Office - A Night At The Ritz
Download: Office - "Oh My"
Download: Office - "Paralized Prince"
A Night At The Ritz (Scratchie/New Line, 2007)
If brevity is the soul of wit, then the latest record by Office, A Night At The Ritz is almost as sharp and smart of a pop record as any group could hope to make. Those who were disappointed by the more reflective, melancholy artistic direction that the New Pornographers took with Challengers need not worry if they think that their melodic sweet tooth would not be indluged this year. There are enough synth-driven hooks; effortless, efferfescent harmonies and taut guitar riffs to make any person who likes their power-pop with a little new-wave gloss swoon with giddy delight.
Even if you didn't know that A Night At The Ritz is the Chicago quintet's debut album (for former Smashing Pumpkins's guitarist James Iha's record label, Scratchie), you probably would have figured it out based on the fact that Office sequenced all of its punchiest, most hook-filled tracks to appear at the album's beginning. Songs like "Oh My," "Company Calls" and "Wound Up" showcase the band's economical, maximum-impact rhythm section, coo-ing female backup vocals and highly charged, quick-witted songwriting. The first six songs are on this album are magically upbeat and unfold with a devestating success rate. There is not a single note played or sung that won't satisfy the listener immensely.
The second half, however, changes gears, with the musical emphasis being placed on more midtempo songs like "Q&A", "Dominoes" and "Parliyzed Prince", which is a surprisingly apt homage to Queen in a sea of compact power-pop pieces (perhaps the title A Night At The Ritz is a tribute to Queen's A Night At The Opera). None of these songs are actively bad - in fact, upon multiple listens, they are as fantastic as the material that came before - but they do rob the album of some considerable momentum. It's hard for the listener to adjust at first. Imagine crashing after the best sugar binge of your life, and you'll have good picture of what I am trying to convey.
But just because you don't necessarily succeed at gear-shifiting doesn't mean you've screwed the pooch in terms of how your album plays. Once you've recovered from your high-fructose music coma, you see that Office still have the songwriting chops of Ritz's first half in tact, just at a slower pace. While the shift may have prevented Ritz from becoming an immediate classic, it doesn't prevent it from being one of the best local albums of the year. For a debut record, that's a pretty good consolation prize.
Office play tomorrow night at the 400 Bar. The show is 18+ and starts at 8 p.m. Buy tickets for the show here
Office MySpace Page
***They will be opening up for Earliamart, but going on after The Alpha Centauri, an indie-rock band from Minneapolis with Eastern and electronic influences. Click on the link in the previous sentence to hear a Fall 2007 demo from the band called "Noise." I can't even begin to describe how hypnotically amazing the combinations of different styles is in this track. The song manages to incorporate all of Radiohead's post-OK Computer catalog and put it into an electronic, free-jazz blender. Needless to say, it's a tad avant-garde, but also quite listenable.