Just when we thought we’d heard it all from Neil Hannon, he surprises us with another curveball. The king of quirk is back. And he’s at his creative and colourful best.
Office Politics is a unique offering. The twelfth album Hannon has released as The Divine Comedy, he once again shows himself as a poet in a league of his own with songs that deconstruct the mundane and unusual occurrences in our places of work, make shrewd observations about the relationships that underpin these, and lament our increasing dependence on machines to do the work for us.
Opening track, Queuejumper, is insanely catchy. With its repetitive lyrics about workplace hierarchy – “I’m better than you, I’m better than you, I don’t have to play by the usual rules” – and a percussion section made up of household objects and a marimba, it is impossible to shake from your head once you’ve heard it. It’s everything that we love The Divine Comedy for. Nobody else would dare make music like this today.
The album’s glitchy title track casts a glance around the office and passes comment on the characters getting on one another’s nerves, including one giving a “PowerPoint presentation worthy of a BAFTA nomination”. The second single to be released from the album, Norman and Norma, sees Hannon using his trademark humour to liven a hushed piano ballad with lyrics about a couple rekindling the flame of their marriage with a day trip to Clacton-on-Sea.
Despite one or two songs on this double album that might test your patience (Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company and the tongue-twisting disorientation of The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale), the rest is consistently very strong and could well be Hannon’s best piece of work in over a decade. Infernal Machines bounces along with a stomping bass groove that isn’t a million miles away from something you might hear from Muse. And even when parts of the album go slightly weird, it’s reassuring to know that someone still exists in music who’s willing to indulge in a bit of risk taking.
Hannon’s voice is as strong as ever, and there are clear echoes of David Bowie in how he performs the likes of Absolutely Obsolete and the barnstorming Dark Days are Here Again. As always though, The Divine Comedy don’t only deal in the bizarre and the brash. There are some stunning, emotional caveats that will stop listeners in their tracks. A Feather in Your Cap beautifully strings out the harboured sadness of a workplace relationship that was always destined for failure – “I should have known you were only after one thing, I just expected something more” – while the slow-building march After the Lord Mayor’s Show is the standout song on the album, and is up there with the best things that The Divine Comedy have ever recorded.
This record is another wonderful addition to the canon of Hannon, and has many more hits than misses. The lyrics are endlessly clever and observant, picking out events and people we are so familiar with but could never articulate quite as well. The tunes follow you around for days. You feel like you’ve been to the theatre and taken in “Work: The Musical”. Neil Hannon is a one of a kind songwriter, and The Divine Comedy are without doubt one of the greatest acts to emerge from Northern Ireland. Office Politics is simply further evidence to support these claims.