OK Go – Oh No

4 out of 5

Label: Capitol

Produced by: Tore Johansson, Dave Sardy (select tracks mixed by)

To preface: I like OK Go.  I was ready to ignore them and their music video driven fandom, but then it turned out Dave Sardy had mixed some of their tracks, so I gave Oh No a go.  …And was very pleased.  Pleased enough to check out the non-Sardy touched albums that followed, and to recommend albums to others, and to stick with them over their next couple releases.  Continual efforts to deliver full-package entertainment cemented the sense that the group just honestly wanted to spread some joy that they could be artistically satisfied with, and the ongoing visual inventiveness and expansion of their sound along the way has certainly kept me entertained.  But, yeah, they’ve ‘matured’ along the way, from pop-punky to pop-rocky to Dave Fridmann, and going back to how I first heard them – on Oh No – I kind of miss the comparative simplicity of their approach: all hooks; immediately grabbing grooves; building choruses.

Oh No is a fantastic pop album.  That it arrived alongside some hilariously inspired videos is complementary to its quality: the catchiness and energy that bursts forth right from the start isn’t just major label pap, but the product of a foursome fully with their hearts in the game, which allows the rock and grooves to take over and steer well clear of artifice.

That said, while the lyrical subject matter of studio-sized pop music is generally, if anything, relatable, OK Go’s family-friendly fun vibe limits the effectiveness or potential depth of their subject matter; singer / lyricist Damian Kulash does an admirable job of stringing together non-generic, sing-alongable words, but they tend to tread on rather vaguely-defined ground: easily memorized choruses and verses hardly mean much beyond melody.

Then, again, that’s why this album still remains, for me, at the peak of their efforts: its straight ahead burst of guitars, bass, and drums feels like the purest attempt at trying to make their listeners happy and engaged from album start to finish.  I applaud (and have admired) the ways in which they’ve added to that mold over the years, but Oh No is the album on which they nailed it.