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OK Now

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Oct
OK Now
Sounds like … glossy AC pop reminiscent of Mark Schultz, Michael W. Smith, Scott Krippayne, Dave Barnes, and Matt WertzAt a glance … compared to McLaughlin's impressive 2007 debut, the glossy pop songs of OK Now lack the depth and distinctive hooks to be as memorableTrack Listing Beating My Heart 4 Years You Can Never Go Back Thing That You Say The Middle You Are the One I Love Always On My Mind Smack Into You Dance Your Life Away Why I'm Talking to You Throw My Love Around We All Need Saving

It's been just 15 months since Jon McLaughlin made his national debut with Indiana, but a lot has happened in that time. Strong reviews and various movie soundtrack appearances had already made him a rising star, but then his music sales spiked the day after the 25-year-old singer/songwriter performed "So Close" from Enchanted on the 2008 Academy Awards. From there, he's only gained exposure by touring with Sara Bareilles, Duffy, Kelly Clarkson, and other prominent names. It's a good thing he was able to strike while the iron was hot by quickly recording a follow-up … or is it?

Largely produced by John Fields (Jonas Brothers, Lifehouse), OK Now finds McLaughlin broadening his sound from the more organic piano-pop of his previous release. The stylistic variation works when the hooks are strong and the style is focused. "Dance Your Life Away" is a fun, fluffy throwback to '80s rock about living for the moment, and "Why I'm Talking to You" uses soulful '70s pop—sorta like Billy Joel meets Stevie Wonder—as a pickup line to the hot chick at a party.

Too often, however, the pop exploration makes McLaughlin's sound indistinct and generic. Much of that is due to the songwriting. With little more than atmosphere going for them, the songs gravitate toward simplistic and repetitive relationship sentiments ("Always on My Mind, "Smack Into You"). At least "Throw My Love Around" succeeds in spite of that, only because it has a better written melody.

McLaughlin is at his best when the lyric is more specific or personable. In "Four Years," he depicts time in high school as frivolous and fleeting. With "You Can Never Go Back," he warns against living in the past (while amusingly giving some musical nods to late '70s pop). He expounds on the need to lean on others during hard times through the harmony-laden "We All Need Saving." The songwriter is at his most confessional with "The Middle," lamenting that fame and celebrity has cost him time with loved ones: "Let me tell you now where I went wrong/Hollywood is just another place I don't belong." As far as spiritual content, only the single "Beating My Heart" vaguely suggests that we exist because God gives us life and purpose.

Despite glossy production, McLaughlin's pop-perfect vocals, and some nice piano runs on his part, it's merely pleasant overall, not memorable. Compared to Indiana, the focus on OK Now is more on pop music than songwriting depth. As such, the album is simply OK.

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