When things are on the upswing, simply being OK isn’t good enough — in life or in music.

The Afters are testing that premise in their new album, “Never Going Back to OK,” which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian album chart. The CD follows “I Wish We All Could Win,” which helped the Texas-based band land a Dove Award for New Artist of the Year in 2006.

“It’s really exciting to see it come out and to be doing well,” said Josh Havens, the band’s front man. “Our label (INO Records) was really good about giving us the time that we needed to really dig deep and write songs that we really were passionate about.”

The passion comes through in the title track, which “probably has higher energy than anything we’ve ever done.” The rocker, a No. 1 hit on Christian radio, prods listeners to turn their backs on mediocrity and complacency.

That theme carries through much of the project.

“The album has kind of a theme of transformation,” Havens said. “We didn’t set out to have a theme to it but, looking at it after was finished, we realized that there’s the definite theme of going from one thing to something that is improved and better. I think something that we can all identify with is striving for something more and not settling for what comes easy or complacency, or just the status quo.”

Along the way, the album offers more musical and lyrical diversity and depth than the Afters’ first disc. It opens with a ’60s vibe in “Secret Parade,” winds through some rock and pop and ends with a set of ballads. Probably the most touching is “Summer Again,” a haunting account of loss and longing that Havens calls “the softest, most emotional song we’ve put together.”

Without a doubt, the most fun can be found in the pop-flavored “MySpace Girl.” It’s based the tale of the band’s former drummer, who met his wife in a burger joint and wooed her over the Internet.

“We thought it was such a funny story that we wrote a song about it” — and then turned it into an animated music video, Haven said. “It was an opportunity to see ourselves animated — and what person doesn’t want to be a cartoon?”

Stateside, many listeners will be most familiar with “We Are the Sound,” which has been used to promote “American Idol” broadcasts.

“For the commercial they were using it on, they wanted something that was epic and powerful and I guess it was what they were looking for,” Havens said.

In creating the song, “we wanted to write something that was epic, an epic song that was some sort of statement of our purpose,” Havens said. “It’s a statement of how we see life: to live your life with passion and to live for things that are important.”

Havens was eager to send thanks to American servicemembers overseas. Drummer Marc Dodd’s cousin serves in a Fort Lewis unit that’s deployed to Iraq. The group performed at the Washington state base just before the unit deployed last year.

“As a band we are very grateful for all the men and women in the service, grateful for all the sacrifices they are making,” Havens said. “Especially seeing Marc’s family and seeing, firsthand, the sacrifices that they’re families make for our freedom.”

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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