There’s nothing wrong with a good power pop album. I’ve certainly gone back and listened to Semisonic’s major label debut album, The Great Divide more often than I’ve traveled back to listen to any of Nirvana or Soundgarden’s work from years before. Does that mean I think it’s better? Not necessarily, but it does seem more upbeat and immediate. While grunge has gone by the wayside, power pop has seemingly never gone out of style. Just ask everyone from the Jackson 5 to A.C. Newman. The latest in the power pop line is Office, not to be confused with the British sitcom nor its American counterpart, and their debut album is called A Night at the Ritz. It may not be a zany, mockumentary style comedy, but it is, however, something like the aforementioned Semisonic, not terribly important, but instantly catchy.
In opener “Oh My,” singer and band founder Scott Masson, a former conceptual artist, sounds the spitting likeness of Dan Wilson. Of course, there are other times when the band could easily be mistaken for Better Than Ezra, Fastball or Harvey Danger. That’s the great, and possibly even debilitating aspect of power pop, it defies any specific time period, so that it can either sound as new or as old as the listener’s opinion places it. The most recent band that shares the same sensibility as Office is OK Go, another Chicago product. All that Office needs to get as big as OK Go is a viral video campaign that could rival the famous treadmill or choreographed dance numbers of “A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again.” Here’s an idea, staying with the Office theme: we zoom in on a copy machine spitting out pieces of paper awfully quickly, and when we fly over, we see that the pages are like a flip book with the band performing / dancing / doing some kind of A-ha / Altered States comic book derring-do. I want royalties.
Songs like “The Ritz” and “Wound Up” are certainly jangly and catchy, with the latter containing an ’80s bassline that would have made John Taylor jealous. This album is essentially hooks galore, enough so that thirteen songs might seem like pop overload, so upon listening, be conscious of oncoming tooth decay because of all this sticky sweetness. Like almost everything from New Line Records and its Scratchie subsidiary, this record seems slickly produced. James Iha and Adam Schlesinger run Scratchie, which makes sense considering how attracted both are to the power pop, especially in Adam’s bands Ivy and Fountains of Wayne. Iha ended up executive producing the album, and it’s as tight as a pair of leather pants on a hot, sweaty day. “Plus Minus Fairytale” even sounds like it could be a Smashing Pumpkins b-side without Corgan’s grating voice, or an Afghan Whigs tune without Greg Dulli’s frantic fear and joy. “Had a Visit” mimics the Pumpkins’ stuff, a bit of the Cars, and a little Devo.
A Night at the Ritz is pure pop confection, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was expecting something altogether different from a band started by a guy who began as an installation artist, but I guess you can’t deny that pop is universal. At odd times, Masson can call to mind Freddy Mercury (in the infectious track “Paralyzed Prince,” where the likeness of voices and backup singers is absolutely eerie, which makes sense considering that the title of the album recalls a pair from Queen) or ELO, and that’s no easy feat. This year seems to be the year that every other band is influenced either by The Jesus and Mary Chain or Arcade Fire, but Office take a more straightforward pop approach. So, if you’re looking for the next “Closing Time,” this is most likely where you’ll find it.
Fountains of Wayne- Utopia Parkway
Ok Go- Oh No
Semisonic- The Great Divide
MP3: “Oh My”