Four tracks. Two hits, one middling song, and a miss. OK Go keeps making great videos but musically they're still trying to live up to their excellent first album.
It’s a bit baffling that OK Go, who went completely independent shortly after their last album came out, has a new full-length essentially ready to release but is waiting until mid-October to put it out. If the songs are done and you have a typically eye-popping new video to go with a new single and you aren’t beholden to corporate record label scheduling, why not just get on with it instead of waiting an extra four months?
Instead the band has released Upside Out a four-song EP featuring four tracks from that upcoming album. Uniquely, the release manages to simultaneously feel like a generous preview and an afterthought. It’s the latter because it seems like the band had their video for “Writing’s on the Wall” ready to go and decided, “Well, we better give our fans something to actually listen to besides just counting on this video to go viral again.” But four songs from the new album four months in advance really is a decent preview for the record.
“Writing’s on the Wall” is a very good single. It’s catchy, with a compelling vocal performance from Damien Kulash and a strong lyrical premise. Kulash is recognizing that his relationship is falling apart and decides to try to give his significant other one more good night before everything ends in pieces. The EP’s opening track, “Turn Up the Radio”, is equally catchy, but really dumb lyrically. Everything in the song serves to buttress the chorus “Turn up the radio / Turn out the lights / I want it loud as hell / I want the walls to melt.” The disco pastiche “I Won’t Let You Down” is an effective evocation of 1980-era disco, but brings nothing else to the table besides sonic imitation.
“The One Moment” closes out the EP as if it’s a big, bold album closer. Crashing piano chords, wide open U2-style guitars, and a “We’re all gonna die, so let’s get together” lyrics. OK Go turn out to be much more adept at putting their own spin on this type of song than disco, because the layered vocals and epic instrumental arrangement make the song work very, very well. For those keeping track at home, that makes the stats on Upside Out as follows: two hits, one middling song that works despite its general stupidity, and a miss. Which is about par for the course as far as OK Go goes. They keep making great videos, but musically they have yet to equal their excellent first album.