Friday, April 18, 2008

Office -- A Night At The Ritz (2007)

Office -- A Night At The Ritz (New Line)

This talented Chicago band finally gets national distribution. This album is primarily comprised of slightly tarted up (i.e., remixed, not rerecorded) tracks from their artistic breakthrough Q & A. On that late 2005 release, frontman Scott Masson’s sly pop sensibility reached its full potential, while he also found a permanent band.

If you aren’t familiar with Office, they trade in smooth pulsing pop songs that make them sound like lost geniuses of the early-‘80s New Wave era. Yet they do this without any of the cheesiness that dates some of the prime pop of that era. The best Office songs touch on attributes of everything from the studied cool of The Cars, to R & B laced pop (a la Hall & Oates), and the romantic melodicism of Roxy Music and their acolytes (such as ABC and Talk Talk).

Masson tops his concoctions off with smart, witty lyrics. Ever since he started Office as solo project, some of his lyrics take the band’s name to heart, focusing on work/office related themes. This is splendidly illustrated on one of the four new songs on the collection, “Company Calls”, which gets its title from this wonderful line: “I’m not going to waste your precious time my love/so I’ll build you an office right in my apartment/so I can watch you take each company call.” On the herky-jerk “The Ritz” (another new tune), he trades in clipped memorable phrases (my favorite: “girls with assassin lips”), the choppy chords blooming into a lush melody.

The biggest quibble, I suppose, is that some great Q & A tunes have been left off of this album, which is a shame, since Q & A is out-of-print. But if you are new to Office, you get the chance to hear perfect pop songs like “Wound Up”, “Big Bang Jump!”, and “Possibilities”. And if you already know the old stuff, you can check out the four new songs, which are all top drawer, and a holdover from the second Office album, “+/- Fairytale”, which was an early clue to the cool direction that this band is now taking. The worst part about this album is that it may be a couple more years before there’s new dozen or so songs from Masson and crew.

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