Office Politics

Office Politics

“The funny thing is,” Neil Hannon tells Apple Music, “for all my high-minded objectives in lyrics, I'm really just trying to sing in tune most of the time. You'd be surprised how hard it is.” Self-deprecation has been at the heart of The Divine Comedy’s appeal since Hannon emerged in the late 1980s. But 11 often exquisite and always arch indie-pop albums in, the band is a low-key national treasure. Hannon’s 12th Divine Comedy offering is “roughly based around the nonsense that goes on in the workplace”—and the irrepressible rise of machines. “The machines thing is really born out of my frustration with my own inability to communicate with them,” Hannon says. “They literally don’t like me.” Negotiate Office Politics here, with his track-by-track guide. “Queuejumper” “It aggravates me no end when people find loopholes. They think they're terribly clever and the rest of us are just suckers for obeying the rules. This is especially applied to the financial community. I've always thought it's incredibly important to just not bore people on the first track. It can be slow, fast, in-between, as long as it gets itself over with quite quickly and is quite a simple statement. So here, I suddenly thought, ‘Oh my God, yeah, of course,’ as it's kind of just a beat and a refrain. A lucky break.” “Office Politics” “In many ways I don't want to over-push ‘Office Politics’ the song—it might be a bit of a red herring for the rest of the record and what it's about, although I liked the idea of pinning the album artwork and title around that. It's really just kind of a method of hooking people. It's like, ‘Oh, I work in an office, I think I'll listen to their record!’” “Norman and Norma” “A weird one. I just like the way it hangs together and it's a lovely tune. But to be quite honest, what's it for? I don't really know. It's really just an investigation of a couple of characters, and I had no idea where they'd end up when I started writing. It's a fun and also terrifying way of writing songs. Literally, I kind of have panic attacks, thinking if I don't nail this last verse, I'm screwed. Here, I had the rough idea that because they were called Norman and Norma, it would have something to do with the Normans. So I said, ‘Oh my God, brilliant, they're going to join a reenactment society,’ because they're bored in later life and the kids have gone. I'm quite pleased with that.” “Absolutely Obsolete” “This is the oldest tune on the record. I wrote a completely different song but with the same chord sequence back in 2004. I never liked the boring, relationship-based lyrics, but I did like the tune. I don't know really where the whole ‘Absolutely Obsolete’ thing came along, but it's hilarious because I really hate bad grammar and this whole song is based on it. And an error of syntax, too, because it's basically, if something is obsolete, it's obsolete. When I sang the song on the demo, I thought, ‘That sounds a bit like Chris Difford doing 'Cool for Cats.' I'll get Chris Difford!’ So it was very nice of him to actually then say yes when I asked him to contribute.” “Infernal Machines” “Sometimes I like to get my rocks off. I wanted to write about machines, technology ruling our lives, and sometimes you need an incredibly simplistic framework, so it's not too pompous.” “You'll Never Work in This Town Again” “We've talked about someone getting the sack in ‘Absolutely Obsolete.’ We've talked about machines, and now this kind of brings the two things together—getting the sack because of the machines. I was inspired a bit by the probably mythical Ned Ludd, who gave his name to the Luddites—a movement of people who were basically a terrorist organization during the Industrial Revolution, but their efforts were just directed against machinery. They'd go in and smash up new machines because they were afraid of them, and with good reason, to be honest, because of the horrific working conditions in the factories.” “Psychological Evaluation” “This is a little bit ‘Fitter Happier’ by Radiohead, but silly. I've tried to be Radiohead; it didn't work. I suddenly realized, ‘No no no, you're inherently silly, just run with that.’ But all my favorite comedy has had serious underpinnings, and vice versa, to be honest. All my favorite serious novels are humorous. So this, I was quite pleased with. I thought, ‘I'll ask myself a bunch of questions,’ and I just wrote down a list of questions. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be funny if those questions were actually like a machine asking me questions?’ So I did it through a vocoder. I answered the questions as spontaneously as I could.” “The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale” “This is bonkers. And for once, the messing around was too good to leave off the record. We were driving through the Alps on tour, and I said to the guys, ‘I’ve put these two phrases together, and so I’ve got to write this song.’ Alastair, our backline roadie, said, ‘Oh, you're going to use the synthesizer service center that I told you about?’ ‘Oh.’ And then Andrew, keyboards, said, ‘Oh, you're going to use the synthesizer sales thing that I sent you?’ And I went, ‘Oh, shit, I don't have an original idea in my head. I just steal.’” “The Life and Soul of the Party” “This song has basically been my nightmare for about six or seven years. I thought ‘Napoleon Complex’ [from 2016’s Foreverland] was bad, but this takes the biscuit for the number of versions, the number of arrangements and ways in which I have tried to do it. The lyric is partly based on people who have really, really annoyed me in parties over the years, and partly what I think I may have been like on occasion in the '90s. I freely admit that perhaps sometimes I got a little too drunk and was extremely annoying.” “A Feather in Your Cap” “This was very much an afterthought. I had the guts of the song already, but I'd ignored it because it didn't feel relevant. But then, when I listened through the finished record, I just thought it lacked a little heart. And if it’s a history of the office, then I thought after the office party, you really want that kind of arrest. I tried to make it as gender-free as possible, to be honest. But it's very hard to do when you're a bloke. I hope it can be read from both sides.” “I'm a Stranger Here” “I think this is actually the most pertinent song on the record, simply because it's about being adrift on the modern world. It's not so much ‘Oh my God, I have to do banking online,’ it's more 'Where has everybody gone?' It's like everybody's having conversations that I'm not party to. Maybe I'm just a natural hermit, I don't know. I'm very proud of having a bassoon solo here, too, by the way.” “Dark Days Are Here Again” “It doesn't really matter what your political leanings are, the day Donald Trump became president was the day that the world officially went berserk, went mad. It's quite obvious why that song is as nuts and apocalyptic as it is.” “Philip and Steve's Furniture Removal Company” “A silly song with a great time signature. I heard that [American composers] Philip Glass and Steve Reich did furniture removal in the '60s to make some money. It might be an urban myth, I don't care. It means nothing to me whether it's true or not, it's basically just a brilliant idea.” “'Opportunity' Knox” “I did make up a little narrative when I was putting the album track order together. It's not really here nor there for the listener, but it helps me pin the whole thing together. So our villain here is the same person throughout. I feel like he's the queue jumper, because he's a bad, bad man; he's mentioned in ‘Office Politics’ and he's probably also the incredibly annoying man in ‘Life and Soul.’” “After the Lord Mayor's Show” “I was thinking of a street cleaner here—it's a song for them. I don't want to be patronizing, I just think these professions are incredibly noble and should be paid twice as much as the idiot CEOs of banks, because they definitely do a better job and enhance society a lot more. But then, as usual, I myself creep into the lyric, and it's a little bit of a two-fingers to people who had No. 1 hits at the same time as I was starting. Where are they now? I always valued longevity over being the flavor of the month. And I think it has a lot of resonance with the long-term career idea. And just if you're going to do something, do it well, and it doesn't matter if it makes you a million overnight.” “When the Working Day Is Done” “This couldn’t go anywhere else but the end. It's probably one of the most complicated chord progressions that I've ever come up with, and yet it really kind of works. I really feel that the average working person is to be hero-worshipped a hell of a lot more than people like me. I am fortunate, I realize that. But it's more that I'm just appalled with how rubbished working people are. Everything's about aspiration and not just really applauding people for getting through life, at all. And that's where all this comes from.”

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