OneRepublic deliver contemporary pop euphoria fit for radioplay on their stereo-syncopating fifth album, Oh My My.
OneRepublic’s multitalented frontman Ryan Tedder has an impeccable songwriting resume. Collaborating with a cadre of elite superstars, including Commercially-clouting Adele, American Sweetheart Taylor Swift and Bigtime Britpopper Ellie Goulding, Tedder has certified his status as a household name in mainstream music; garnering a reputation as one of the most universally-recognised hitmakers of the past decade. Aside from an incessant list of star-studded songwriting credits, Tedder is also an exceedingly talented vocalist – boasting a flawless falsetto that oozes ambits of emotion, and a multifarious vocal range which showcases a heartening balance of the ethereal and earthly – as heard on the jouissance jaunts of platinum-selling singles, ‘Counting Stars’, ‘Love Runs Out’ and ‘Something I Need’. Therefore, it’s surprising that, despite penning a monopoly of Billboard 100 songs throughout the noughties – comprising Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’, Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ and Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Already Gone’; that the brainchild behind OneRepublic and Native’s cornucopia of successful singles and album downloads has only managed to secure one platinum-charting album to date.
So how does Ryan Tedder’s encyclopedic knowledge of songwriting and studio experience transcend onto OneRepublic’s latest album, Oh My My?
Unlike the canorous country bop of 2013’s Natives, Oh My My explores a rich lexicon of music genres, ranging from metropopolis and neo-funk, to RnB and deep discofox. Besides adopting a new musical direction stylistically, OneRepublic welcome a refreshing change-of-pace on production, exchanging the failsafe formula of slow-burning countrified pop with polished party anthems containing more ammunition than a semi-automatic machine gun: If 2013’s Natives was an independent art house film without government funding, Oh My My is a critically acclaimed blockbuster with bigger budgets, higher production costs and an airbrushed cast.
This is showcased in the form of superlative lead single ‘Wherever I Go’; a pulsating K-pop leaning powerhouse as proverbially palpitating as hentai porn. Intertwined with anime-styled percussion and speech modifications – reminisinent of Miike Snow’s central tour-de-force ‘Genghis Khan’, Wherever I Go’s multi-layered instrumentation and protuberant production is as binge-worthy as a boxset of Netflix original series. However, the songwriting often feels forced and contrived, as Ryan Tedder consumes a veritable syllabus worth of candy pop samples and cultural references in a desperate attempt to sound trendy and current.
Although Tedder’s failed attempt at appealing to a younger audience is arguably a metaphorical car crash, Oh My My is brimming full of catchy choruses and awe-inspiring melodies. In a recent interview with NPR Magazine, Tedder explains “Melody is the single most important thing to any song, period. I don’t care what anybody says, it trumps everything. Not because that’s my opinion, but because I think it’s actually indisputable fact: The human brain retains melody easier than it retains words. It’s that simple.” This instinctive sixth-sense of conceiving melody thoroughly transpires onto the album’s title track, Oh My My. If 2010’s Timberland-produced jam ‘Apologise’ was an earworm, Oh My My’s brass-studded, speaker-quaking potpourri of early Motown influences and Cassius’ Eurovision disco gleams are a figment of Bruno Mars’ wet dreams. The production is lively and vivacious: think Macklemore’s ‘Downtown’ on anabolic aids. From the French Duo’s appetizing keytar chirrups to Tedder’s icy falsetto runs; ‘Oh My My’ possesses the charismatic charm of Pharrell William’s ‘Happy’ and the danceability of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ – a deadly combination.
