Review Summary: Hardly recognizable from the power-pop band that bounced around on treadmills.
Ever since Michael Jackson “thrilled” us and Dire Straits wanted their “money for nothing & their chicks for free”, music videos have been integral to the music industry. The preferred medium may have changed from MTV to YouTube, but the objective of getting an artist’s music heard, has not. Quite simply, a strong music video can make or break a band, and arguably the best example of this is OK Go’s 2006 hit ‘Here It Goes Again’… You may know it better as ‘The Treadmill Song’. While many took three or four views of the amazing choreography to realize it, those 4 geeky looking guys were actually a musical group, and the song was rather catchy.
Those who took the extra step of listening to the band’s self-titled debut or follow-up ‘Oh No’ would have found a batch of inoffensive, simple & repetitive power-pop tracks that quickly got tiresome. So when the video of lead single ‘WTF?’ threw more bright colors on to a screen than one could possibly imagine, it would be easy to think that the funky Prince-inspired cut was just another misleading gimmick to suck people into listening to a third ho-hum release. To a certain extent they would be correct, since only the catchy ‘White Knuckles’ resembles it closely. However, many will be surprised at what eventuates. Power-pop, this is not!
Much of the change of direction found on ‘Of the Blue Colour of the Sky’ can be attributed to producer Dave Fridmann. The Mercury Rev bassist who has produced recent efforts from MGMT, Thursday and The Flaming Lips has clearly brought out the darker, more indie-leaning side of the quartet, with fuzzy bass-lines and more distinct drumming standing out behind Damian Kulash’s striking falsetto. Groove-driven sing-alongs ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and ‘All Is Not Lost’ come off as a lighter version of The Flaming Lips or even Arcade Fire, while allowing longer cuts ‘Needing/Getting’ and ‘Skyscrapers’ room to breathe with closing instrumental passages is surprisingly effective.
Unfortunately, there are still far too many missed steps for Ok Go to consider this album a success. These errors of judgment range from unmemorable to over-ambitious, and undoubtedly the most polarizing section of the LP will be its final five tracks. From the drum-less acoustic ballad that is ‘Last Leaf’ to the retro Beatles meets middle-eastern vibe presented on ‘Back from Kathmandu’, fans will be shocked by how anti-party this all is. There are even some hints of bold Radiohead aspirations amongst six minute closer ‘In the Glass’, and the unsettling ‘Before the Earth was Round’ which uses robotic vocoder-processed vocals to accentuate its lyrical theme.
With the apt opening lyric of “I’ve been trying to get my head around what the f**k is happening”, ‘Of the Blue Colour of the Sky’ presents an OK Go which is hardly recognizable from the power-pop band that bounced around on treadmills. Much less immediate than its predecessors and likely to fall in between audiences, the greater depth to be found here should make the album a grower. There is also a feeling that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even if it is probably 5-10 minutes too long. There is still much to work on for OK Go, but at the very least, the progression on display this time around is rather admirable.
Recommended Tracks: WTF?, White Knuckles & Needing/Getting.