Ought - Room Inside the World - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ought - Room Inside the World

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-02-16
Ought - Room Inside the World
Ought - Room Inside the World

Ought’s third outing, Room Inside the World, is a step in a distinctly different direction for a band who at one time felt like the next incarnation of The Fall—albeit with a fresher, more vital, sound. Tim Darcy’s vocal style, for example, has transitioned from the tight monotone poetry of Mark E. Smith to now resemble an almost cartoonish Nick Cave, or even Morrissey, at times. Similarly, the droning post-punk guitars and complex rhythms of past Ought have tightened into something more pop-centric. And yet, somehow, none of these changes feel like selling out or conforming. If anything, Ought is weirder the third time around in the best sense of the word.

Tim Darcy’s mournful opening verse on “Into The Sea” is immediately reminiscent of From Her To Eternity-era Nick Cave. A dour piano combined with Darcy’s lamentation on life’s impermanence seems to suggest that Ought’s once comfortable nihilism has finally been overcome by existential dread. Then, as quick as the mood sets in, drummer Tim Keen, doing his best Stephen Morris, bursts into the track with rapid fire rat-a-tat-tats which dispel the mood instantly. And, with the help of Darcy’s swirling guitar sound, Ought proves themselves capable of uplift.

New sonic influences abound on Room Inside the World. “Disgraced In America,” chugs along like a Velvet Underground-esque critique of American values: “Birds fly around/ While the dividends pay/ Birds fly around/ While I’m picking up change.”  There’s even a droning violin outro. Continuing on with the musical referents, the aptly named “Disaffection” sounds like a B-side from Disintegration. The track boasts swirling guitars and when Darcy intones, “Disaffection is holy/ It make me feel alive,” he draws out the “alivvvvve” with all the affected opulence of young Robert Smith. Similarly, “These 3 Things” has the tight, angular compactness of “Close To Me” or “A Forest”.

Though Room Inside the World happily wears its influences on its new wave sleeve, the album’s centerpiece, “Desire,” is an oddly original creation. The song’s quietly strummed beginning, underpinned with some light keyboard tones and a simple beat, belies its massive, moving conclusion. Trying to pin-down exactly what genre “Desire” belongs to is tricky. A case could be made for R&B because of the chorus of gorgeous female voice who come in midway through and lift the track up, out of the mud, toward heaven. There’s also a Springsteen feel to “Desire” as the swelling keyboards are joined by a sax solo reminiscent in tone to Clarence Clemons—though slightly too avant garde for anything on The River or Born in the USA. “Desire” is nothing short of a slow burn masterpiece.

The contrast between “Desire” and “Beautiful Blue Sky,” the centerpiece of Ought’s previous record, Sun Coming Down, highlights the stunning evolution of a band no longer constrained by a fear of being perceived as uncool. “Beautiful Blue Sky,” is about as cool a track as anything that’s come out since 2010. It was reminiscent of The Fall, a band music aficionados generally adore, while also being sonically experimental and nihilistically edgy. It was also catchy as hell. The whole Sun Coming Down album seemed calculated, pristine and critically unassailable. Room Inside the World seems looser and less calculated and the risks pay dividends. A sax solo, a choir, the various change-ups in Darcy’s vocal stylings… any one of those new additions would be a risky venture for a band with Ought’s sterling reputation. Ought courageously decided to make all of those changes, and more, and while the results aren’t perfect (“Brief Shield” and “Pieces Wasted” feel underdone) they are intensely interesting.

Ought had a choice with Room Inside the World. The band could have simply made the pristine sequel to Sun Coming Down that Ought fans thought they wanted. Or, instead, Ought could have reached out for something new and bold, risking failure along the way. They chose the latter and the resulting record reveals a band with all the chops, wisdom and curiosity to become a driving force in ongoing musical landscape. I want to end by saying that I am so excited for whatever Ought does next but that would detract from how great Room Inside the World actually is. So, instead, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this record and discover for yourself why I am so impatiently awaiting Ought’s next move.

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