The past month has been a tough one for America, what with fighting in Washington, hours upon hours of Nancy Grace and the release of “The Smurfs.” But if there’s anything that can bring this ailing land together, it’s bagging on O.A.R.
The main knock against the guys formerly known as “…of a Revolution”-–outside of their songwriting, musicianship, bold-faced plagiarism from Sublime, Dave Matthews Band, Matchbox Twenty and the worst of country music, zeal in reviving a ska scene we were all sure we’d stomped dead a decade ago and a fan base that’s especially good at covering venues and nearby streets in teenage puke–is that they sound like a marketing campaign designed to sell T-shirts with pictures of people doing keg stands on them.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place, that we couldn’t all use a shot of O.A.R. during these hard times. Nor does it mean, of course, that they can’t be The Best Band Ever.
Reason No. 1: You Are Not Allowed To Feel Bad About Things When Listening to O.A.R.
In the world that each and every O.A.R. songs lives in, beers are cold, hats are white and the girls don’t mind waiting. Because, good people, there is some long-awaited chilling out to be done.
In every O.A.R. song, the curtains come down on the rest of the world so lead singer Mark Roberge can enchant you with lyrics like “When I’m chillin outside with the people I know. / I feel home, / And that’s just what I feel,” while the rest of the band snake-charms you to sleep with three chords.
“A lot of people said that a band like this couldn’t put people in this room and have everyone feeling good,” Roberge said during a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in 2006, as reported by the New York Times.
They’re a band designed for either hanging out or chanting (which is the two main interests of O.A.R. fans), not because they don’t demand anything else, but because they forbid anything else. Problems? Issues? Warts? The door’s that way, friend.
Even songs like “Are You Low,” where Roberge repeats “I’m low, I feel low / take it slow / try to live high / you end up low” a bunch of times for three and a half minutes, sound like he’s talking about his stash.
Reason No. 2: They’re One With The People
Of all the many things O.A.R. stands for, the band’s central message seems to be, “Seriously–no, seriously: You can do this, too.”
Look at them. They look like the guys who sold wine coolers in high school. And you couldn’t write “I’ve been walking for about a thousand years / My feet are tired of crying all the painful tears,” from “Run Away to the Top of the World”?
O.A.R. built a fan base out of people who want to feel like they’re at a frat party where their friends grabbed guitars and drums, did a couple whippets and happened to all know the same song. The band’s turned an accessible and a low-maintenance sound into a rallying cry.
It’s not that they make it look easy, it’s that they make it actually easy. Yeah, they jam in concert for dozens of minutes at a time, but trying to tell a hazed-up audience that a jam didn’t sound good is like telling a German shepherd the steak that dropped on the floor wasn’t medium yet.
But something about that style–refuting the phrase, “if it were easy, everybody would do it”–is just perfect for our times. After all, that’s how America elects its politicians.
Reason No. 3: They Tell You When It’s OK To Get Messed Up
Throughout most of recorded history, people haven’t really needed much of a shove in this direction. In The Compass of Pleasure, David Linden writes about how humans–not to mention birds, elephants and reindeer–have been finding ways to drink, smoke or lick whatever they could get their hands, trunks or tongues on.
And they’ve been resourceful too. During the Irish Temperance Movement (decent name for a band, by the way), the Irish decided that drinking ether (the stupor-inducing by-product of sulfuric acid and water used most often in surgery) was OK, so they just did that, and smelled–until ether was outlawed a few years later– worse than the British. In other words, since the time we were able to think, humans have been pretty good at finding ways to stop doing it. However. These are new days. In the face of a double-dip recession and the real, actual possibility that one day The Situation and Snooki could produce a kid, sometimes it’s just not appropriate to celebrate.
That’s why it’s so important to have a band who’ll be so kind as to let us know when it’s OK.
Like in, say, “This Town,” when they summon the masses with: “This town, this night, this crowd / Come on put them up, let me hear it loud.”
Which leads us to…
Reason No. 4: They’re So Cool That They Write Songs About Themselves
Make no mistake: “This Town” is not about your town, despite what the producers at FOX want you to believe, and even if your town is the kind of town bands like O.A.R. tend to write about (i.e., If there’s no place you’d rather be, if your baby’s beside you and you leave at five o’clock [somewhere] to sidle up to a bar…)
It was actually written by the band, about the band, and this one time in the future when they’d be playing in front of a lot of people.
O.A.R. writes songs like they’re a band playing in a movie–in a sense, they grow into their songs. “This Town” is proof, but so are the other biggies, like “Hey Girl” and “I Feel Home.” They write songs (not all, but a ton of them) that are only appropriate in arenas and large places because they know that’s where they’ll be. It’s a shrewd process–and one that really does take some talent (which is why there are so many unemployed marketers)–and one proffered by badass/better arena bands such as Boston and The Who.
But here’s where it gets a little weird.
By writing songs like that, there’s no way of having an actual personal connection to O.A.R. There’s a reason why, when people talk about falling in love with a band or a song, they talk about how it “speaks” to them. But this approach O.A.R.’s taken doesn’t speak–it yells. It brings people together, but–again, big deal–it only brings them together when they’re already together. People don’t hear “This Town” and rush out of their houses to the meet up at the KFC.
The only connection that’s made is for a few seconds between the people listening and the people next to them, which is certainly cool, but it’s also what happens when you’re both behind somebody driving slow. This kind of stuff is the press release of music.
Reason No. 5: They Had An Oneders Moment
Remember “That Thing You Do”? Of course you do–and here’s the song to push you through your Monday finish line–and so does Steve Zahn because that was the last time Tom Hanks talked to him.
But if you remember, the band in the movie started out as a pun. They were called the Oneders. As in, the 1-ders. It was a play on the Beatles. But as they got bigger, people kept calling them the O-nee-ders, which sounded kind of like a yodeling group, so new agent Tom Hanks had them change it.
Back in the late ’90s, when the dudes were still playing shows in Maryland, some confusion arose around their name. Turns out “…of a revolution” was a little too much, and people started calling them “oar.” You probably did, too, especially when you found out that the people who wrote “Woke up with a headache from the night before / Cause sometimes I drink / Spent the night with my head in the toilet bowl / It’s where I like to think” were actually named “…of a revolution.” With an ellipsis.
But, seeking to really hammer the point in, the band decided it couldn’t go on having some people call them “oar” and others just calling them talentless. So they went with O.A.R., which, in turn, just reminded you of how much you loved “That Thing You Do.”
Reason No. 6: “Crazy Game Of Poker”
OK OK OK OK OK, this song is still pretty sweet. Picasso had Guernica, Jessica Simpson had the year 2003 and O.A.R. has “Crazy Game of Poker.”
Coming out as it did in the mid ’90s, “CGoP” was actually traded between people on CDs and even cassettes, which makes for a pretty good origin story for a band–who knows, of course, where O.A.R. would be if people had to actually pay for the music.
But the song is funny, fun and one of those songs whose popularity swells in large part because of how long it is, especially because no one left in America is really sure how anybody could do one thing for that long.
So, like they say in the song–1.5 verses after “Bop bop bop… / I say now skittleedat dat, / Well how bout that?”–how about a Revolution?