Virginia Coalition have been slogging their way up and down the East Coast since
1998, but it was having their third album, Rock and Roll Party,
distributed via Koch in 2003 that started them on the path to having more than
just a regional fanbase.
The latest disc from the Coalition, OK to Go (not to be confused with the
band OK Go, who have a new, self-titled album out as well), was produced by Matt
Wallace, who’s worked with – to pick a pair at random – both Blues Traveler and
Train; if you can stop cringing long enough to keep reading, however, you’ll
learn that he’s also worked with Maroon 5, Sugarcult, Faith No More, and the
Replacements. With Virginia Coalition, Wallace seems to have done his best to
turn the boys into Barenaked Ladies circa Maybe You Should Drive...and
the results are downright spooky.
Lead singer Andrew Poliakoff is a dead ringer for Ladies co-frontman Steven
Page, particularly on ballad “Mason Dixon” and the piano-led “Voyager 2.” The
pop nuggets that lead off the album – “Pick Your Poison” and “Last Goodbye” –
are probably the strongest songs on the disc, making things a little top-heavy,
particularly given that the last two tracks are its worst. The BNL similarity
reaches its nadir on “Bumpin’ Fresh,” which is so derivative in premise to
“Grade 9,” from Gordon, that everyone in the Coalition deserves a smack
for it; “Places People,” meanwhile, isn’t nearly as bad, but it has a Blues
Traveler Lite feel and contains lyrics like, “Yo uncle Ricky put on the
lampshade / And your daddy on the couch, cold wasted,” which find the band
trying too hard to be funky.
In between the rock-solid opening and downright annoying finale, Virginia
Coalition produces glossy, mainstream pop/rock, with hooks that keep your head
bobbing while they’re on but, for the most part, don’t leave much trace
afterwards. An exception, however, is “Come and Go,” which rivals “Last Goodbye”
for best track (and catchiest chorus) on the disc.
Lest we forget, OK to Go also contains a “hidden track”: a cover of
Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” Setting aside the fact that this screams of
desperation, with the band trying to get some radio time in the same way
Dynamite Hack picked up airplay for their version of N.W.A.’s “Boyz-N-Tha-Hood,”
isn’t it time to retire the “hidden track” gimmick yet? Sure, it was fun at
first, when no one was doing it; fans got a surprise when they left their CDs
playing and accidentally stumbled upon a song that wasn’t listed on the back of
the case but was “hidden” several seconds (or minutes) after the last song. But
when the so-called “bonus track” is actually noted on the sticker on the front
cover of the CD – as is the case on OK to Go – what’s the point in
tacking it onto the end of that last (listed) song? Why not just make it its own
track? Before putting away the soapbox, it should also be mentioned in disgust
that “No Diggity” is, in fact, the only song mentioned on the cover sticker.
Does Bluhammock have so little faith in the band’s own material that they can’t
even bother to mention at least one of their originals on the sticker as well?
Virginia Coalition have always put on a memorable and enthusiastic live
performance, but their albums seem to have gotten progressively farther away
from that exuberance, with the edges smoothed away. Like so many bands that
aggressively tour up, down, and all around the US – think Carbon Leaf and/or the
Pat McGee Band – the Coalition need to be seen in concert to be properly
appreciated, and it’s inevitable that they’ll put out a live album to document
that experience. When they do, that’ll likely be the must-get item in the band’s
discography; in the meantime, OK to Go is worth picking up...but only as
a stop-gap measure.