Release Date: August 27th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Didn’t I
- Rescue Me
- Take Care Of You
- Forgot About You
- Somebody To Love
- Take It Out On Me
- Better Days
- Wild Life
- Ships + Tides
- Someday (Acoustic)
- Lose Somebody (with Kygo)
In a year that was supposed to be better than last year, in a year in which COVID-19 is still ravaging throughout the whole world, in a world where we all are feeling more connected yet more isolated than ever before; what is there to do to quell our insatiable desire to feel loved, wanted, needed, appreciated, and recognised? When there seem to be higher rates of mental health issues and suicides than we ever thought was possible; what is there to lift our spirits, to provide to us a light in the darkness and to whisper to us that everything will be ok. While the obvious (and perhaps somewhat cliché) answer is Jesus (and now’s about the time where I hear a collective groan of ‘here we go again, he’s preaching in the review again!’), I have found that God can time and time again (and often does!) use other avenues to encourage, uplift and inspire us- in ways that we ourselves wouldn’t normally expect. And within the past few years, one such way that I’ve come to feel immediately reassured, that things will be ok; is through OneRepublic’s music. The mainstream pop band, helmed by Ryan Tedder, has been around for a long time; and it is specially the group’s latest album Human, comprised of 8 singles that we’ve heard over the past few years, as well as 8 brand new tracks, that has touched my soul and reminded me that we as a human race are a complex bunch- and if we all band together we can and will rise above whatever adversity life throws at us!
This year (and last year!) there is an unescapable fact that we all need to hear to understand. And it is this. That we are in unprecedented and uncertain times. That we are stuck at home during quarantine trying to beat COVID-19 (this year we have vaccines though, so another weapon in our arsenal is… pretty good for our chances of venturing out of this mess relatively unscathed!)- and we still aren’t even sure if this virus will be eradicated this year or not! That is, I guess reason enough for us to feel like our world is out of control. It’s a time where we can feel isolated and alone, like no one loves us anymore- and like we’re the only one going through hell on earth. And while our favourite TV shows are renewed, these shows unfortunately still won’t feel like usual- given COVID-19 safety protocols and things like that. Music artists have been delaying albums and still are cancelling tours (OneRepublic being one of these artists- having delayed Human for a while now!), while some of us workers in hospitality and retail have been stood down from work. White leaders are unintentionally making mistakes and being somewhat unfairly crucified for their actions in this time of ‘Black Lives Matter’; while the protests, rioting and looting were a low/high point for the year of 2020.
Yet the release of music in some form is nonetheless a constant in these troubling times. Artists are becoming more and more creative these days- sure some are delaying projects, but others are releasing standalone digital singles, or a surprise album or an EP full of rarities. Whatever the case, I reckon as listeners we need music now more than ever to fill the void of emptiness and pain- thus artists are now becoming creative; and are thinking outside of the box in terms of releasing new material. And now here we are, as pop band OneRepublic (who Jon has spoken about in his Momentous Mondays post!) have delayed their full length album Human… up until now. Sure, this project is highly anticipated. But after we’ve heard 8 songs already (all of which are powerful and impacting), how does the unveiling of 16 songs in such a specific order… resonate with us? Or does it resonate at all, given we’ve heard half the album already? And… the short answer is that yes, yes I do resonate with Human. Very much. The album on the whole speaks about our humanity and what it means to be a living, walking, breathing person on planet Earth in the western world. It’s strange to be alive right now, to be so free in terms of living in a developed nation, while also so reliant on a vaccine to live our daily lives. That tension is beautifully explored amongst all of these vibrant and eclectic tracks. While I expected to loathe the album, for the fact that it was simply delayed umpteen times; surprisingly the reverse happened. Human is one of my favourite albums of the year. And I don’t make that statement lightly, let me tell you that.
I didn’t start writing for this album until- I honestly felt like it was 2019. There might be like one or two songs on this album that were started in like 2018 or something, but it was really the beginning of 2019. I had done an album for the Jonas Brothers and wrote “Sucker” which went on to become a huge hit for them, and that kind of got me re-energised. I was doing Miley Cyrus’s albums, Sam Smith’s, a bunch of different artists, and that got me back in the saddle. Every time I was with an artist, they were like, “What are you doing with OneRepublic? Like why are you not doing more music? What, are you crazy?” And so, I can honestly thank all those artists that I worked with for making me want to do an album again.
