Album of the Week: The Divine Comedy | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, November 16th, 2019  

Album of the Week: The Divine Comedy

Plus Stream New Albums from Palehound, Younghusband, Silversun Pickups, Pixx, Stef Chura, and More

Jun 07, 2019
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The Divine Comedy, the orchestral-pop project of Northern Irish singer/songwriter/composer Neil Hannon, has released a new album, Office Politics, today via Hannon's own Divine Comedy Records and it's our Album of the Week. Find more info on the album below. Below that are streams of other notable albums released today: Palehound, Younghusband, Silversun Pickups, Pixx, Stef Chura, Tim Heidecker, Pelican, and Yeasayer.

The Divine Comedy: Office Politics (Divine Comedy Records)

Neil Hannon should be considered one of the greatest lyricists of the last two decades and had a fairly unimpeachable eight album run from 1993's Liberation through to 2006's Victory for the Comic Muse. His orchestral pop has always been highly literate ("The Booklovers" from 1994's Promenade is essentially a list of his favorite authors and Liberation's "Lucy" is based on poems by William Wordsworth), but his songs have also been filled with a lot of keen wit, as well as sometimes heartbreak or topical issues ("Sunrise" from 1998's Fin de Siecle dealt with the Troubles in Northern Ireland). Despite all this, he's still fairly underrated. Perhaps not so much in the U.K., where he had some hits in the '90s (most notably "Something for the Weekend" and "National Express"), but he's certainly much more of a cult figure in America.

Alas, there was a noticeable dip in quality with the last two Divine Comedy albums, in terms of production, songwriting, orchestration, and plain old ambition. They were fine orchestral pop albums on their own terms, but not quite up to the standard Hannon had set for himself. The main highlight of 2010's Bang Goes the Knighthood was the silly moment in "Can You Stand Upon One Leg" where Hannon holds a very high singing note for 30 seconds. 2016's Foreverland was an improvement and featured the absolutely charming love ditty "Funny Peculiar," a duet with Hannon's romantic partner Cathy Davey, among a few other gems, but was still a somewhat minor entry in The Divine Comedy cannon.

Office Politics could thus be considered a return to form, although it doesn't quite sound like any previous Divine Comedy album. As its title suggests, it's a bit of a concept album about office life. You could imagine it soundtracking moments at Wernham Hogg, the fictional paper company in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's original British version of The Office. The title track sets the scene, describing amusing workplace characters, including a aging boss who longs for the days when sexual harassment was tolerated and a woman who gets fired for posting something unfortunate on Facebook. "The Life and Soul of the Party" is set at a sad office party that might just only be in the mind of the narrator and has more of a disco beat than Divine Comedy fans might be used to. "The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale" is even more electronic, sounding Kraftwerk-esque as Hannon lists out various synths and namedrops Nine Inch Nails. In "Psychological Evaluation" Hannon has a therapy session with a computerized voice and it ends with him listing off some of his favorite synth-pop/New Wave bands (Ultravox, Pet Shop Boys, Human League, Japan, Gary Numan, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, etc.). "Philip and Steve's Furniture Removal Company" imagines a theme for a sitcom about a young Philip Glass and Steve Reich in New York City in the early 1960s and starts with an intro seemingly recorded on Hannon's phone when he was out and about somewhere and culminates in a male choir. The delightfully quirky album does have moments that hark back to the classic Divine Comedy sound. Album closer "When the Working Day is Done," for example, is a string-backed mini-epic about commuting home from work. And "'Opportunity' Knox" references the main character of "Come Home Billy Bird" from 2004's Absent Friends. With all these different sounds over the course of 16 songs, it's safe to say that Office Politics is The Divine Comedy's most eclectic album to date and Hannon's most enjoyable work since 2009's self-titled debut album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, a cricket-themed side-project led by Hannon and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.

Previously The Divine Comedy shared Office Politics' first single, "Queuejumper." Then this week Hannon shared a video for "Norman and Norma," the album's second single (the audio for which was shared last month). The song is about the challenges of keeping the marriage spark alive as you get older and the black & white video illustrated the lyrics while also featuring images of Hannon performing the song on the piano.

Hannon had this to say about "Norman and Norma" in a press release: "I remember getting out of bed one morning singing something like the chorus. It's always scary when you write an opening line like - 'Norman and Norma got married in Cromer, April 1983' - and you realize you're going to have tell their whole story. I tried to set up the thrill of early married life in the first verse, and the struggle of middle age and family in the second, but the third was hard."

Office Politics is the twelfth Divine Comedy album and is billed as a double album. The deluxe edition includes Hannon's original piano demos from the stage adaptation of Swallows and Amazons.

Read our 2017 The End interview with The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon.

The Divine Comedy UK Tour Dates:

In-stores:

8th June: In-store at HMV Manchester (Neil and Tosh Acoustic)

10th June: Assai Records Release Show At Inchyra Arts Club, Perth (Acoustic 4 piece, 45min set)
12th June: In-store at Tower Records, Dublin (Neil and Tosh Acoustic)

UK Tour Dates:

Sunday 6th October - DUBLIN Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Monday 7th October - BELFAST Ulster Hall
Tuesday 8th October - CORK Opera House
Thursday 10th October - GLASGOW Old Fruitmarket 
Friday 11th October - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Saturday 12th October - OXFORD O2 Academy
Monday 14th October - BRISTOL O2 Academy
Tuesday 15th October - LEEDS Beckett University
Wednesday 16th October - BRIGHTON Dome
Thursday 17th October - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Friday 18th October - MANCHESTER Albert Hall

www.thedivinecomedy.com 

Also Released This Week:

Stef Chura: Midnight (Saddle Creek)

Tim Heidecker: What The Brokenhearted Do... (Jagjaguwar)

Palehound: Black Friday (Polyvinyl)

Pelican: Nighttime Stories (Southern Lord)

Pixx: Small Mercies (4AD)

Silversun Pickups: Widow's Weeds (New Machine Recordings)

Yeasayer: Erotic Reruns (Yeasayer Records) 

Younghusband: Swimmers (Opposite Number)

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