Since OneRepublic’s initial triple-platinum, worldwide hit “Apologize” (boosted with a little help from Timbaland), the band have admittedly had a lot to live up to. That song’s combination of cello, piano, and Ryan Tedder’s stratospheric vocals overlaid on a slow hip-hop beat captured the world’s imagination. Two albums later, the band has fallen into the rut of producing the occasional ear-worm hit song that everyone recognizes but far fewer can identify who performed it—and Ryan Tedder himself has become better known as a songwriter and master producer for the likes of Adele and Beyonce than as the frontman for his own band.
With OneRepublic’s latest release, Native, Tedder and company are aiming to change all that, to reclaim their stance as a hitmaking act in their own right. I personally think they have a great shot at it.
With Tedder’s proven penchant for big anthems and airy production values, it would be difficult to make Native stand out in the crowd of pop records by simply making the sound “bigger.” Instead, the record relies on one of Tedder’s greatest strengths: the ability to write a great hook. And on that front, hooks abound a-plenty. From the lead single “Feel Again” to foot-stompers “Counting Stars,” and “I Lived”, to the emotional “Burning Bridges” to the gospel-ly “Preacher” (a tribute to Tedder’s grandfather), there are plenty of radio-worthy moments on this record, and any of the aforementioned tunes could easily be charting hits.
Native is not without its drawbacks, however, and these fall more along the lines of “too perfect” rather than “imperfect.” Tedder is deeply embedded in the polished pop market, and this works against him with overuse of auto-tune and meticulous polish on the production that takes away much of the human element. Another complaint I have is that there is too much trend-following and not enough trend-setting. While “Apologize” had a remarkable sound that influenced hits after it, the songs on Native tend to mimic popular styles more than influencing them. Overuse of four-to-the-floor beat patterns make the album too reminiscent of the likes of Adele and Florence + The Machine at times, and there are other times when Tedder sounds like he’s just plain channeling Chris Martin of Coldplay. It doesn’t sound bad—it just doesn’t sound new. And for that matter, one signature element of OneRepublic’s sound is notably absent from most of the record: the cello. It’s either absent from most of the mixes, or it is deeply hidden within the wall of sound. The result is an album that acts far more like a chameleon in the pop market than it should.
That being said, OneRepublic’s new record definitely has something to offer listeners, if not in ingenuity, then certainly in standout songs. One of Ryan Tedder’s greatest strengths is in his songwriting, and thankfully, this is Native’s greatest strength as well. While some elements of this album are disappointing, the abundance of hooks is likely to redeem it, making it OneRepublic’s strongest effort in years.