One Republic, Native
Nathanael R. (14S43)
I’m not gonna lie. When I chose this album as my contribution to the orange cycle, I was already planning to give it a trash rating. In general I just really dislike bands that make sappy pop-rock music and cram multiple Top 40 singles into an album, and I expected OneRepublic to fit right into that mold. Luckily they had just enough catchy songs on the radio to draw me into reluctantly writing this review, and after listening to the whole album I must admit I was pleasantly surprised.
“Lately I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep…” is the first thing you hear the moment the album starts and, like the first three hundred times you heard it on the radio, the ensuing song ‘Counting Stars’ is as catchy as ever. The lyrics are ridiculously sing-along-able, and that two-note flute sounds really irrelevant but eventually hooks itself onto your eardrums and stays there.
After the smash hit first track, it is understandable that OneRepublic would want to stick to a working formula for the rest of Native, and for the most part they do. ‘If I Lose Myself’ and ‘Something I Need’ are equally catchy, equally well executed and equally ubiquitous in today’s pop music landscape. In fact, I would say that almost half of the songs here follow the same style of these three hits, and any one of those songs could have achieved the same success had they been released as singles. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does get pretty boring after a while, and unfortunately there are sections of the album that are basically filler songs that you could probably just skip on your phone.
It’s when OneRepublic break out of their mold that things start to get interesting.
‘Feel Again’ is the kind of percussion-driven song you’d play in huge stadiums to get everyone stomping their feet to the beat and it’s one of my favourite songs on this album. It’s a only small step away from their usual Top 40 hits songs, but they pull it off well and it’s great. The first time they really step further out of their comfort zone is on track six, ‘Light It Up’. The Black Keys probably wished they’d written this because it’s a nice bluesy song that would have fit perfectly on Brothers. Here however, it’s a little out of place, especially after hearing basically five different versions of ‘Counting Stars’ beforehand. Oh well.
Keep listening, and eventually you start to pick up on little inflections and influences that make One Republic more than just another generic, tasteless, five-white-guys band product à la the Script or Simple Plan. ‘Burning Bridges’ has the typical OneRepublic synth-line, but it’s held strong by a percussive backbone that sounds like it would have been absolutely massacred by Clipse in their prime. ‘Life In Colour’ is a splendid kaleidoscope of sunset colours that sounds like what could possibly happen if Adam Young ever produced a song for Maroon 5.
Ultimately though, the deadliest weapon OneRepublic has in their arsenal is Ryan Tedder’s voice. On tracks like ‘Can’t Stop’, he single-handedly lifts the experience from “mediocre” to “very good”. Thankfully then, OneRepublic thought to release the deluxe edition of this album, with five extra tracks, three of which are acoustic covers of earlier songs.
And boy, are they good.
“If I Lose Myself” is scintillating and somehow more urgent than before, while “What You Wanted” is sweeter and easier on the ears. And then “Burning Bridges” is reworked from clunky, clumsy, synth-pop into the perfect backdrop for Ryan Tedder’s voice, and on this track more than any so far, the results are marvellous. It remains a mystery why OneRepublic left this in the depths of the deluxe-edition exclusives section when it’s five hundred times better than the original and easily one of the better, if not best, tracks on the whole album and one of my favourite songs of all time. Straight fire.
All in all, Native is a pretty good album. Not everything is perfect, and often OneRepublic lack restraint or sophistication in their execution, but there are moments of brilliance and all in all it’s a very respectable album from a band whose last big hit was the bland, tasteless “Good Life” back in 2009. OneRepublic has clearly matured and improved in the four years since, and here’s hoping that they eventually find that perfect sound which they’ve so long searched for.
Favourite Tracks: “Counting Stars”, “Feel Again”, “Burning Bridges” (Acoustic)
You and I were meant to be, ain’t no doubt about it / No way to hide that sort of thing / Now I’m waiting for something better / ain’t nothing better worth imagining
– Burning Bridges