OK Go, the guys from the infamous treadmill video (among others), combine the swaggering riffagey thump of Jet with the cheeky ubergeekdom of Fountains of Wayne, with more than a little theatrical/chameleonic pop savant Queen-ishness thrown in. Either that, or they sound sort of like Weezer and The Cars reimagining the soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
You get the point -- there’s something determinedly off-kilter about almost every deliriously catchy power-pop confection on this album. From the opening strains of bombastic opener “Invincible” to the final distortion-drenched fadeout of “The House Wins,” it’s a truly sparkling combination of oddball humor and rivetingly clever guitar riffage.
Following on the heels of the thundering arched-eyebrow wink that is “Invincible,” “Do What You Want” delivers a dirty-sweet Jet-ish jam with tongue again firmly in cheek, goofy harmonies counterbalancing deliciously catchy guitar lines. The treadmill-erific “Here It Goes Again” completes the opening one-two-three punch, demonstrating that, separate and apart from being associated with one of the coolest music videos ever made, it’s a first-rate guitar-pop tune, a regular “Stacy’s Mom” of riffy, witty, burrow-inside-your-brain wonderfulness.
On “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet,” frontman Damian Kulash shows he’s more than just a pretty face with an unusual sense of humor as he delivers a falsetto that’s not just convincing but actually quite good – not to mention, a major contrast to the screamy growly rock singer parody voice he pulls off on a number of other tracks here. He’s got tremendous range and genuinely inhabits the characters in OK Go’s songs, much like Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne.
OK Go’s songs don’t feel as meticulously crafted as their New Jersey cousins’ because they’re played with more reckless abandon, looser and harder. Still… while the quartet tosses off swaggering little power-pop gems like “Good Idea At The Time,” “It’s A Disaster” and “A Million Ways” with a disarming effortlessness, the truth of the thought and craft that goes into their work is perhaps underscored by the fact that it’s 2009, the group’s debut came out in 2002, and we’re still waiting on album number three.
The apocalyptic riffing of “No Sign Of Life” reminds me of Transcendence, another out-there, heavy-rock, avant-garde band. “Let It Rain” is somewhat out of character, and interesting for that, a pretty pop song with delicate harmonies. It’s like they’re throwing you a curveball by doing a song that’s sort of sweet and sincere as opposed to their more typical snarky aggro-pop approach. Speaking of contrasts, “Crash The Party” starts off with an appropriately cacophonous explosion of thrashy trash rock, like the Stones after dropping acid and asking Bowie and Billie Joe Armstrong to sit in. And “Television Television” has more than a little “Radio Radio”-era Elvis Costello to it, that little punk edge hiding underneath.
“The House Wins” strikes a winningly sardonic closing note, a ringing, repeating guitar and piano riff and swirling retro-chic synthesizers underscoring a lyric that manages to be philosophical, dissolute and pretty all at once, a downbeat song with a celebratory feel. As on the rest of this album, OK Go swagger through the song while winking at you the entire time. Whatever the metaphysical point of that approach might be, the end result is an album full of songs that are catchy as hell and sucker-punch you from six or seven different directions at once. [Note: the recent deluxe edition of Oh No also includes a disc full of terrific videos and is well worth it.]