Their self-titled debut having established OK Go as a competent if unremarkable hard-pop band that sounded like Jimmy Eat World without the emo drone, there was little cause to anticipate the learning curve the band shows on their follow-up, Oh No. The charms of their debut album wore off quickly, since it consisted of what was essentially 12 variations of the same song, making the diversity of styles and structures represented on Oh No all the more impressive a feat. That, despite having improved so dramatically over the past three years, the band refreshingly lacks the sense of self-importance that weighs down their peers on rock radio—anyone think the video accompanying the first single from The Killers’ sophomore album will be a full-on choreographed number filmed in their back yard?—makes OK Go seem something just short of miraculous.
With its three-chord, disco backbeat structure, that first single, “A Million Ways,” marries the ginormous pop hooks of, say, Fountains of Wayne, to the post-dance-punk of Franz Ferdinand (unsurprisingly, Tore Johansson, who produced Franz Ferdinand, is also the producer of Oh No). The album’s first three tracks (“Invincible,” “Do What You Want,” and “Here It Goes Again”) all adhere to this formula, suggesting that the album might unfold as monotonously as did their first effort. But the songs that form the core of Oh No—most notably the bluesy “No Sign Of Life” and the shuffling, falsetto-driven “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet”— incorporate new textures into the band’s sound in a way that coheres, like Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, into a consistently engaging take on modern rock. There isn’t a track on Oh No that couldn’t be pushed as a radio single. While there’s nothing at all revolutionary in the band’s combination of nihilistic lyrics and sunny pop hooks or in their use of dance rhythms behind their guitar power chords, it’s nonetheless rare to encounter a major label pop or rock album as start-to-finish good as is Oh No.