The Office, and in turn David Brent, is Ricky Gervais’ magnum opus.
His non-PC stand up isn’t for everyone, nor are his toe-curling Golden Globes host performances: the most recent of which he kicked off by referring to the Hollywood A-list audience as “disgusting, pill-popping, deviant scum”.
Brent, on the other hand is a British institution, and has been since the BBC2 mockumentary first aired back in 2001. He’s a social hand grenade, consistently missing the mark while utterly convinced he’s hit it head on. He’s a human blind-spot with zero capacity for introspection and a total lack of self-awareness. He’s excruciatingly, obliviously offensive, he brings out the schadenfreude in all of us and yet, remains a protagonist that you tirelessly root for. David Brent is one of the greatest comedy characters ever created and if that’s not a view you adhere to, the chances are listening to this album is a futile exercise - but that’s kind of the point.
Life On The Road, the film the album accompanies, sees Brent having swapped his role as an ineffectual regional manager at Wernham Hogg for one as a cleaning product rep selling “One size fits all” tampons up and down the country - but Brent’s sights are still firmly set on stardom. Entirely self-financed, he embarks on a UK tour with his hesitant band of limp-haired indie types and reluctant rapping protege Dom Johnson as David Brent and the Foregone Conclusion.
“He thinks it’s Scorsese following The Rolling Stones round, when really it’s more like a ‘Where Are They Now?’” explained Gervais in a promotional interview for the film; a statement that sums up perfectly the way that the album should be listened to. The quality of it depends on your ability to be able to visualise the character’s thought process and that self-gratified bite of his bottom lip as he pens lines like “Black people aren't crazy, fat people aren't lazy, And dwarfs aren't babies” from his political reggae number 'Equality Street'.
Can you imagine that lingering look to camera as he uses croons “Please don’t make fun of the disableds” to a live audience? “The ones that cannot walk, the ones that cannot talk, even the ones with M.E. that feel tired… we all feel tired”.
'Native American' dances around political correctness like a bowling ball in a tumble drier: “Oh oh, don’t call us Indians, we’re more like West Eurasians crossed with Siberians” begs to have “He can’t say that, can he?!” screamed at it. Of course he can, because Brent, not to be confused with Gervais, genuinely means that.
Of course you would expect the band themselves to be bad: put together on a shoestring budget, featuring the kind of musicians that play Bon Jovi covers in shit suburban pubs on a Saturday night in places like, well Slough, probably. But Brent is backed by a bunch of musos with genuine talent, and the fact that he’s spent his pension on hiring them only adds to the intended desperation. Andy Burrows is on the drums throughout and Chris Martin makes an appearance on 'Electricity', but that might just say more about Razorlight and Coldplay than it does David Brent’s musical career.
It’s difficult to judge the real comedic value of The Foregone Conclusion when so much of David Brent hilarity is in physical (not so) subtleties. But when you take it for what it is: an in-joke taken out of its context and out of its comfort zone, it feels pretty triumphant. The songs are catchy and there are some legitimately laugh-out-loud moments but more notably, for the most part Brent as you’ve always known him and he’s taking this very seriously. And let’s face it, this had the potential to go terribly.
Words: Maya Rose Radcliffe
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