Damian Kulash: Vocals, Guitar
Tim Nordwind: Bass
Dan Konopka: Drums
Andy Ross: Guitar, Keyboards
It?s winter in Malm?, the Swedish industrial town where OK Go has come to record their second album for Capitol Records. The band is excited but wary. They?ve just spent two exhausting years touring the globe, and another six months back home, writing and rejecting more than sixty new songs. The writing process was grueling, but fruitful: OK Go came up with a collection of demos so strong they grabbed the attention of super-producer Tore Johansson, the hugely sought-after man behind Franz Ferdinand?s debut album and the Cardigans? hits.
Tore?s first words are gruff. "When you are finished with a take," he tells them in his half-menacing, half-hilarious Swedish accent," I will not come running into the studio smiling and waving my arms like some American producer. If I say something is OK, it is perfect. If I say nothing, you will do it again until I tell you stop." Tore spends ten minutes deriding the cookie-cutter slickness of America, home of editing systems smarter than the people who use them. It will be much simpler here, Tore assures them. "You will go into a room together and you will rock."
And rock they did. The result is Oh No, an album that absolutely explodes out of the speakers. Where other bands bomb out or bloat up on their second albums, OK Go has tightened the screws and trimmed the fat, delivering a stripped-down, revved-up forty-two minutes of wild, propulsive rock and roll. It?s a worthy follow-up to their 2002 debut, which established OK Go as expert craftsmen of intelligent, ultra-catchy rock songs. If that album was the mischievous class president-smart and popular and sexy, and not as innocent as he seems - then Oh No is the same kid after he?s spent a lurid summer in bedrooms and bar fights all over town.
There?s a rougher grit to Oh No. From the chaotic torrent of crashing guitars that launches "Invincible," the anthemic lead track, to the acidic chorus of "The House Wins," the album?s stinging final song ("You don?t have to be alone to be lonely.. you might as well give in"), the album surges with electricity. It?s in the center-stage cowbell and cocky classic-rock riff of "Do What You Want," and the feverish, new wave rush of "Here It Goes Again."
But that energy doesn?t obscure the wit, melody, and unabashed joy that brought the band this far. "A Good Idea at the Time" delivers a swaggering, line-for-line response to the Stones classic, "Sympathy for the Devil," transforming those famous "ooh-oohs" into tortured little taunts. Right on its heels is "Oh Lately It?s So Quiet," a beautifully delicate - and unstoppably sexy - ghost story. Just a few songs later, we?re taken somewhere else, slinking across the dance floor to the sleazy disco-era Clash beat of "A Million Ways."
Anyone who has witnessed the exhilaration of the band?s live show will recognize the frenetic drive at the heart of Oh No. "We wanted to make an album that sounds like our band, and not a heady, self-conscious studio project," says lead singer Damian Kulash. "Everyone tells us rock and roll is a shadow of itself - a sad old milk cow smiling at the farmer every morning. We still see a bucking bull smashing around the stable."
The band?s energy doesn?t stop at the edge of the stage or the end of the disc. From the influential how-to guide they published for bands hoping to unseat President Bush (you should have seen the avalanche of hate mail that won them), to the monthly column they wrote for a Japanese rock magazine, to their tour of America as house band for public radio program This American Life, OK Go always seems to find a new corner of the world to explore and make their own. With Oh No, they?re coming after yours.