Review Summary: Omens is a tour-de-force with the musical production rivaling anything else on Top 40 radio today while the lyrics remain unceasingly sarcastic, witty, and incisive. Highly recommended.
It's been three years since 3OH!3
launched their previous album, Streets of Gold, and in the pop music world, three years can be an eternity. As a result, 3OH!3 has made a broad overhaul to their music, switching away from star producers such as Benny Blanco (responsible for most of the band's hits, including Don't Trust Me
, My First Kiss
, and Double Vision
) to self-production. They've also experimented with new musical elements, bringing dubstep, crunchy guitars, and a Fun.-style anthem into the mix.
The result: Omens is a surprising and diverse album with numerous standout moments along with the occasional misfire. Despite the significant musical changes, the 3OH!3's general approach remains. 3OH!3, composed of two ex-Physics students from the University of Colorado, is a metalinguistic critique of modern pop/club music, in which the group imitates and exaggerates the music, lyrics, and behavior of vapid modern top 40 radio acts.
By now, on the band's fourth album, many folks have forgotten that the band is, at its core, an exceedingly well-disguised parody act, sharing more in common with The Lonely Island
than Katy Perry
. Stripped of its metastory, Omens, like its predecessors, would make little sense when taken literally -- as many listeners mistakenly do. Current single Back To Life
, for example, gamely attempts to save the life of a dying party with a mixture of candlelight and dynamite. As masters of physics, 3OH!3's members are obviously aware of the logical failure of their proposed solution -- the song instead operates on a richer figurative level, as it skewers pop's current obsession with keeping the party going. In a society as joyless as modern day America, where depressed and emotionally hollow pop singers focus on keeping fleeting happiness from dissapating, 3OH!3 openly mocks them; being so genuinely carefree, 3OH!3 doesn't care if the party ends, and as such, has the freedom to literally blow up the party in an effort to savor the joie de vivre
that comes from the gift of existence. (Side note: The other artist currently parodying modern pop culture with brutal efficacy,Pitbull
, makes the same joke on his latest album, by devoting six entire songs to the idea of starting, continuing, and not ending the party, including the intentionally obnoxious (I think?) Don't Stop The Party
Omens opens with the sensational brag rap Eyes Closed
that is so outlandishly megalomaniacal that it leaves even Kanye West blushing. However, the gasconading found on Eyes Closed is not misplaced, as it presages the album's best song, You're Going To Love This
. YGTLT was Omens' lead single, and despite fears that it would drop in quality from the Blanco-produced smashes, YGTLT ends up being 3OH!3's finest hour, as a pulsating synth and staccato beat stutter into a frenetic and indominable chorus. Present here are all the band's finest qualities -- an unforgettable music video, an odd and Helen Keller-esque vaguely offensive cultural reference: "I swear to your honor that in my car the girl was biting on my lips like Jeffrey Dahmer", and spot-on lyrical commentary - in this case, about the dilemmas modern males face while trying to approach ever-more-demanding western women.
Along with the previously mentioned Back To Life
whose unquaveringly sincere presentation of tongue planted ever-so firmly in cheek lyrics compares favorably to last album's similar House Party
, the other album highlight is Live For The Weekend
. Live For The Weekend takes the opposite tack of the Eyes Closed's affected bravado, instead offering up a shockingly and disarmingly literal (I think?) glance into 3OH!3's lifestyle, with lyrics touting the fact that the band will be "partying in the city, drinking, and passing out on the floor" and accurately noting that band has "something offensive to say to your kids" while at the same time reminding us that they are global rock stars (which they are -- 3OH!3 has a far more vocal following in Latin American than the U.S.) saying "I'm running laps around the world while you watch from the nosebleeds." In short, over the band's single best synth line since inception, the band drops the act and tells the literal truth: We're cooler than you -- dwellers of your parents' basements, we travel the world, yet we're still mere mortals who drink and pass out and yearn for the weekend like everyone else. For a band that built its considerable empire atop a pyramid of sarcasm, it's nice of them to use their single best musical arrangement to date to share a moment of genuine sincerity with its fans.
Not every vision within Omens succeeds, however. The dubstep experiment Black Hole
generally falls flat despite a spirited lyrical effort, and the bizarre hard guitars crossed with straight-up rap Two Girlfriends
, doesn't mix together as well you'd hope. (though it was the highlighted track in the New York Times' favorable Omens review.)
The dull and drab Youngblood
has been noted as an album highlight by several reviewers. This shows in many ways the problems with modern indie pop, as Youngblood is merely a tongue-in-cheek send-up of Fun.
and their distinctly unfun way of making good to commit suicide to music. Never have supposed anthems been less inspiring, as Fun.'s drunken rants are too depressing to foster much hope or enthusiasm. 3OH!3, being a band filled with genuine life-loving optimists, while being able to create an excellent imitation of Fun.'s "anthems" for the Prozac generation, are not able to breathe any life into it. Fun. is a failed musical concept, and even though 3OH!3 has created one of the best songs in this vein, successful imitation of a failed concept still is a bad idea on multiple levels. No one is going to take Youngblood's naïve if optimistic message seriously, and it fails as a joke because the lyrics are simply too dull and hamfisted to operate satirically.
But on the whole, Omens is an astoundingly successful romp through the modern pop landscape. 3OH!3, by both leading the wave of innovation in modern pop sounds (witness the reverberations of Don't Trust Me across Top 40 radio -- a song that sounded totally out of place when it hit but now sounds contemporary) and also ably aping other popular acts offers a pleasant mix of innovative beats and contemporary club music while at the same time offering up lyrics that skewer the very music they're creating and imitating. In short, Omens is a really well-produced Top 40 album that offers unceasingly ironic lyrics about the vapidity of that very Top 40.
Correction/Clarification: 3OH!3 wrote and produced their previous hits as well. Benny Blanco merely served as co-producer.