Night at the Ritz teeters on edge of mediocrity

If I had to describe A Night at the Ritz, the latest album from the Chicago-based indie rock-pop band Office, in a single word, this would be it: okay. Yes, just okay.

Although A Night at the Ritz starts off strong with the two best tracks of the album, “Oh My“ and “If You Don’t Know By Now,“ the music soon becomes kind of unambiguous and starts to run together. It’s hard to tell when one track ends and another begins, especially because Office has a somewhat annoying habit of making their songs sound like they’re ending when they’re really only halfway through.

I say the music “soon“ becomes unambiguous because these first two excellent songs are each under three minutes—“Oh My“ is barely two minutes. Office should have put more effort into these songs and made them longer—if they had, I could definitely see a bright future for the two tracks. “If You Don’t Know By Now“ is very catchy (in fact, it’s still stuck in my head) without being annoying—it’s a song that just about anyone could enjoy.

Still, A Night at the Ritz is definitely not bad—the problem is that it has a hard time being more than just pretty good. It’s clear that the band members, especially lead singer Scott Masson, have talent—what’s not clear is why they didn’t decide to use it to its full extent in making this album.

Office has been on the music scene since its inception in 2000. Actually, Office started out as a one-man project consisting of an acoustic guitar, piano and drum machine all played by Scott Masson. By 2001 Tom Smith, Erica Corniel and Jessica Gonyea had joined the band, and today Office features the five original members as well as the newer bassist Justin Petertil.

With a laid-back, very mellow sound, Office would be a good choice to listen to if you just want some background music with no really heavy artistic meaning. I’m not saying that Office doesn’t have artistic meaning, only that to find it you’re going to have to pay close attention.

For an indie band, Office has enjoyed considerable success—in May 2006 their song “Wound Up“ from their 2005 “demo“ album Q&A (“Wound Up“ is also featured on A Night at the Ritz) was Single of the Week on iTunes with over 322,000 downloads; soon after, Q&A made it up to number 14 on the iTunes album chart.

Office released four albums before A Night at the Ritz; Ritz is the group’s first album with New Line Records and Scratchie Records. Actually, Ritz is more of a compilation of songs from Office’s previous albums, with a few new songs thrown in. I sincerely hope that this is not supposed to be a “best tracks from the previous albums“ sort of compilation, however.

If you’re a fan of indie music, you should definitely look into A Night at the Ritz. If you’re not an indie fan, you still might want to check it out if you want some mellow music.