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All Sides can’t stand on its own

James DuBray | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

O.A.R’s a band that’s ripe for critical bashing.

With a fan base akin to that of Dave Matthews Band, hipster music magazine writers won’t give a fair review to a group loved by frat boys and pseudo hippies. Foreseeing this conflict of interest, reputable outlets such as “Pitchfork,” “Spin” and “Paste” have yet to review an O.A.R. album, studio or live.

What these critics fail to understand is that O.A.R. gained a following by doing things the right way. They built their fan base on sweat and beer, touring nonstop to any place in the country where an audience would listen. Instead of relying on concocted advertising plans, the college buddies let their music spread through word of mouth and sharing of live tapes.

Acknowledging that music isn’t a commodity like a car or a retirement plan, the band worked to connect with their listeners on every level. Fans assumed that this relationship was based on the band’s love of music and the sometimes-beautiful culture that surrounds it.

If their recent album provides any indication, O.A.R. either never did or no longer does like music. “All Sides,” released earlier this year on the band’s Everfine Records, bores, annoys and ultimately disappoints.

Maybe it’s that they’ve been on the road too long, if the opening track “This Town” defines the album. This arena anthem crashes to the ground as the group abandons their reggae influenced jam rock for a hookless plea to be more like U2. Maybe the issue is lead singer Mark Roberge’s Ohio State education, if the lyrics from “Something Coming Over” say something about what he learned in his four years.

It’s just so darn insightful to hear metaphors like, “Used to watch this game from the sidelines/ Now its time to get on in and play.”

Maybe the problem is the group’s lack of knowledge of rock and roll history. The Rolling Stones already had a hit song called “Shattered.” It was a real rock and roll song. And The Stones’ tune had more guts than O.A.R.’s recent joke, even as Mick Jagger licked Ronnie Wood’s lips during the band’s memorable “SNL” rendition of the “Some Girls” single.

Or maybe it’s that the band is like Dylan in much of the 80s or U2 today, bored with nothing to say but too arrogant and pressured by record executives to admit it. Either way, the plea to populate teenybopper pop radio is off-putting. Instead of making an album with the same exuberance and yearning that populated their popular 2002 live recording “Any Time Now,” the band went with a career ruiner.

Someone needs to tell the recently turned thirty-year olds that they’re not in college anymore.

Perhaps the saddest thing about O.A.R. is their complete lack of sincerity or self-awareness – or both. In the album’s liner notes, Roberge talks of taking a cross-country road trip to reflect before making “All Sides.” If this road trip even happened, the only things that was going through the front man’s head were dollar signs. The band populated their Los Angeles studio with record producer Matt Wallace. Much like O.A.R., Wallace moved from working in reputable territory with acts such as The Replacements to greener pastures with “poignant” groups like Maroon 5.

Here’s to hoping this record teaches the band a lesson. Insincere, unoriginal people may be the toast of the business world, but they don’t belong in rock and roll.