I had enough time off, enough time with my family and being home and not touring that I wanted to tour again. I had something to say and I wanted to go back out there and make music again so I see this- the next 9 or 10 years- as the second chapter of this band. I always thought this was a 20-year band from day one. And I told the band in 2019, “I’ve got another 10 years in me”. And then Covid hit and gobbled up 18 months of it, so. But this is the second chapter and I’m excited to start it with this album.
I think it’s very simple. (“Run”) is a very aspirational (and) inspirational song. I’ve realised that the purpose of this band is to, through music, make our fans and the listeners of our songs feel inspired and feel a sense of connection and emotion that they strive for something they want. Something better for their life, for family, (and) for themselves. And I tried to do that in a way that isn’t cheesy, that isn’t just too obvious.
(In) a lot of these songs, I’m writing these notes to myself (in) these lyrics that I’m writing. Our lyrics are really so specific to this band; the songs that we put out, other bands could not put out, other artists could not put out. And it’s mostly me thinking about life, thinking about living in this world, being a human and how (I) should approach living.
I think that how to make this world a better place is quite simple. I think that you actually have to care about others, at the very least, as much as you care about yourself. And even better, care about them more than you care about yourself. I think that empathy and kindness are the two most valuable assets in the world.
I mean, look, if the world was full of Mother Teresas, it’d be the nicest place on earth but you also wouldn’t have Elon Musk. You wouldn’t have people inventing spaceships and rocket ships and you wouldn’t have a lot of the industrialists and people that change the world through other ways. So, I don’t think we all have to walk around being Mother Teresa, but I think it’s important to have empathy and show kindness, and those are the two most valuable things. If everyone just dialled that up a lot, I think that it would be a much improved planet.
How best to speak about an album where we’re familiar with the tracks, but not at the same time? Simple- just speak about what we know and then go from there. One of the personal highlights from Human, at least for me is “Better Days”. Written in quarantine, the short but sweet and impactful 2-and-a-half-minute acoustic type track, is as honest and emotional and hopeful as you can be in a situation like this, as lead singer Ryan Tedder attempts to bring us comfort and joyous optimism in this time of the world being upside down! “Better Days” was one of the most thought-provoking tracks of the year, as well as one of the most hard-hitting and impacting One Republic songs ever- alongside songs like “Apologise”, “Counting Stars”, “Stop and Stare”, “Good Life”, and “Love Runs Out” to name a few. As Ryan fervently relays across pulsating keys that ‘…oh, I know that there’ll be better days, oh, that sunshine ’bout to come my way, may we never ever shed another tear for today, ’cause oh, I know that there’ll be better days…’; we are reassured that ‘these days’ will end sometime. That may not be now, or next week or even next month. COVID-19 is a tricky thing to navigate, and this song allows us to believe in the possibility that better days will be coming. And we’ve got to believe that; we’ve got to have hope to keep on going throughout the day. And as such, let us all band together and remember that whatever we’re facing- we can be confident that facing our demons and our fears and our adversity together is the best way forward and a key element to beating this virus, or in the worst-case scenario, living with it, in the future.
On the other end of the spectrum of serious/joyful songs, the complete opposite to “Better Days” is “Lose Somebody”, a collaboration with Norwegian DJ and producer Kygo. We as a people can sometimes be down and stuck in our feelings; but this 3 minute EDM pop toe-tapper is just ‘what the doctor ordered’- it’s a silly yet reflective and honest track, and one that we can jam out to in the times when we feel like we’re trapped at home (maybe all the time for some of you!), and also one that we can gain a heartfelt and impacting message from it. “Lose Somebody” is something different altogether. First of all, it was originally marketed as a Kygo song (featuring OneRepublic) before its late inclusion on Human– which doesn’t make sense as Kygo doesn’t sing! And second of all, the vibe of “Lose Somebody” is just different. With the track essentially being much happier than “Better Days”, we are introduced to Ryan passionately and fervently relaying that he realises that he likes someone person when they are unavailable to him. Lyric-wise, this song is pretty intense, however the themes of longing and rejection, which are a part of everyday life, are indeed more palatable and able to be stomached especially when the music is more ‘sunshine and rainbows’ than what we’ve come to expect from Ryan and his friends. Also, when you watch the pretty trippy music video with Kygo and Ryan Tedder… well you’ll be amazed, and these lyrics will permeate in your soul even if you want it to or not.
