Photo from TheIthacan.org
By Caroline Parker
Etched in my mind as one of my most breathtaking encounters with music is an image from two summers ago.
A June night threatened to rain on the Jones Beach Theater where I was among hundreds of fans gathered to see OneRepublic perform as a part of their Native tour. Frontman Ryan Tedder sat at a sleek grand piano, cast in darkness save for a single red floodlight. The portrait of him coaxing spontaneous melodies from the keys, sailing in and out of familiar tunes, impressed upon me his status as a truly talented musician and not simply the hit writer of “Good Life,” “Secrets” and “Apologize.”
With the release of their fourth album, “Oh My My,” this past Friday, OneRepublic has once again earned its mark as a group of genuinely gifted musicians.
They maintain the integrity of who they are while pushing into new, modern territory. It is a tricky evolution that does not always go over well with longtime fans.
However, “Oh My My” is an excellent example of a record that jumps the gap boldly, joining the ranks of Twenty One Pilots’ “Blurryface” and Coldplay’s “A Head Full of Dreams,” as a work undeniably new and different but still representative of the group’s authentic character.
The sixteen-track line-up opens with “Let’s Hurt Tonight.” It comprises many of the elements that give “Oh My My” its expansive and transportive nature: the vulnerable quivers and pure strength of Tedder’s vocals, the piano that plays your very heart and the feel-good perspective. Most notable in the opening song are the echoing “ooo’s” and the steady acoustic guitar that comes to drive much of the rest of album.
The guitar stops only to pick right back up for “Future Looks Good,” easily a new favorite with its Coldplay-esque bridge and keep-your-head-up appeal. French house duo Cassius gives the third and eponymous track the electropop sound of Daft Punk. With an irresistible strutting bass line and the overlay of an evangelical voice that muses about “the brightest lights and the darkest nights,” it is one of the most unique songs on the album.
The remarkable vocal control of the lead singer shines in “Kids” as Tedder trills up his seemingly boundless range and clear soprano notes. “Kids” and “Wherever I Go” were released as singles in August and May, respectively, the latter reaching 55 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in July.
OneRepublic has often showcased the power of unison voices, featuring choirs in “Preacher” and “Made for You” on their past albums, and does so again to lend emotional force to “Choke.” The lamenting ballad turns into an empowering proclamation of letting love go.
Though the funky rhythms in “A.I.” (featuring Peter Gabriel) were very cool, I lost interest as the track numbed out towards the never-ending end. “Better” was better and remarkably evocative of Twenty One Pilots, combining discord, an intermittent Blurryface-like voice, alien-ish warbles in the background, fast lyrics and an anthem chorus that explores the control we do (or do not) have over our minds.
“Fingertips” strips back and allows you to simply love on Tedder’s voice. The rainfall piano slowly drip-drops into beautiful harmonies and stormy thunder rolls, evoking a late summer bliss.
Five more catchy and original tunes precede the final track, “Heaven.” I wanted a little more from it, though I can not say exactly what was missing. Still, my response to the song’s forward-looking message and the golden sunrise sensation was an emphatic yes.
Remarkably, even with the overall modern, indie pop feel of the album, the purity of the instruments and human voices shines. Snaps, claps, cowbells, keyboards, shouts, whispers, croons, crescendos– OneRepublic knows how to use them all. They also know how to get into your emotions and spirit and pull the good out of the mess. In other words, they understand humanity, which comes through their music loud and clear.
“Oh My My” asks listeners what do you want the future to be, what do you remember the past to be–and to which will you yield? It also promises that if you are feeling lost now, just keep looking up and listening hard, because good things are coming soon.
And thanks to OneRepublic, good music is already here.