Oh My My is also packed with dystopian tales as futuristic as Daft Punk’s robotic helmets. Have you ever seen Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning biopic Her; a film about a lonely writer who kindles an unlikely intimate relationship with an operating system? ‘A.I’ is essentially the musical adaption of this premise, replacing actors Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson with musicians Ryan Tedder and infamous 80s prodigy Peter Gabriel, as it questions our over obsession with multimedia technologies; specifically modern romance and it’s online-augmented, match-making, tinder-swiping dating culture – coalescing the feeling of intimacy in the internet age with fears of technological paranoia. With its Westworld-inspired robotic romps and Tron-esque vocal manipulations, A.I’s glitchy 8-bit production feels sonically cohesive, yet characteristically playful; as Tedder’s myriad of retro soundscapes effortlessly replicate the timeless euphoria of first-gen console soundtracks, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario World. Additionally, ‘A.I’ showcases the Ohio born singer’s most poetic wordplay and thought-provoking lyricism in years. With the Syco singer chanting “Yeah I just want my love automatic, if artificial love makes sense, I just want your love, I’m an addict, Artificial intelligence” and Peter Gabriel’s haunting beautiful choral harmonies doubling up on the bridge: “Just automatic hurt, Bring me back tonight, Cause you’re intelligent” – Tedder delivers a collection of quotable lines and technical analogies as memorable as John Badham’s 1986 Sci-Fi classic, Short Circuit. However, similarly to the motion picture’s beloved protagonist Johnny-Five, ‘A.I’ short circuits from its inability to establish an distinctive sonic identity of its own, as Ryan Tedder’s voice sounds anodyne and anonymous, resulting in a vocal performance as unengaging despondent as Windows 98’s dial up connection.
Oh My My is not only filmic in terms of its lyricism, but the emotional aesthetic it evokes. Remember the diaphanous cinematography of The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s closing sequence, where the trio drive through Fort Pitt Tunnel, windows down, listening to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’; as the camera pans to a windswept Sam standing with her arm’s aloft; feeling the breeze running through her fingertips, being overdubbed with Charlie narrating a heartfelt monologue about being infinite? ‘Kids’ perfectly encapsulates the halcyon days of being young and feeling liberated. With a plethora of pulsating Bronski beats – channelling Nick Jonas’ ‘Famous’ – overlapping Tedder’s rhapsodic vocal rhymes, ‘Kids’ is big enough to dominate the Top 40 Charts and bold enough to inspire a generation.
‘NbHd’ sees Tedder collaborate with South coast songstress Santigold to pen pulp-novel-esque lyrical vignettes of big city dreaming – as the frontman leaves the outskirts of Ohio, his hometown, for the wide-eyed crepuscular canvas of Hollywood Boulevard; providing the album with, if not a rectilinear narrative, then a recurring notion of emotional detachment. Although ‘NbHd’ is thematically strong, is imposes the question of what a more distinctive singer could have achieved with its dark and ominous instrumental – picture the cracking of John Newman baritone or the husk of Rag‘N’Bone Man on vocals.
In an article with Wonderland Magazine, Tedder talks about his musical childhood and religious background, stating that “his father was a gospel songwriter in the Seventies with an endless knowledge of the hits. ‘He could tell you the top records on the chart at any given point in time for basically all the Eighties and Nineties’”. These gospel roots can be heard on ‘Choke’; a sumptuous acoustic ballad about family and cherishing past memories. With his passionate outcries of “I’ll keep a picture of you one the wall, of you on the wall, And choke on the memories”, and summery guitar twangs – channelling the beach vibes of Frank Ocean’s ‘Self Control’, ‘Choke’ sounds as uplifting as it is eternally optimistic – a certified fan favourite.
Another album highlight is gospel-inspired ‘Human’; a fast-tempo floor-filler that recounts a spiritual conversation between Ryan Tedder and God. He preaches “Told him that I’m sorry I lost communication, But I just, I just needed some holiness, I said that the things that I’ve been trying end up in frustration, Life ain’t what it seems in any situation”, questioning his relationship with his own religious beliefs as he searches for self-enlightenment – Tedder’s most autobiographical song since ‘Stop and Stare’. From the track’s adrenalin-fuelled EDM embellishments to concretely-crumbling crescendos as powerful as an industrial drill, ‘Human’ is raw and authentic – a faultless track.
However, Oh My My isn’t completely without its flaws. ‘Lets Hurt Tonight’, ‘Fingertips’ and ‘The Future Looks Good’ all sound as painfully generic and malleable as an X Factor winning single. Whereas ‘Dreams’, ‘Born’ and ‘Heaven’ are so formulaic, One Republic could almost be mistaken as a Maroon 5 covers band.
In conclusion, although One Republic’s latest album is evanescent, fun and full of life; woven with honey-eared melodies and Tedder’s signature staccatos, the band are ultimately hindered by their inability to produce pop music which sounds characteristically recognisable, as Oh My My features a collection of songs which resemble a Spotify playlist on shuffle rather than a fully conceptualised body of work.
Written and published by James Macdonald.