The Divine Comedy – Office Politics
The Divine Comedy's double album Office Politics might be a step too far for even their most dedicated fan
The Divine Comedy – remember them? They of The Frog Princess and The National Express, they of Everybody Knows (Except You), Something for the Weekend and Becoming More Like Alfie. Here we are, drawing to the close of the second decade of the 21st century and Neil Hannon is back with the first Divine Comedy double album, 16 songs that run the gamut from comedic electro-pop through glam rock stompers to freaky avant garde synth workouts and, as you’d expect, baroque, slightly theatrical chamber pop.
Queuejumper opens, evoking Fun Boy Three and Banarama's It Ain't What You Do... but with lyrics about those people who jump queues and red lights (but featuring surprising strings that are actually quite lovely). The title track follows: cod Pet Shop Boys riffing on office politics, which is, you know, bad. Norman and Norma is a sweet piano driven affair about a married couple who revive their flagging love through historical re-enactments.
Musical styles are changed as often as Prince changed outfits (highlights include The Life and Soul of the Party where Divine Comedy goes all Kool & The Gang, and You’ll Never Work In This Town Again, a sort of 1920s trumpet-led Eels knock-off). Lyrical targets are somewhat fish in a barrel – the annoyance of machines in Infernal Machines; the danger of obsolescence but, you know, for people in Absolutely Obsolete – and somewhat grumpy old man.
At times it’s irritating – Psychological Evaluation sees an incoherent robot voice ask questions which Hannon answers – and at others wildly irritating (The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale makes The Beatles Number 9 come off like Walking on Sunshine by comparison). Sometimes it's so irritating as to come out the other side into mildly bewitching, as Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company imagines a removal company run by Philip Glass and Steve Reich that basically runs the title over and over again before graduating to choral singing and genuinely affecting instrumentation – gold star, TDC.
You may think (given the shitstorm that we find ourselves in the midst of) that Neil Hannon might have rich pickings for ironic, detached, acute observation set against a backdrop of Bacharach-style lushness, but his targets seem off. There's a nod to Brexitannia in the shape of Dark Days Are Here Again but much of Office Politics feels like old jokes, filler songs in wobbly theatre productions and laboured punning.
We’ve heard Hannon has been busy penning songs for the Father Ted musical. Maybe that’s where he should be directing his efforts from here on in. A Divine Comedy double album might be too much for even the most dedicated fan.
Listen to: Norman and Norma, Dark Days Are Here Again