The Quietus OK Go Review
So, you got the email. Treadmill ballet = instant viral penetration. Grammy award, Simpsons parody — the works. An audience of 49 million and counting has watched OK Go’s video for ‘Here It Goes Again’, and that’s not including the cooing armies of monitor-huddling co-workers — bringing the tally to a more realistic estimate of around 60 to 70 big ones.
A brave new world indeed, but which of those amazed office denizens could hum the song from memory after they sat back down to their drudge? Not many, probably. OK Go were lucky enough to emerge just as broadband technology exploded — MTV be damned, they commanded a global reach unimaginable not three years before ‘Here We Go Again’ was even a crackly demo. In one easy step, chintzy power-pop, plain as it was under whelming, was gifted by the gods the kind of exposure ordinarily costing something like the combined advertising budget of every U2 LP since Boy. Talk about wasted opportunities.

The wearisome bawdiness overcompensating for their shamefully borrowed identities; the non-sound as idiosyncratic as a Big Mac; the watery compendiums that were their LPs, liberally garnished with archaic geek-rock irony and crammed with reconstituted genres wrestled into unhappy cohabitation — the story of OK Go is two albums and three EPs of small-thinking anti-matter. Starchy, lifeless and fragrantly mediocre, resulting in a furniture-polish headache induced in the listener’s frontal lobe. So blatantly well-adjusted was Oh No, the treadmills song’s parent album, it rendered the band credibly ‘Alt’ in the same way McFly are the UK’s answer to Pavement. (That was Busted, obviously.)

But it’s fruity, fun, witty, animated! It’s light entertainment, don’t take us so seriously! Well, while there’s an obvious pop nous at work, so anxious they are to telegraph this kookiness (lest they betray their self-seriousness), that OK Go’s purported fun side is really vapidity posing as post-modern savvy, the plastered smile of an aimless unit losing the battle of who-could-care-less. It’s like laughing at yourself nervously before anyone else can. Fountains Of Wayne this way lies.

On approach to Blue Sky, their follow up to Oh No, it seems no hard lessons have been learned during their four-year hiatus. With a chat room-acronym titled track one (‘WTF?’) and a single on the New Moon soundtrack entitled ‘Shooting The Moon’ (gah!) the future looks… annoying. Probably off the back of Dear Science and the modish implications of an indie band doing funk, the much vetted ‘new funk direction’ amounts to a world-class Prince impression, and several other libidinal slides dotted around the album that sound like The Virgins. And to toggle blithely between the post-punk inclined Tore Johansson and psyche-pop Godhead Dave Fridmann is emblematic of a continued proclivity for trend-chasing.

But, but you’ll be in for a surprise. You see, ‘WTF?’ is actually pretty good, and the other notable funk ditty ‘White Knuckles’ is damn near irresistible, and that over 14 songs their pop-writing ingenuity (their cribbing brand of ingenuity, anyhow), is accompanied by something comfortable and appealing, and if Blue Sky isn’t exactly profound art, it’s certainly the band’s most sincere outing.

Though it’s after a jaw-dropping five-track run, spanning ‘This Too Shall Pass’, ‘All Is Not Lost’, ‘Needing/Getting’, ‘Skyscrapers’ and the spectacular ‘White Knuckles’, by which time you’re practically cheering them on, that it occurs to you Blue Sky might just be a rare, if not life-changing, treat. Glorious ebullience abounds, within Fridmann’s wet, roomy surroundings, with the message of the Lips’ ‘Do You Realize?’ repackaged five times with exponential aplomb. Like a grooving Modest Mouse ‘This Too Shall Pass’ is humble but grandly life-affirming and a million miles from the trivial, clever-clever artifice of their bygone days. ‘All Is Not Lost’, an unashamedly buoyant pain-remedy (You see a trend forming here?), activates with a scattering, bell-like hook repeating itself into the soaring chorus, washing over your neglected pleasure nodes like lukewarm liquid heroin. Propelled by a tremulous guitar ‘Needing/Getting’ breaks down into an acappella refrain that live, should prove to be crowd-unifying masterstroke and leave’s your chest bulging with pride. That is until flagrant Prince-homage ‘White Knuckles’ rides in bearing myriad hooks, and bursts the fucker wide open. As Kulash implores of you: “Let Your Hair Down” – it’s obviously been their secret.

The contemplative second half of the album is as varnished with nice moments as the first, but is peaceful, inclusive and slacked under the mellow glow of honest, intuitive expression. The forlorn acoustica on ‘Last Leaf’ is pleasing if unremarkable and the vocoder-enabled ‘Before The Earth Was Round’, is such a rip-off of Air’s ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ and ‘Remember’ that you’re almost embarrassed for Kulash. Yet both are so gorgeous and perfectly arranged you’re prepared to forgive them their transgressions. Although ‘Where Will I Sleep’ has something of RHCP’s ‘Porcelain’ about it, to still be on form and hungry by track 11 is no small feat and its spangled drowsiness and uncanny air of deep space solitude gives ‘Where Will I Sleep’ incredible allure.

So there’s a bit of growth here. As ever, it’s derivative stuff, but almost meaningful, and legitimacy beckons. They may only be plying their plagiarism on a more becoming canvas and with better tunes, but it seems they’ve found their compass and stopped carting around a bloodless pretence, which, rather than their internet phenomenon, was always their real albatross. John Calvert

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