“Run”, another promotional single from these guys, is an extremely uplifting song that is probably the band’s most inspiring since “Counting Stars”. Driven by pulsating guitars and synth, Ryan and co. earnestly and powerfully relay to us that though there might be hard times and adversity ahead of us, we ought to count our blessings and be thankful for what we’ve been given from the ‘good Lord’. A song full of gratitude and appreciation, the track invokes within us a sense of pride and a sense of happiness- learning to look at the brighter side of life in a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of way. And as Ryan passionately relays to us that ‘…one day well the sky might fall, yeah, one day I could lose it all, so I run until I hit that wall, If I learned one lesson, count your blessings, look to the rising sun and run, run, run…’; we are inspired and encouraged to chase our dreams as far as we can- because we never know what tomorrow holds. Isn’t that scary yet exciting at the same time? “Wanted”, another single from OneRepublic, is another song that is honest, vulnerable, and relevant for today’s society, as the synths and electronics-led melody speaks about each of our innate needs and desires to be loved, wanted, desired and appreciated as humans, with Ryan eloquently crying out that ‘…I just want to be wanted, oh, I could use a little love sometimes, I just need to be needed, oh, like to know I’m crossin’ someone’s mind, I just want to be someone that somebody needs, I just want to be more than a drop in the sea…’; while “Somebody To Love”, a heartbreaking and emotional ballad that was originally pitched by OneRepublic by songwriter JT Roach as part of the season 1 finale of Songland, speaks about a relationship that has broken, where one person has moved on and the other person can’t believe that their ex has found someone else to love. It’s a song that speaks about the fragilities of life and the complexities of being human, of which broken relationships are a facet of, on this side of heaven.
“Didn’t I”, a single from early 2020, is another impressive highlight and a moving track; and features Ryan ardently and fervently outlining to us against the pulsating backdrop of haunting and mysterious synth and hard-hitting guitars, that he still looks back on his relationship with his ex in fondness. Inspired by his friend’s divorce, Ryan relays that even though a relationship ends in disaster, that doesn’t mean the memories and emotions associated with that relationship needs to be null and void: I had this idea that when you marry somebody or you choose to be with them, it’s because you’ve had a lot of beautiful moments and somewhere the discord gets in. But then once you have the distance, and it does break up, and you do go through that divorce, you still have those moments. You look back and you go, you know what? This ended in a disaster, but weren’t we amazing, when we were amazing?; while “Rescue Me” is a quasi-worship melody asking someone (a friend, a family member, even God?), to rescue us when we need help and assistance. As Ryan eloquently and prayerfully sings out ‘…would you rescue me? Would you get my back? Would you take my call when I start to crack? Would you rescue me? Ah, would you rescue me? Would you rescue me when I’m by myself? When I need your love, if I need your help, would you rescue me? Ah, would you rescue me?…’; we are encouraged to be more in touch with our friends, family and our Maker. While we’re seemingly isolated and distanced from each other during COVID-19, “Rescue Me” is a timely melody as we search in ourselves and make time for those we love and appreciate. Asking others to help rescue us infers a deep connection with someone, or a past connection. And as people are only going to help us when they truly know us- can I say that this song is a challenge to be the person to others that we ourselves want to hang around with? Or am I reading too much into this happy-go-lucky pop song? “Wild Life”, originally from the Clouds motion picture soundtrack, is the ‘final’ familiar track. It’s a song that though it may not make sense if we haven’t seen the film; still moves and is extremely emotional and powerful, as Ryan confidently sings out that he wants to live life to the fullest and his ‘wild life, wild everyday’. Similar in theme to “Run”, Ryan and co. implore us to not waste a moment, to not waste a day. And in that sense, though I’ve heard all 8 songs before; hearing them in closer proximity to each other and in one sitting, makes me appreciate the band all the more, for speaking about relevant topics that we all need to think about and dwell upon. And that’s the beautiful thing about OneRepublic– they’re not singing about having fun and having a good time… they’re singing about the things that are all on our minds- the things that make us human.
