Jon McLaughlin

OK Now

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The success of his song for Enchanted painted Jon McLaughlin as a Midwestern James Blunt, a simpering soul who wants nothing more than to bare his soul. To be sure, McLaughlin does a lot of that on his second album -- and first since Enchanted -- OK Now (it almost seems as if he forgot the "What" in the title), often scrubbing those tunes so they can slip undetected into anonymous AAA airwaves. Where McLaughlin has strength is when he loosens up and gets into big, bright pop, the kind that ruled the airwaves in the mid-'80s, after new wave synthesized productions and before adult contemporary flattened them. This is certainly due in part to the presence of John Fields, the same producer who's given the Jonas Brothers a lively sheen not too dissimilar to what's heard on OK Now. When McLaughlin kicks into this gear -- when he sings "Dance Your Life Away," a carefree anthem worthy of Footloose, when he crafts an ELO tribute in "You Can Never Go Back," or when he reworks the piano riff of "Feelin' Alright" on "Why I'm Talking to You" -- OK Now is unapologetic mainstream pop that's not heard too much at the tail-end of the 2000s: hooky, oversized colorful tunes that drill into the subconscious almost immediately. All this makes McLaughlin's taste for the mawkish -- which surfaces not just on those ballads, but on his plea to featherweight freshmen to just hold on through the "Four Years" of high school -- a bit of a buzzkill, bringing the album down to earth when it should soar. Of course, this is often a problem with mainstream pop albums, but at least the rest of OK Now illustrates that Jon McLaughlin has a greater gift for a big, bright hook than most of his pop singer/songwriter peers.

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