I was very apprehensive during the lead-up to this album’s release. Marking OneRepublic’s fifth record—and their first record since 2016—Human, in a lot of ways, represents a bit of homecoming for the band.
OneRepublic’s first three records—Dreaming Out Loud; Waking Up; Native—were all solid entries in the early 2000s pop-rock scene. They were cohesive records full of powerful pop anthems that toed the line between fun intensity and poignant emotion. And those three records boasted several iconic hits that sort of defined the early 2000s music scene: “Apologize,” “Good Life,” “Counting Stars” and “I Lived.”
But 2016 saw a sharp departure from that with Oh My My, which saw the band dipping heavier into modern pop stylings. So, in short, I was a little worried about what Human would bring. Would OneRepublic follow Maroon V’s example and double-down on the modern pop styles, or would they take a step back from that?
I find this record to be the most interesting record OneRepublic has ever released. Yes, it is a bit of a homecoming, it is a bit of a step back to the styles that permeated their first several records, but it does not neglect more modern stylings, beats and rhythms.
This record is truly a blend of the band’s music—there are moments that belong to the Oh My My era of OneRepublic, but there are also a lot of moments that belong to the Native era.
“Run” feels like a song that almost could have belonged on OneRepublic’s first record; it’s just wrapped in enough modern stylings—a very subtle guitar riff that is recalcitrant of Maroon V’s latest stuff, a bit of clean modern production and a melody carried through a whistle—for it to feel different. But the rhythm of the melody and the track feels very old-school OneRepublic. It is anthemic and powerful, not to mention catchy. It’s a safe song to start the record with. It’s further proof of Ryan Tedder’s boundless songwriting ability.
“Someday” feels classic for the band. Driven by a simple acoustic guitar, the rhythm of the verses and choruses are very spot-on for the band’s older music. And the theme of the song—in a uniquely Ryan Tedder fashion—is sad and hopeful and oozing poignancy all at the same time.
“Yeah, one day, down the line/Before we both run out of time, you’re gonna see/That someday, we’ll be all that we need.”
And Tedder’s vocals on this track are perhaps stronger than on any other track throughout the record—you can hear the emotion in his voice, the texture to it in certain moments. Leading into one of the final choruses, he throws in a line “Oh you say,” which is full of the most grunge and heart that the singer has ever revealed before. It’s a rapid moment, but it is an important one for the song.
Much of the album does, however, feel a little repetitive, in both sounds and rhythmic stylings. “Didn’t I,” sounds incredibly similar to “Run”—this could very well have been done on purpose, perhaps denoting a connection between the two tracks, but that rapid vocal rhythm in those similar song formats is definitely a theme that the band returns to often throughout Human. At certain points, it gets a little tired, a little too familiar.
But then there are other moments that shake that familiarity away.
Opinions on albums are cemented with the last one or two tracks: what does the artist leave you with? And despite its stagnant points, Human does end very strong with a trifecta of beautiful moments. “Better Days,” “Wild Life,” and “Ships + Tides” bring this album home in a powerful way.
“Ships + Tides” is another great example of the kind of poignant honesty that OneRepublic has displayed in their earlier works; the piano-driven melody and the heavy reverb and echo create this beautiful soundscape that Tedder’s existential prayer-like questions come to life upon.
“I just asked some questions that I’ve never had / Does who we are fade out like a photograph? / ‘Cause if I could, I’d do it all again / The good times, bad times, sink or swim.”
Human is a good album. It is cohesive and represents an interesting concept—a return to roots while still being musically progressive. Coming home while still moving on. And it is a concept that is executed quite well.