As someone raised on punk, Zappa and the Wolfgang Press, I must admit that toe-tapping rhythms, woodwind and, er, melody are not always the first things that spring to mind when I think of music. However, even though they’re more Radio Two than Radio Birdman, I have to confess a fondness for the Divine Comedy, largely because Neil Hannon, the band’s musical mainstay, is arguably one of the finest wordsmiths out there.
What’s more, if you’re anything like the international playboy that is yours truly, it’s very likely that at some point this year you’ll find yourself stuck on a bus bound for far-flung frolics in some exotic location, like Devon or maybe even Hull. In which case, why not have a geek at the pop vid for said band’s 1999 single National Express before you climb aboard your carriage to hedonistic abandon?
Where’s Your Head At?
Despite the song being a sarcastic salute to the joys of long-distance coach journeys, the vid doesn’t actually feature a single bus, coach or charabanc once, perhaps because filming inside such a tight interior would probably not prove conducive to producing a visually very interesting promo.
Instead, after an opening scene establishes Hannon as suffering from delusions of being a bus driver, the ensuing action all takes place inside a psychiatric hospital, where our highly animated and cheerful protagonist proceeds to misidentify his surroundings – not to mention a male nurse’s arse – with key components of the song’s lyrics.
Sparks Will Fly
Now, while much of the clip is clearly shot for (divine?) comedic effect, things take a much darker turn when Hannon’s wheelchair-cum-bus arrives at its ultimate destination. From behind closed doors, a series of sparks and flashes reveal what has awaited him from the offset: electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), aka electroshock treatment.
Still in his wheelchair, this once deluded-yet-happy human is now reduced to a vegetative state, a catatonic cabbage no longer ill but no longer alive in any meaningful sense either. Or is he? For as the vid plays out, a wry smile forms on his face and the suggestion is that while his body may be but a shell, his mind is still free to roam, to soar like a bird as it takes in the heights of life on a cross-country coach bound for who knows where.
A clever and generally enjoyable vid, the clip for National Express arguably offers much to ponder as you lounge like a lizard on a bench down the local bus station. Or maybe not. Either way, let’s hope this year proves a lot more sane than the past two. Honestly, it’s been enough to drive you mad.
Notes and Credits
If, per chance, you are not British and don’t know what the real National Express is, you might want to click this.
The original version of this article first appeared in issue 32 of Point Blank Teesside, which you can download as a free PDF here.
Picture credit: Neil Hannon in a screen grab from the video to National Express (source).