Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: O.A.R. Returns to Form With King

The release of 2008's All Sides put O.A.R. at the highest popularity levels of their career.

The album's first radio single, "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)" was the band's most successful to date, going platinum and peaking at #2 on the U.S. Adult Pop Songs chart and #36 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Despite the success, many long-time fans were disappointed with the more pop-friendly sound.

As Cutting Room Floor's own Alan Brown said recently, "I wasn't a fan of the All Sides album because I felt the band went too far from their roots."

It's true the album was more polished and less like their classic songs, but I thought it showed a thoughtful maturity and proved the band was evolving well beyond the "jam band" label.

O.A.R.'s latest release, King is a nice blend of the more mature sound with the classic jammy, reggae-influence the band's loyal fans have come to expect.

I still can't get over the overly-glossy production of first single "Heaven", but it's a good song. The acoustic version the band has put out is infinitely better, dropping the overpowering drum machine for subtle tambourine hits and hand claps.

Even the female choir loses some of it's annoyance as it gives the acoustic guitar a nice layer to sit on top of.

As for the production on the rest of the album, it's absolutely fantastic.

As drummer Chris Culos explained, "...the majority of it was recorded live off the floor. We ditched the traditional way of tracking each instrument individually in favor of capturing a live feel. We’ve always wanted to capture our live feel in the studio but never really nailed it before. I think it finally comes through on King."

In addition to making a conscious effort to capture the band's live feel with different production, the band made a return to their roots musically.

As frontman Marc Roberge said of opening track "King", "What I want it to inspire is influences, different things that influence us. Not what other people want us to be influenced by. We are influenced by stories, reggae, these characters, hip-hop beats, drums, sax, keys, bass, you know? It's us."

Sure enough, all those things appear on King. The upstroked reggae guitars, danceable grooves and characters from past albums all make their return in vintage O.A.R. style.

Jerry DePizzo's saxaphone finally shows up again in a meaningful way and touring member Mikel Paris' keyboards add delightful subtle touches all over the album while Benj Gershman lays down tasty bass grooves.

After the confusion and surprise of the opening track, cuts like "Taking On The World Today" and "Not For Me" point the album in a more familiar direction.

Later tracks like "Fire", "Dangerous Connection" and "Over And Over" highlight the mature side of a band that's been through the grind for over 15 years.

In my view, this is the best studio album the band has released. The production is crisp without stifling the layers, and as Culos mentioned does the best job yet of capturing the band's noted live energy.

No, they aren't singing about getting drunk in your buddy's driveway anymore and frankly they aren't the same band, but that's a good thing.

King is as close to the formative years of O.A.R. as you're going to get.

There may be a misstep here or there, but as the band says, "We've got more than a lifetime/To make it all feel right/So don't apologize/You gotta be wrong sometimes".

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