Oh No (Capitol)

The Constant Gardener
This is where OK Go singer-guitarist Damian Kulash proves he's as good as his degree in semiotics from Brown University. Taking almost three years between albums, he honed these selections until even the ballads rocked with big beats and catchy choruses, and then he flew his band to Sweden to record with Franz Ferdinand producer Tore Johansson, who mussed up the guitars and buried the vocals the way they'd sound in a live show.

And from the Elastica-like opening riff to the bar chords reminiscent of MTV's '80s theme song to the de rigueur dollop of disco, OK Go's second album is down with the now sound of the not-so-underground. It teeters between smarmy strutting ("True about my taste, true about my wealth/Sing about St. Petersburg/I was never there myself") and yowling desperation ("Crash and burn, crash and burn/Patience is a hallmark of the old and the infirm").

Thing is, Kulash's careful messiness undersells his potential for the kind of daring insight demonstrated by his mentors Ira Glass (of Public Radio's "This American Life") and Fountains of Wayne. "The House Wins" says something sharp about losing, but even the Monkeys aced Intro to Pop-Rock 101.

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