Some of music's greatest acts do one of the following things: constant reinvention (like Prince, Madonna, Eagles), reinventing at the right time (like the Beatles) or constant tweaking without losing themselves (Coldplay, Backstreet Boys, John Mayer). OneRepublic falls right into the third category, allowing them to retain their identity and yet remain fresh. Just over six years ago, OneRepublic had everyone "Dreaming," then just under 4 years ago they had music fans all over the world "Waking Up." So what would this dynamic quartet led by one of music's go-to guys in Ryan Tedder do for a third act?
The result is the superbly built and crafted "Native," the combination of everything they had done for the last six, seven years and then add some more sound into their already catchy and successful formula. The group decided to get loud and large and for the most part ditch their signature orchestral sound that was prevalent in "Waking Up" and in "Dreaming Out Loud" and embrace the electro-pop movement permeating Top-40 radio.
Opening track "Counting Stars" immediately showcases a tweaked OneRepublic, ditching their previous sounds with an acoustic-laden beginning that almost feels chill and then suddenly segues into a Coldplay-like, drum-fueled, catchy beat. The whole arrangement is then spun around something Tedder did not do on the group's previous efforts---get in your face. His vocal delivery in "Counting" still has the signature falsetto, but he actually gets quite to the point and might even be declaring himself in this one.
"If I Lose Myself" is the second single released from the album. The song is awash in the electro-pop trappings heard all over Top-40 radio, especially in the bridge between the chorus and the second verse. But, "If I Lose" still retains the core parts of what makes OneRepublic tick, the big chorus, the almost inspirational feel to the lyrics and Tedder's vocals showing emotion all over his sleeve.
First single "Feel Again" has quite the Florence and the Machine feel, it is highly energetic and will make you get up and clap your hands with them throughout. The beginning of the song, interesting to note is used with the real human heartbeats of children from the impoverished African country of Malawi. To note, the song itself was actually written and done well before the album was released for a children's charity.
After the tribal-feelling and large "What You Wanted," "I Lived" is quite an interesting song on the album. Telling the story of a father giving advice to his child, "I Lived" showcases an interesting combination of the classic OneRepublic sounds with a Civil Twilight-like folk guitar strum and juxtaposes all of it with a light electro-beat with the later presence of a familiar choral cry that is heard all too often on a lot of pop singles these days.
"Light It Up" is a decently up-tempo song that pays homage to U2 with a 70s and 80s rock vibe, something the group hasn't tried before until now. But the problem with the track is that Tedder needs to stop recycling beats from songs he has done for other artists. In this one, he recycles the opening beats from Tamar Kaprelian's "Sinner or a Saint" in the opening stanza of each verse. It mars an otherwise creative and proper homage to a group no stranger to OneRepublic's sounds.
"Can't Stop" has an almost ethereal feel to it due to its wishy-washy synth element that is remniscent of early Phil Collins/late Collins-fueled Genesis; showcases a side of Tedder has not shown up front to this point, sheer vulnerability. It is also an oddly dark yet, uplifting piece, perhaps the result of Tedder's tender falsetto, especially in the chorus part.
"Au Revoir" finally makes useful of Zach Filkins' cello-playing (and returns that orchestra!)
and is an awesomely placed oasis for the previous eight tracks. Here, the foursome are comfortable in their past element and proves they haven't lost that in their quest to fuse their signature sound, execution and flair with staying relevant with said relevant sounds. Anyone looking for inner peace (or any sort of peace after a long day) should be playing this track over and over and over again. Classic One Republic is in full swing on this one.
"Burning Bridges" is a perfect song to use in any movie musical score or soundtrack. It has a little element from their previous smash hit "Good Life," but unlike "Life," which was a catchy and inspirational call, "Burning" is more of a classic power pop ballad and showcases Tedder's underrated vocal power range.
If you are looking for that classic OneRepublic choral anthem, then next track "Something I Need" is your track. If you're also looking for something punchy and declarative, then this is also it for you too.
Next track "Preacher" is likely one of the best tracks OneRepublic and Tedder himself have done and deserves a spot next to "Apologize" and "Good Life."
A seeming dedication to his preacher grandfather, he also ties in allusions to his current life as a money-making star-making frontman and songwriter to the stars and compares it to the life lessons learned from his grandfather and that even though their lives are miles apart, there is something Tedder can never spend in his lifetime. The rather ethereal and soft-rock like beats lends "Preacher" an almost church-like feel.
In past albums, OneRepublic would have ended their album with an introspective, almost nearly sleepy song to tie it all together. But in keeping with their big and diverse sound, the group elected to end the actual album (get the deluxe edition, worth it.) with the spacey, movie score-like "Don't Look Down," which is clocked under 2 minutes and is mostly instrumental.
Speaking of the deluxe edition, Tedder gets rather preachy in the relevant "Something's Gotta Give," which preaches the concept of how wealth means nothing when you got time to really do what you are meant for. The moral of the story is layered in a very interesting vocal element, a rich and multi-layered back and forth in the chorus and on either end is Tedder's earnest vocals. The instrumental part of the song should remind listeners of Remy Zero.
"Life In Color" wraps up the original bonus tracks with a very catchy, punchy beat wrapped
up in what Tedder does best--- tell a story and deliver the hook shot. If not a classic OneRepublic piece, it is definitely classic Tedder.
The remaining 3 tracks are acoustic versions of "If I Lose Myself," "What You Wanted" and "Burning Bridges," proving what separates them from the pack -- acoustic awesomeness. Just as they are capable of multi-faceted layering of sounds, they are also superb in their acoustic, stripped-down delivery as well. Especially on "Burning Bridges."
This group knows what their audience are looking for and they know how to deliver it and with each passing album they are getting better and better at it. This album has something in it for everyone, which is likely Tedder's aim on Native. And they have done so without compromising their basic musical identity and still be able to incorporate new relevant sounds and trappings. Only the great ones can pull it off with a masterful stroke and on Native, OneRepublic may have just proven that they are ready to enter that hall and truly separate themselves from a rather cluttered pop/rock pack.