King by O.A.R.
One band’s jazzy horn solos, reggae riffs and jam band quirkiness have spread their sonorous sounds to music lovers across the nation—and it all started with one crazy game of poker. Five friends from Rockville, Maryland founded O.A.R. (short for Of a Revolution) in their drummer’s basement while still in high school in 1996, and their success has only spiked since then. The band originally became popular on the college campus scene and eventually broke through these scholastic boundaries to make it big worldwide. O.A.R. have already surpassed several career milestones, with several albums and singles placing on Billboard and Top 40 charts.
Becoming household names around the year 2000 with such hits as “Love and Memories,” “City on Down” and “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” O.A.R. have just released their seventh studio album titled King, comprising 16 tracks that address recurring themes of the power of love, the fleetingness of life and living beyond the borders of normal. Though the band’s continual reference to such topics does feel exasperatingly repetitive at times, the album assuages this annoyance by engaging the listener with a lot of instrumental variety in its tracks.
For example, the opening title track welcomes listeners with an upbeat, regal fanfare of horns, a jazzy feel that contrasts the characteristic mellow ska/reggae guitar of tracks like “Not For Me” and the melancholy piano of “Over and Over” and “Back to One,” the last two tracks on the album. Moreover, the songs do not adhere to a strict formula or standard structure; the choruses are constantly evolving, helping to balance O.A.R.’s dependence on mundane lyrics like “Love will get you higher/It set my heart on fire” from the song “Heaven” and “Slow down the pace, life is amazing” from “Taking On The World Today.”
While King, ironically, could weigh down listeners with uplifting lyrics, the album also inundates them with passion through lead singer Marc Roberge’s distinguishable voice, which, in this case, serves more as an asset than a crutch. If the subject matter is trite, Roberge at least shows his belief in the lyrics by singing every word as such. He’s not just singing to accompany the instrumental parts, but he’s singing to profess a point that comes across as life or death, and it is hard not to hear Roberge’s message. As an example of an evolving chorus, he often moves from talking about himself to addressing listeners directly. For example “All I want is just a good life” on the song “Gotta Live” transforms in the chorus to “All you want is just a good life.” Here, anyone who has drifted off and stopped paying attention is forcibly brought back into O.A.R.’s musical thought process with the inclusive quality of pronouns like “you” and “we.”
King begs the question, “Are there too many messages about living life to the fullest crammed into one 16-track album?” It depends on your tolerance for lyrics like, “Gotta live like it is a last time,” an adage that most have already heard many times. One drawback to the album, therefore, is that at times, King’s songs sound preachy—as if the listener is a grade-school child lectured by a motivational speaker to “always strive to do your best.” However, while the 16-track album is overbearingly rich in terms of giving the listener a lot to contend with, it does offer relief in the form of three instrumental tracks that serve as resting points in between.
King will not fail to entertain—the variation in instrumentals and the true passion with which Roberge projects himself outweigh the negatives of abundant, preachy lyrics that sometimes force you to think deeper and more contemplative thoughts than you want to. Joining genres from jazz to jam, the musical mixture O.A.R. has whipped up is anything but boring and ultimately, no matter how much you try to fight it, you can’t help but hum along. O.A.R. urges listeners to cherish greatness of life and does a good job of swaying us to their side of the revolution.
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