If listening to these 8 songs reaffirms my love for OneRepublic and this album in particular, then diving deep into the ‘newer’ half of Human is probably one of the most impacting experiences I’ve had this year. “Distance”, an electronic pop tune, speaks about a couple with issues, and one person proclaiming that they’re still going to work on their relationship, because the alternative is distance between them, and that is something that isn’t on the cards (at least for the persona). A song that inspires us all to keep on working on our relationships, and to keep persisting even when it is hard, OneRepublic alludes to the fact that the beauty of relationships is that they are multifaceted, and that even if you’re in a rough spot; determination and grit and learning more about the other person is well worth the risk in most cases. “Someday”, probably one of the most meaningful and thought-provoking melodies the band has ever recorded, speaks about our own mortality, and the fact that we all keep on chasing material possessions, and things we don’t need; but rather it is our friends and family that keep us grounded and that are more valuable and precious than the shiniest car and job. “Someday” encourages us to shift our priorities from the tangible to the intangible but more worthy in the end- and Ryan encourages us to make that shift now. “Savior”, probably OneRepublic at their most vulnerable and emotional, relays to us all that we all need a saviour to help us through life, whether that is our friends, parents, partner or God; while the electronic potential radio single “Take Care Of You” is just as vulnerable as ever, as Ryan reminds us that even us broken people can take care of each other- and that even when we’re hurting, sometimes all we need is a listening ear and a promise from someone else that they’d always be there for us, no matter if the other person is just as flawed as we are.
“Forgot About You”, probably one of the album’s low points, is a repetitive track about the act of forgetting someone who isn’t healthy for us in any way, and is a reminder that sometimes we need to rid ourselves from contact with people (friends and partners) who bring us down in every way possible. While the piano and saxophone prominent jazz melody “Take It Out On Me”, emotionally and honesty lets us all know that for two people to be honest with each other and for two people to do life together, they need to be an expert in the art of listening and not judging, that ‘…just this one time, I won’t put in my two cents, just this one time I’ll just shut up and listen, only if you promise that you’ll do the same when you’ve had a bad day, oh, take it out on me, take it out on me, yeah, ’cause I’m strong enough to not break, and I know that you’d do the same…’. Human then ends (the brand-new tracks at least!) with the harrowing, confronting and extremely personal “Ships + Tides”. A song whereby Ryan enters into a conversation with God, and asks Him what he meaning of this life is- ‘…I’m standing here tonight, and I’m knocking on Your door, I’ll be anything You like if You can tell me what I’m here for, do we go on, and on, and on, and on?…’; the track that I guess alludes to Ryan’s ongoing deconstruction; reminds us that questions and wondering about the meaning of life, doesn’t scare God. We can bring all we are to Him, and He will answer in ways that we could never have imagined. While this song doesn’t have any answers per se; the fact that “Ships + Tides” is sure to bring us into some healthy discussions about faith and pre-destination, and the somewhat uncertainty about what we’re all meant to do on Earth, immediately elevates my respect for Ryan and the band. Topics like faith and religion are somewhat tricky topics to delve into on the dinner table, and I commend these guys for writing about this in such a hard-hitting song!
More than half of the album [Human], I think, will remind people of whatever our sound is. I’ve never been aware of what the OneRepublic sound is, as weird as that sounds to say. I think our sound is me singing and (the) guitar and (the) piano- I don’t really know what the sound is. It’s hard to describe your own sound when you’re in the band. You can’t really define it because you’re making it up as you go. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, “We’re going to sound like this”. I knew the bands that I liked growing up and the different songs and the artists that I like. And I was really just trying to find something unique that didn’t sound like anybody else.
So, I think “Run” will remind people a little bit of “Native”, which was our 2013 album. I think people that like “Native” will love this album. People that liked “Waking Up” or even “Dreaming Out Loud”- There are songs that all connect to those first three albums. “Oh My My” was our more experimental, vast album. It’s my favourite album musically, but it’s definitely a lot more adventurous and experimental. “Human” is more of a return to those very emotional and heartfelt songs. Yeah, that’s the best way for me to put it. So I think that it’s a return to that sound.
