Photo Credit: Dennis Leupold
Over the last decade, Ryan Tedder has quietly become one of the most successful songwriters and producers of our generation; co-producing Adele’s blockbuster 21 and 25 albums, co-writing epics like Beyonce’s “Halo” and Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” and fronting the band OneRepublic; responsible for hits like “Apologize” and “Counting Stars.” The band’s first new album in five years – the much-delayed Human – attempts to pick up where they left off and rekindle the commercial success enjoyed by the band during the early 2010s.
The band’s attempts at regaining their chart-topping commercial success of yesteryear, however, is not channeled through any of the current reigning trends of popular music – not the dark pop of Billie Eilish, not the R&B-pop crossovers of The Weeknd and, not the disco revivalism of Dua Lipa. Instead, the Colorado sextet is still largely working from the same rulebook that reaped aplenty for them a decade ago; repeating the “Counting Stars” formula again and again across Human’s 12-tracks. If any of these tracks had been released a decade earlier, it’s safe to imagine they would have been on heavy radio rotation immediately upon release.
For all the criticisms leveled at popular music, its quality has undoubtedly improved over the recent few years; artists like Silk Sonic and Dua Lipa paying expert homage to the classics of the ’70s and ’80s. While songwriter, producer duo Billie Eilish and Finneas are making mainstream pop darker and infinitely more interesting in a way unthinkable in a pre-“Bad Guy” world, and mainstream mainstays like Taylor Swift are honing their already well-established talents to new heights. The musical world of 2016 – when the band released their previous album Oh My My – and this one are completely different, and on Human, OneRepublic seems uniquely unsuited to the change. Even by the standards of early 2010s pop, the limp electropop on display here pales in comparison to sugary-sweet, infectiously catchy No.1’s like Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
Human is an album that sounds like it was written on autopilot, with Tedder and company mindlessly pumping out the same lifeless arrangements and clichéd lyrics. Human is supposed to be an album dedicated to youth, love, heartache, and, well, just being human, but nothing here comes close to effectively capturing the intense highs and lows of the human experience. Opener “Run” – which includes the cloying rhyming of “run, run, run, run” with “son, son, son son” – attempts to recreate the restlessness and ecstasy of youth captured in Kesha and Pitbull’s “Timber” but sounds more like what would happen if Sam Hunt and Ed Sheeran’s most recent albums were put into a blender (*shudders*). The rest of Human ebbs along at this same disappointing pace.
OneRepublic has never been the most innovative or interesting band in the musical world – neither the lyricism nor vocal performances provided by the band have ever been particularly definitive or cutting edge. But there’s no doubting the songwriting chops of their greatest hits; listen to “Counting Stars” and even after all these years, it becomes clear why it broke records and became such a cultural phenomenon; there’s a visceral sense of angst, uncertainty, and passion in its lyrics and their delivery, and the ever-fastening snare beats create a sense of urgency that is completely absent on Human. The problem isn’t so much that Human is a bad album, per se, it’s just an uninteresting one; one that strips OneRepublic’s music of anything that once made it interesting. It’s a largely pleasant listen – and certainly a more likable album than put out by their contemporaries Maroon 5 earlier this year – but it’s just not a captivating listen and it certainly doesn’t feel like a necessary addition to the band’s discography in the way their previous releases.