Honestly up until a couple years ago, the appeal of OneRepublic made little sense to me. They just seemed like yet another adult alternative act that picked up steam at a time when other bands were doing equally disinteresting things. They felt like a colorless Coldplay and I just paid them no real attention. That is until 2013 when they released Native which was surprisingly fun and thoughtful with some great singles like “Counting Stars” and “Love Runs Out.” It was far from a perfect record, it gave me hope they were on the right path to something great.
The album starts off with a couple of harmless acoustic cuts, something that I would have come to expect from OneRepublic at this point. “Let’s Hurt Tonight” is a decent song about ignoring the pains that come with falling in love and just going for it. “Future Looks Good” is exactly what its title would imply, a look into the future with bright, hopeful eyes. The songs are not offensive or challenging in anyway but they are pleasant.
The sound changes up fast for the title track which has a heavy bass line behind it and some awkwardly handled electronics that make the sound like a Daft Punk-knock off. I appreciate what Ryan Tedder was attempting here, but he is capable of much better than this. From this we get a more indie pop sound with “Kids” which is handled just fine, I just am getting a little tired of synth-pop in this vein. The lyrics on this song are also a little too on-the-nose for me, not really emotionally resonating at all.
The first song that really stood out to me was “Choke,” a heartfelt ballad about handling grief after a loved one’s passing. The song is grand in scope, with a choir backing, giving a gospel sound, especially towards the end where the instrumentation is briefly cut out to give to choir more attention. The imagery Tedder uses is vivid and genuine, and will hit hard for OneRepublic’s general audience.
The following song, “A.I.,” is definitely my favorite on the tracklist, however. It uses the electronics that fell flat on “Oh My My” work so much better here and how could you not appreciate the guest work from Peter Gabriel. The track has the kind of spacey sound I love and is just all around a well-produced piece of electronic pop.
Following this is the blatant Twenty-One Pilots rip-off “Better.” A mix of the identical style of production, sing-rapping, vocal effects there is nothing separating this from something that would have been cut from Blurryface. It is moments like this on the record that make me feel like that after a decade OneRepublic is still confused in finding a concrete sound to identify them.
The same thoughts came up during “Fingertips,” which I assumed was just trying to imitate The XX until I looked into the credits and saw Romy actually has writing and guitar credits. As someone who does not love The XX, I can still say this is not up to their standard and is just a little too boring for me.
“Human” just baffles me, as an awkward conversation with God that is had in the middle of this album. I do not have a problem with religion in music, I actually really liked how religious topics were handled in records like 22, A Million and Southern Family earlier this year. Knowing that religion is something OneRepublic, as Catholics, often bring up, this is something to be expected. But the concept of Tedder calling on God, only to have God ask what it feels to be human. Even without the four years of Catholic school education I went through I could tell you God already knows how it feels to be human because of that whole Jesus thing. Maybe I am missing the bigger picture, I am willing to admit that, but from how I see it this makes sense. Also maybe using vocoders on a track about feeling human is not the best of ideas.
The Santigold collaboration “NbHD,” or neighborhood, is one of the most colorful moments on the record. This is ironic as it arguably has the heaviest subject matter, dealing with the refugee crisis. Tedder and Santigold work well on the explosive chorus, giving this record some much needed energy. The build up to the chorus works well, but it crashes down a little too fast for me but that is not enough to totally ruin the song for me.
The lead single “Wherever I Go” is thrown in towards the back end of this record, and that song has just never grown on me. It just feels like a band trying hard to capture what made the upbeat songs on Native work, without succeeding. The vocal effects do not work well to me, and Tedder’s falsetto needs some work, feeling a little uncontrolled.
The closer “Heaven” is definitely the best way to close this album, sounding incredibly similar to Coldplay’s work with Stargate. Even as someone who did not like Coldplay’s work with Stargate, that sound is still better than most of this record. The song is not awful, though, it is safe and well-constructed, even if the lyrics are not too well written. This is something I am sure will get played at Catholic Youth Group retreats for years to come.
I feel bad being too harsh on this album, as it seems well intentioned, it is just far from what I wanted and a big step backwards for OneRepublic. They have been making music for so long now and they still do not seem to have a sound they are confident with. They got close to realizing that sound in 2013, but instead of expanding upon it, they used this album as a sampler of various sounds, ripping off superior modern acts, trying to find something that sticks. While some did, indeed, stick, most either made no impact or failed outright. This record needed to be more focused in both theme and in production and trimmed down. OneRepublic does not need a standard album to go over an hour. I think Ryan Tedder is immensely talented and I trust he can put this band back on track, and hopefully soon.
Best Tracks: Choke, A.I., NbHD
Worst Track: Better