When a band get widely known for something other than their recorded music, no matter how great or awful their album is, it inevitably becomes secondary. Songs in iTunes adverts will get blasted for being consumeristic, and clever music videos sometimes steal the spotlight away from excellent songwriting.
Such is the case with the generally brushed aside rock band OK Go. Their 2005 album, Oh No, was a testament to how a smart, beautifully constructed pop rock album can transcend even that belittling genre tag “power pop”, which has evolved into a combination of dirty words. Oh No launched OK Go into the ranks of key players in that particular brand of rock, bands such as Teenage Fanclub (see 1997’s Bandwagonesque), Weezer (see their 1994 self-titled debut) and Big Star, who have all cerebrally expanded pop rock.
But the band’s creativity in another area – music videos – distracted from their albums. Treadmills and dance routines are all fine and dandy, but after the flash-in-the-pan success of the videos goes away, the music of OK Go does stand the test of time. They continue to prove their mettle on their latest, the splendidly mixed bag of rock and roll titled Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky.
The immediacy of this album is obvious in the first 15 seconds. After some confused bleeps, a powerfully fuzzed-out bassline leads a driving beat, and singer Damian Kulash, in his best falsetto (which is somehow both confident and insecure at the same time), cries out, “I’ve been trying to get my head around what the fuck is happening.” Handclaps, funky guitars, synths, and the classic “oohs” and “aahs” of the background vocals combine for one hell of an opening track.
The pop and the rock are still there, but OK Go have added in a bit of funk, and some big, tripped-out sounds. The influence of The Flaming Lips‘ producer Dave Fridmann can be heard on larger than life tracks like This Too Shall Pass (notice the dance-type sampling on the drums) and Back From Kathmandu, which hosts a wonderfully atmospheric sound.
There’s also evidence that OK Go have been keeping up with their Prince studies. His influence is most prominent on Skyscrapers, where a sparse funk feel allows Kulash to explore the extent of his falsetto range (which, once again, is amazing). At one point, halfway through the song, he morphs a shrill, Frank Black type of demented scream into a beautifully rounded, soulful moan that is nearly indistinguishable from the artist formerly known as an unpronounceable symbol.
Although the entire album is urgent and ambitious, the second half turns out to be more eclectic than the first. End Love takes a great approach to electro dance pop; Before The Earth Was Round presents a slick, syncopated track with a robotic voice; and Last Leaf marks the biggest departure – a brief acoustic number whose simple execution stands in stark contrast to the overblown (but great) production elsewhere. The group – known for their live performances, where everything from choreographed dances to staged songs from Les Miserables have taken place – come off as cultured guys who enjoy mixing things up.
Across three albums, OK Go have crafted songs that are easily recognisable and enjoyable, but also challenging. Despite the evident influences in their sounds, they’re able to make each song their own, and at the same time, there’s a noticeable push forward from older material. These are not cookie cutter reproductions, but the band are cooking with the same basic ingredients, if that makes sense. Fridmann’s production has given the band a whole new environment in which to play, and they’ve had their fun whilst making great, powerful music in the process.