide – the bands or the fans?

Several artists denounced the label at the time. Longpigs, who epitomised much of what the era stood for, wanted no part of it. And the debate rages on even today; the man behind the Britpop Memories blog was recently escorted by the online bouncers to the doors of Elastica’s Facebook page for daring to suggest a connection. If Elastica weren’t Britpop, did it even exist?

One comprehensive recent assessment is the excellent I Was Britpopped. The authors make several big calls in terms of who doesn’t get in, notably their exclusion of Radiohead (controversial, but probably correct). Yet they included the Cranberries, who, by nature of not being British, should surely be left out? Perhaps we can revise that one after Brexit when all these petty border squabbles will be forgotten in a glorious new world of free trade, fewer foreigners and a fully funded health service.

The book also includes The Divine Comedy, who were hugely popular in the mid-to-late 1990s and beyond. Hailing from Northern Ireland, they meet the geographic requirements, but I would place them just outside the boundaries musically. They were too poppy – not chart pop, but cheerful pop – and there was also that constant conundrum about whether they were a band or a person. I like my Britpop acts to be bands with a clear line-up, no sleights of hand. This soloist/band uncertainty leaves me nervous, as it does with the Lightning Seeds.

So were The Divine Comedy Britpop? Who knows. Who cares? As one reviewer of my book pertinently pointed out, few people called it Britpop at the time. It was just music. The label has taken on far greater posthumous significance. And debates about who was and who wasn’t might be enjoyable but are, ultimately, subjective.

Anyway, to the track: ‘Songs Of Love’. Otherwise – perhaps better – known as the Father Ted theme, which was written for the show and then worked into the song (not the other way round). Yet this overfamiliarity shouldn’t distract from the beauty of the tune, nor from the playful, witty lyrics, which capture perfectly that widely felt malestrom of schoolboy frustrations and urgings.

Indeed, there is great wisdom and humour to be found throughout their/his back catalogue. Versatility, too; anyone who can write a song about everything from obscure cricket fielding positions to unloved coach companies to celebrity allergies is surely deserving of our eternal respect, whether they/he were Britpop or not.

Top three Divine Comedy tracks