While boybands got one of the highest peaks of popularity during the entire decade of the 90s, guided by famous acts like Take That, Backstreet Boys & ‘N Sync, the ‘90s crave’ of pop vocal groups ended during the early years of the 2000s just when O-Town once again rekindled the popularity before the end of a massive boyband era. Established and created during the ABC (later MTV) reality television series ‘Making The Band’, five boys were eventually selected to once again relive a teenage-appealed melancholic pop group as newfound band O-Town: Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, Dan Miller, Jacob Underwood, and Ashley Parker Angel. Guided and co-created by Lou Pearlman, who also discovered The Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, the newly established O-Town scored their first hit with ‘Liquid Dreams’ – where famous female actresses and singers like Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson and Halle Berry, among others, were mentioned in the lyrics to describe their wild fantasies. Nowadays a song they like to poke fun about, whereas their second single, ballad ‘All or Nothing’, is held tight by the band members, reaching #3 on the Billboard Charts, and helped establishing a fanbase outside of their casting reality show (which later was taken over by Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs to create hip-hop group Da Band as well as Danity Kane).
While gaining success with their self titled ‘O-Town’ debut album, reaching #5 in the album charts, their second album, ‘O2’ released in 2002, and featuring single ‘These Are The Days’, made it to number 28 in the album charts, not matching the previous success. The climate, however, changed in the music industry: Boy- and girl groups moved to the background while hip-hop acts dominated the charts. Nonetheless, during the end of the 2000s, boybands made a comeback with The Jonas Brothers, later followed by One Direction and The Wanted during the start of the 2010s, and during the same time (2011 to be exact) is when O-Town decided to perform again, supported by their strong fan base that even during their split tried to bring them back. In 2014 they made it official in a video post to be back for good: “There is only us. There’s no big manager, there’s no big label, there’s no big networks, there’s no big music mogul. It’s just us. And our love for music.” This is proven by their third release ‘Lines & Circles’, their first album since 12 years. Even though former member Ashley decided not to participate this time around, the remaining four continued releasing music and performed in shows throughout the globe. An EP followed in 2017 called ‘Part 1’ with 5 tracks that eventually formed part of the new released record ‘The O.T.W.N. Album’, which – with the help of fans financing on Kickstarter – a possibility for Jacob, Dan, Trevor, and Eric-Michael to continue dropping new music and continue to please their audience, pulling through in the music business.
While the already released 5 tracks from the 2017 EP ‘Part 1’ are put out in the new album as well, it’s about to see if the remaining 7 songs make up for a fresh sound, plus if the newer ones match with the ‘older’ tracks. Let’s go track by track.
The album starts off with the announced lead single named ‘Off’: “Don’t care what you’re wearing baby, you’re just gonna take it off / I know you think I’m playing but you’re perfect just the way you are” – a romantic yet sexy chill dance-pop song that sets the mood for the album. ‘Off’ is then followed by February-release ‘Hello World’ and two tracks from the former EP – ‘Giants’, and ‘Empty Space’. While ecstatic ‘Hello World’ greatly follows the similar ecstatic ‘Giants’ that impresses with a fun mix of pop melodies and fresh beats, ‘Empty Space’ turns down a more serious tone, describing the emptiness after a lover leaves: “It went down today like a spiral staircase all the way to the floor / I won’t let you leave even if it means I’ll stand in front of the door.” The touches of clever EDM sounds throughout the track, shaped by electronic group Fancy Cars, makes ‘Empty Space’ one of the highlights of the album. And just like a continuation of an ongoing story, the serious approach is followed in ‘Over’, a typical piano-driven boyband ballad bringing back nostalgic feels where moving along from a relationship is the subject matter. The same happens when listening to ‘After The Lights’ – known from the EP – where 90s feelgood pop meets fresh production from current times. The title track ‘O.T.W.N.’ which stands for ‘on the way now’ builds the theme of the album, where piano becomes one with electronic beats ending with soft ticks. The mashed-up bass-filled ‘Agree to Disagree’ where fights are cheered on to spark a romantic relationship, is one of the most stand out tracks from ‘O.T.W.N.’, not only because of an innovative use of sounds and crazy lyrical content (“I got the match if you got the gasoline / you got a temper like something I’ve never seen”) but also their ability to harmonize in a straight high pitch during the pre-hook and hook.
The album then gets back in joyful attitude in ‘Whatchawannado’, then switching to some Southern effects in ‘So Goodnight’, ending with two of the last EP-tracks from 2017: ‘Shady Business’ and ‘Cut the Cord’. While dramatic ‘Shady Business’ ends with a rap to underline sincerity, ‘Cut the Cord’ offers similar feels, only to switch the style up with spacy EDM effects to end the album.
‘The O.T.W.N. Album’, which not only stands for an anagram of their band name but judging by the title track meaning ‘on the way now’ as well, does feel like the four of them are just on their way to a new path: The positive energy they offer, if it’s on stage, in their music or the bond they share as a group, feels tighter than during their earlier years. This even generates more interest in them, and builds up curiosity in checking out their new content, whether being a fan from day one or never having heard from them before.
While the EP tracks were released two years prior and therefore known by fans already, they do work great together with the newer content. Also, the remaining seven songs offer diversity, so it’s not as if the newer songs support the ‘older’ ones (or the other way around), they literally act as one whole. What’s noticeable about their style is how they offer 90s and early 2000s pop melodies – from what they are known for – and then mix them up with modern sound effects (some of them reminding of Justin Bieber for example).
The album has a similar vibe to ‘Lines & Circles’, their 2014 comeback record, but yet feels like a new chapter. Especially as they created their new effort from scratch, no label, only help from their own fans. Their 2016 Kickstarter campaign to support ‘O.T.W.N.’ financially, helped them create the new effort, but also explained the reason why they want to continue putting out new music after coming back in 2014: “The reaction has been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in our careers, ever. So together, as a group, we made the decision that we can’t stop now.” The poppy sounds they offer in their fourth album, blended with some EDM, urban beats here and there, some rap lines to shake it up, plus singing their harmonies together, create a fun record to listen to. This underlines that they indeed shouldn’t stop now and continue on their journey as a band.
Full Track List:
2. Hello World
4. Empty Space (feat. Fancy Cars)
6. After the Lights
8. Agree to Disagree
10. So Goodnight
11. Shady Business
12. Cut the Cord