And then I think on album six- we already have enough songs for two albums- but the next album, we’re going to evolve the sound even more. We already know what the direction is for the next album, we already have a few songs. And yeah, we’re excited. This one was supposed to come out a year ago, and then Covid happened, and we didn’t want to release an album that we couldn’t promote. So, here we are a year later and we’ve maybe changed three of the songs on the album, but mostly it’s still the same album.
I think touring will go back to the way it was. I’m a little nervous currently, if I’m being honest. Not to get off on Covid, but just when I thought it was done- because in America for the most part, it’s done now. In our country, as of one week ago, exactly last Tuesday, all the Covid restrictions were lifted. So, the only place in the country where you’re required to wear masks is if you’re in a hospital or in a school with little kids. Everywhere else- it’s just open, there’s no masks. The reality is: there should be.
I’ve been going to Asia for 13 years. The first time I saw masks in my life (was)- it would have been in Kuala Lumpur or possibly Singapore. We didn’t know at the time that the person wearing that mask (means) they’re sick with a cold. And they don’t want to get us sick, so out of respect (they took) to wearing a mask. No one explained that to us, so we just thought “Oh, Asians like to wear masks.” We just made this general assumption because no one (told us) what it was. Now I get it, and- I actually got a little sick. I got an actual cold or whatever the other day and I threw a mask on, because I didn’t want someone to get a cold.
I think we’re out of the woods. But I know that like Israel, I think, it’s shutting down because of the Delta Covid variant. There’s a lot of countries now that are shutting down again because of this new variant. So, who knows if it’s going to 100% go back to normal? I want to be optimistic and say that by 2022, it will be, as long as this weird variant doesn’t cause health (issues), then I think we’re going to be fine. And I think that touring will be turned back on. I think the bigger issue at hand is that songwriters and artists are still not fairly compensated for streams. Streaming is where everybody is going now. Radio, obviously, is still impactful and valuable as well. But, you know, if people aren’t listening to radio, they’re streaming. (For) songwriters or artists who write their songs, the only real way that we get paid is from radio, so thank you radio for playing our stuff!
That’s how we get paid. I’m sitting in my recording studio now, (and) I didn’t pay for the studio with streams, I paid for (it) with radio. And so, until streaming pays writers and artists (fairly)- I’m not even asking for like the majority, I’m just saying, just even a fair amount- I don’t think artists will be happy. I think that we are still a ways off from writers and artists being compensated fairly for streams, so I think that has to change. I think it will change- very confident- I have reason to believe it will change in the coming years because we’re in an age of transparency and fairness. We’re entering into that time where the blockchain is coming for everybody. (It’s) that age of transparency, when everyone can see how everything is operating and where all the money goes for everything. People start to go, “Wait a minute. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Why is the artist doing this? They don’t own anything, like what’s happening?” And I think that all these things will naturally evolve.
I think that touring is turning on in America, like, really heavily right now. But, starting in September, it’s really turning on and it’s going to be a big test to see how many people actually come out. We’ll see what happens.
In this very moment with so much uncertainty; I’d have to say that the future is unknown in all facets- economically, emotionally, relationally… but with songs like “Better Days”, – and albums like Human – to listen to, hope is still alive in the hearts of all of us, as we hang onto our humanity and our strength. While I myself are of the opinion that right now we need more and more new music to get us through, I for one agree somewhat with what Ryan Tedder mentioned last year, in that releasing new music while a pandemic is going on seems a bit insensitive. Yet every artist is different- and at least there is still uplifting music around if you only know where to look. We all may not have understood why OneRepublic kept delaying Human; but as long as we can be reminded to cherish the ones you love and to chase after your dreams and whatever else is in your heart, then I am certain that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel in the coming months and years! Well done guys, for one of your most important and musically impressive albums yet! And I can’t wait to hear whatever comes next! According to this interview, Ryan is working on a number of different things… can I say that I’m intrigued? Maybe a Christmas album or a live album, guys?
5 songs to listen to: Run, Someday, Wanted, Better Days, Ships + Tides
RIYL: Tenth Avenue North, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, The Fray, Little Mix, Pentatonix