O.A.R. King(Wind-Up Records) Buy it from Insound
O.A.R.’s fifth album, 2005’s Stories of a Stranger, was aptly named for all the wrong reasons. The band of buddies from Rockville, Maryland had fostered a fan base rooted in jam sessions, reggae-fusion, and a resonant reputation for live gigs. Stories of a Stranger, however, marked a departure that left O.A.R. unrecognizable by its early devotees. All the familiar, frequent elements were there (guitar backbeat, feel-good lyrics, and Jerry DePizzo’s scintillating saxophone), but the songs were crisper and more structured. Verses flowed into choruses that were cleverly crafted and meant for memorization. They had, at least to some degree, gone pop.
This same purple and gold commercial cloth has been used to cloak King. It’s excessive, extravagant, and designed to detract attention from the mortal entity at its core. Like a mediocre monarch, King’s decrees are met with equal parts favor and failure. Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes successfully balances its contrived composition with a nice lick from guitarist Richard On, and Dangerous Connection has a breezy feel swept along by its smooth sax line.
Elsewhere, though, King plays politics to a disappointing degree. One track in particular (guess which) feels like a label advisor intervened in the following manner:
“Guys, we need a radio single. Keep it simple, you know, limited to a one-word concept. That’ll be the title. Make sure the chorus is tuned to where both dudes and chicks can sing into the steering wheel. We’ll make it sound huge, gospel choir and everything. The Top 40 won’t know what hit it. It’ll be…heavenly.”
Marc Roberge raised a hypothetical eyebrow, and at that moment, King’s bastard child was conceived.
For those unfamiliar with O.A.R., this review deserves qualification. Rating their studio product is like judging Martin Scorsese by his films for children. It’s like grading Andy Warhol on his cubist works or timing Michael Phelps in synchronized swimming. This band is a champion of performance. Their career has been buoyed by bombastic shows and relentless touring, but the records at the root of their righteous gigs can’t conduct the wattage they pump out on stage. An undeniable moment of clarity exists at the concert, perhaps when the final chorus of Fire gives way to the main riff. You look at your consortium of companions bathing in the waning glow of yet another summer sunset and realize that, at that moment, regardless of everything, life is pretty good. That moment is what O.A.R. has been about through their 15-year tenure, and some label appeasement on studio cuts won’t change that. King is worth a listen, but only to prepare yourself for their next visit to a neighborhood near you.16 August, 2011 - 08:03 — Benjamin Jones