It’s Monday. You forgot to buy coffee and gas up the car over the weekend; maybe the bus is packed with weirdos. There is a pile of work on your desk and the phone won’t stop ringing and by 10:30am you’re hungry for lunch and ready for bed.
There’s an antidote – The Divine Comedy’s Office Politics.
In a one-two punch of “Queuejumper” and “Office Politics,” Neil Hannon establishes the working-man’s lament that will thread throughout the whole album. What goes through the head of the villian who hops to the front of the coffee line or the turnstile? “I jump the queue ‘cause I’m better than you,” Hannon sings in his exquisite Irish lilt. If you didn’t hate that guy already, you will now, humming this infectious tune every time you see him breeze by.
Similarly, the synthy, spoken-word “Office Politics,”—the closest we’ll ever get to a new theme for IT Crowd—walks us through every single character that populates the office, from the Christmas party drunk to the cutthroat manager with his “hilarious socks.” For as cliched as a lot of them are (when was the last time someone took a “ride on the photocopier” outside of a sitcom?) you might recognize at least a few of them as real, living people you know. Perhaps you’re who he’s talking about.
The manager—or perhaps ex-lover, it works both ways – who fires our narrator in the slick ballad “Absolutely Obsolete” is likely that queue-jumper wearing hilarious socks. Though the songs are meant, for the most part, to be cheeky, the orchestrations are all immensely thoughtful and elaborate enough to rise above what we generally think of as a comedy song, more musical theater than Weird Al, anchored by two arguing “Skunk” Baxter style guitar riffs. Chock full of high string flourishes and parade drums alongside gloomy, dark-metal guitars, the instrumentals are all used sparingly enough so that they never overpower any one song.
And Hannon knows his stuff enough to try out a whole variety of genres; the glam rock swagger of “Infernal Machines” gives way to the Tom Jones pomp of “You’ll Never Work In This Town Again.” The latter is the album standout, featuring a bold, cruise-ship percussion line and smooth, sexy horns, punctuated with a spaghetti western whistle. Someone give Hannon a James Bond theme, quick.
However, at times, Office Politics seems a little too aware of its joke, not unlike like the disco-dope of “The Life and Soul of the Party,” showing off drunken dance moves and rambling to co-workers who do not care. The punchline—that he’s alone and no one likes him—is obvious from the song’s opening line: we get it, office and suburban life are dull, but by this point in the album, it’s a cliche.
“Phillip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company,” goes on a little too long; it’s supposed to be the theme song for an imaginary show (as explained in the skit that precedes it) and although I would absolutely watch 30 seasons of it, I would skip the 4 minutes and 51 seconds theme song—the longest track on the album—nine times out of then. The other semi-skit piece, “Psychological Evaluation,” which lays heavier on the synths than “The Synthesizer Service Center Super Summer Sale,” is obnoxious and immensely unpleasant to listen to, a hard recovery as the album starts to lose momentum.
The songs that are sincere, such as the domestic drama “Norman and Norma,” and the brokenhearted lover’s lament, “A Feather in Your Cap” are surprisingly so, so much so that I waited for a punchline that never quite came. In the case of the former, I’m actually happy that Norman and Norma—who we’ve seen raise their children and fall into romantic complacency—find their bliss in battle reenactments. “I’m a Stranger Here,” a simple piano-based melodic operetta, punctuated by sweetly swirling strings, about a time traveler trying to navigate his new surroundings, plays similarly. A sweet plea for assistance as he realizes the life and home he knows is gone, he sings, “If you ask where I come from, I’ll say ‘the past’ and wander on.”
Though it veers off into non-work subjects at times, Office Politics is, in essence, Flight of the Conchords for the cubical-bound set, winding it all up with the deep-sigh “When the Working Day is Done.” Though it could use some tightening—it is a double-album, after all—there’s a joke for everyone, and a very funny one at that.