Friday, June 18, 2010

Album Review: O.A.R. - In Between Now and Then

O.A.R.: In Between Now and Then
[Lava 2003]


Besides being O.A.R.’s best album, In Between Now and Then is also their most appropriately named one. Now: O.A.R. is but a shell of their early reggae rock selves, releasing 2008’s soft rock bore-fest All Sides and offering little hope for redemption with new releases (youtube: “War Song”). Then: before 2003, O.A.R. and their everyman jams spread from campus to campus like wildfire, but in the studio, the band still lacked the composure and production to reach broader audiences convincingly. Recently, O.A.R. has been unable to muster a fraction of the charm of their early days (“That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” vs. “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” is no contest), but it was only on In Between Now and Then that the pieces fell into place just right.

In Between Now and Then may not dispel the notion that O.A.R. in 2003 were a poor man’s Dave Matthew’s Band, with their similar affinity for brass, full-sounding choruses, and production non-coincidentally performed by John Alagia, who has done extensive production and mixing for DMB and John Mayer. But the album certainly established the group as the latest collegiate jam rock sensation since Dispatch a few years earlier. And listening to it now, you can tell why. A properly rich studio production and a long set of tight and catchy jam rock hooks make In Between Now and Then an excellent record. Despite peddling in mall rock clichés of smooth jazz accents and some corny lyrics, the melodies are honest and infectious.

While reggae only graces several tracks outright, the relaxed, backyard vibe extends across the album’s jam- and jazz-infused pop rock. Fan favorite “Hey Girl” and the huge guitars of “Right on Time” represent some of Now and Then’s rowdier moments, while smoother swaying numbers like “Old Man Time” and “Any Time Now” keep things grounded.

Besides treating the rich instrumentals to a deserving polish, the crisp production hugely benefits Marc Roberge’s vocals. Maybe it was an age thing, but prior albums like Soul’s Aflame showed Roberge as not a particularly great singer. In the context of O.A.R.’s sing-a-long catalog, perhaps all eyes aren’t on Roberge to deliver an especially remarkable delivery because fans will be singing along anyways. Nonetheless, he gets a welcome smoothing over on Now and Then.

In Between Now and Then isn’t for the wet blanket too stoic to come out on the dancefloor. The album has simple intentions of soundtracking summer barbecues and relishing in big youthful melodies, and in these respects it succeeds dramatically by capturing the laid-back charm of jam rock and emphasizing infectious pop hooks. If the O.A.R. of 2010 is down for the count, let’s at least be thankful for this moment of brilliance.


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