Review Summary: ...never again to touch the ground
From their critically acclaimed debut Dreaming Out Loud
to their equally celebrated sophomore effort, Waking Up
, OneRepublic has more or less just been floating around comfortably in their niche as pop princes - heirs to Coldplay’s throne for whenever Chris Martin decides to hang up the microphone. Sure it’s a glamorous existence, having their faces plastered on celebrity magazines, getting invited to perform in the studio with the likes of Sara Bareilles and Gym Class Heroes – but their ceiling has always been defined by their propensity to confine themselves to who they think they’re supposed
to be. It’s almost some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, where there’s a voice in Ryan Tedder’s head that says we need to write a feel good anthem
– bam, here’s ‘Good Life’ – we need to write a song that can be played at a club
– bam, here’s ‘Apologize.’ Part of that is obviously ingrained in the band’s style, just as any musical group at least loosely adheres to a genre, but OneRepublic has historically bound themselves to the atmospheres and soaring vocals that bands such as U2, The Script, and The Fray have worn ever-so-thin. Enter 2013, a post-Mylo Xyloto
pop paradise in which the sleeker, the more polished, and the finer tuned are always better – and it is still difficult to say much has changed. Following in the footsteps of their counterparts, OneRepublic has opted for a sound that defies gravity and sounds larger than life itself. But therein lies the craziest thing of all – they pull it off, and way better than anyone could have imagined.
OneRepublic’s third studio album, Native
, makes its mission known from the onset of the very first track. ‘Counting Stars’ is the kind of song that OneRepublic always had the potential to write – it’s quirky and offbeat, incontrovertibly fun, and it employs everything from gang vocals to something damn near a gospel solo. With its constant tempo changes and enormous hooks, the song announces the arrival of a OneRepublic that is no longer tied to the ground. Tedder and co. make it apparent that the band is up for anything and everything, even if their inspiration or newfound sense of liberation or whatever
you want to call it is, in itself, a paradox. The path remains relatively unpredictable with the danceable ‘If I Lose Myself’, the stratospheric chorus of ‘Feel Again’, and the tribal sounding (yet oddly morbid) ‘What You Wanted.’ It’s all so tangibly OneRepublic, but in a brand new no-frills-held way that allows the band to adamantly display all of their eccentricities.
For the first time, some of the best moments on a OneRepublic album can be found outside of the singles. Look at ‘I Lived’ for example, a carpe-diem themed celebration of life and a true anthem
– not in the way that any relatable and upbeat song is an anthem, but rather an anthem in the way that literally every human being on the planet could shout the lyrics to the chorus in unison and there wouldn’t be a single discrepancy in what it means to each person. Those songs aren’t written so much as they are conjured up by a universal need for them, but in either case they’re extremely rare. Then there’s the other side of the coin, the quiet and contemplative ‘Au Revior’ – a track that channels Tedder’s inner Thom Yorke and comes frighteningly close to fitting in alongside ‘Let Down’ or ‘How to Disappear Completely.’ The track is saturated in metaphors and self-doubt, warning listeners of the end: “I can tell you how many moves to check mate right now.” Not only is ‘Au Revoir’ a cut above anything that OneRepublic has ever done lyrically, but it is also proof that the band has dimensions still waiting to be discovered.
If there’s a weak section on Native
, it is most certainly the midsection. ‘Light It Up’ and ‘Can’t Stop’ are not poorly composed, but they are easily forgettable in the midst of all the weightless pop ingenuity surrounding them. Additionally, ‘Burning Bridges’ does little to supplement or detract from the album, tacking an emotionless ballad onto Native
when it might have better served the album as a b-side (‘Life In Color’ deserves its spot infinitely more). However, none of these songs disrupt the flow of the record or decrease the quality of the listening experience in any noticeable way – both a credit to the strength of Native
’s highlights and to the thought process behind the ordering of the tracks.
’s curtain call is a gorgeous unfolding of ideas that consists of three very different songs. ‘Something I Need’ commences the album’s final trio, offering up ironically morose lines akin to ‘What You Wanted’ but with an added kick in its step. The lyrics depict someone who is eternally in love – “if we only die once, I wanna die with / if we only live once, I wanna live with you” – a sentiment that manages to sound elated despite its bleak outlook. Native
is actually full of little moments that relate love to death, a motif that carries itself surprisingly well considering how differently most people associate the two concepts. ‘Preacher’ is the grand finale, so to speak, and it delivers everything you could possibly want from a mainstream rock song. The atmosphere is breathtaking, the lyrics are immensely personal, and almost as if to reflect the opening track, ‘Preacher’ makes use of a gospel choir to emphasize telling lines such as “God only helps those who learn to help themselves” and “he was a million miles from a million dollars, but you could never spend his wealth.” It is easily the most poignant song on Native
, and it functions perfectly as the album’s punctuation mark. The only track that follows is the ninety-nine second ‘Don’t Look Down’, an atmospheric outro that serves as a sonic representation of the band’s ambition – weightless, effortless, and never again to touch the ground.
shows us a band that is both willing and able to evolve with the times. They may not be blazing their own trail quite yet, but as they carry on in the mold of bands such as Coldplay and U2, they continue to ascend. OneRepublic’s latest effort proves that they are at the top of their respective genre, and it may be time to stop looking at them as the prince waiting-in-the-wings and finally hand them that goddamned crown.