Carefree, sprightly and perhaps even a little rebellious, OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” desperately wanted to define the pop landscape of the early 2010s. Its fast-paced, thrilling melody may have been designed for incessant radio play, but there was something compelling about the song’s rudimentary theme — choosing dreams over fame, love over wealth. Years later, with the band’s fifth studio album Human, it ironically appears that OneRepublic now finds itself more focused on climbing charts rather than true aspirations.
Human, released Aug. 27, is the sound of a pop-rock band losing its edge. While OneRepublic focuses on universal motifs, such as heartbreak or loneliness, the band struggles to say anything new — or even relatively captivating — about the common human experience. The record is akin to a derivative essay: Instead of presenting original, creative analysis, it reiterates everything the teacher said in class.
For an album vulnerably titled Human, its music is quite mechanical and calculated. Each track holds its ground individually, but examining the record as a whole reveals the band’s unfortunate lack of innovation.
The album’s saving grace is its routinely sufficient, sometimes stimulating production, which offers a brief escape from vapid narratives. Some elements intended to be dramatic still unfold as merely uninspired — ranging from the whistle hook in “Run” to the high-pitched epistrophe in “Distance” — but the album remains instrumentally cohesive.
Human may be well-produced overall, but lyrically, it still comes across as unusually emotionless — the tracks are often so formulaic that they feel impassive. “Forgot About You” sounds like it was taken from Adam Levine’s recycling bin, and “Better Days” is as trite as its title. OneRepublic does follow some pop formulas successfully, with “Rescue Me” and “Wild Life” standing out as some of the album’s more immersive and riveting tracks. However, many of the other tracks struggle to put a distinctive twist on the genre’s conventions.
The band jumps from incoherent love ballads to self-pitying reflections without a clear storyline, and the album’s haphazard organization only underscores a lack of authenticity. Although frontman Ryan Tedder offers emotional performances, banal and overworked concepts fill the record: Life feels like treading water in “Someday,” and Tedder imagines the face of a former lover in a crowd in “Didn’t I.” OneRepublic also constantly throws around cliches about personal demons, but the album’s darker (and perhaps more intriguing) side barely has a pulse.
With limp lyrics strung together like cursory, robotic text messages, few songs carry any true emotional weight. “I jumped in this water/ Ooh, yeah, but you look like a bridge tonight,” Tedder proclaims on the dreary “Savior.” How are these lyrics from the same songwriter who penned Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Adele’s “Rumour Has It”?
The album’s latter half attempts to relay the human desire to be loved, but OneRepublic reincarnates the intimate sentiment too many times and far too dully — the musical and lyrical homogeneity of “Take Care of You,” “Somebody to Love” and “Wanted” is exhausting.
To an extent, Human does render the human experience accurately: It mirrors the fatigue of living in the judgment of others and the pain that comes with striving for continued success. OneRepublic’s ambition is present on Human, but it is too detached from sentiment to make for a sincere or strong record.
By hesitating to venture into vulnerability on its latest album, the band unintentionally captures the universal fear of becoming no longer wanted. Artists who were hitmakers a decade ago now find themselves struggling to keep up with the times, and it appears that OneRepublic has too been swept up in this tide. Unlike bands such as Maroon 5 that have turned to autotuned, excruciating electropop to maintain radio hits, OneRepublic attempts to appeal to nostalgic pop formulas that aren’t quite contemporary or noteworthy enough to stand out.
OneRepublic plays it safe with Human, recycling old stratagems to little avail and sacrificing its once-characteristic honesty. Unable to tap into its full potential this time around, it seems that OneRepublic might just be a one-trick pony.