OneRepublic – Oh My My: Diamonds Presented as Rough

On the dawn of Oh My My’s release (OneRepublic’s 4th studio album), the world renowned pop/rock band graced the world with a Facebook Livestream Interview (exciting stuff, right? *snort*). The interview was set up in such a way as to be able to advertise and answer questions regarding the album. You can imagine that I, being a self-diagnosed OneRepublic fanatic, was rather on edge to hear the latest “word.” Granted, the few singles I had heard were a bit on the exotic side compared to what I was familiar with, plus the album cover/title left much to be desired (Yes, I nitpick at such things), but surely the outcome will be as riveting as any past OneRepublic record, correct? But when the first thing lead singer, Grammy winning producer and songwriter, Ryan Tedder had to communicate was essentially a flip of the bird to any critic who might dislike their work, it left me with the uneasy question, shall I brace for impact?

When approaching a new OneRepublic album, it is always wise to expect the unexpected. Ryan Tedder and Co. are never ones to carbon copy on past music entries. That is far from a negative assertion, rather it is one of the biggest praises I have to give my favorite band. With Oh My My’s ambitious new sound then, we see that Onerepublic is out to capture the sounds of the world. Yes, you read that right.  Over the last 3 or so years, Onerepublic has been out across the globe seeking the sounds of Earth’s key cities. The hope was to create an experience that was able to infuse all the sounds of these key regions. So, when listening to this album, it is no surprise to hear a blend of traditional OneRepublic melodies, mixed with Asian pop, Spanish guitar, Islandic instruments, and a heavy dose of the European electric scene (just to name a few of the quirks). Yes, the proper title then should be Oh My My. While the title comes from a track found therein, the title is rather a dumbfounded respond to such a versatile group, who never ceases to surprise. Oh My My does exactly what it sets out to do, be their personal gift to Earth. But does such a grand scheme work as an enjoyable album, or does it fall a bit flat as a mere gimmick? I regrettably state, a bit of both.

Before getting too far, however, what should be addressed first off is the pitch-perfect introduction and conclusion to the album, Let’s Hurt Tonight and Heaven. The first is a slow building love ballad that promises a new, fresh, and yet very OneRepublic-esque adventure with the subtle guitar, followed by the moving chorus (which captures Tedder’s Gospel voice exquisitely). The other end of the spectrum is the more electric geared, yet equally moving track, Heaven. Which likewise transports you to a place of lively beauty that feels like you’ve concluded a wondrous journey. These 2 records were placed in the perfect slots, and do impeccable jobs of giving original and mystically earthy (oxymoron much?) sounding visions that the album seemed to be gunning for. Stepping away from the bookends then, we must address the singles from the album thus far, Wherever I Go and Kids. While each are fairly familiar in terms of OneRepublic hits, they are equally new in a different variety. Wherever I Go (labeled as the teaser of the album) was a respectable first choice due to its similarities in beat with Counting Stars and Love Runs Out, but with a larger reliance on Japenese Electric/Pop. It is one that, when fully grown on you, tends to be difficult to let escape your mind. Kids, while closer to the more restraint hits, is a less flashy quest that feels less polished and more personal (with a derivation in Mexico City, I believe). Each one took a bit of time to warm to, but both have been grounded as respectable and even grand Radio Hits when seen in the direction of the new record.

I suppose we should address a few of the album’s flaws by now. In a nutshell, my biggest difficulties are found in the over-reliance on electric music, what appears to be Tedder’s desire to put sound and technique over investing and addictive choruses, and especially, the fact that it bolsters a whopping 16 tracks, that often feel a bit disjointed. For the most part, these are all initial complaints, and ones I undoubtedly will (and even have to some degree) get over. As far as the electric/pop is concerned, though the practice is not foreign to them by any means. Here it seems they want to mirror and adapt their previous songs such as If I Lose Myself and What You Wanted, where a solid pop dance/drop would stand in place of a main chorus, but it was done so with care and restraint. In Oh My My (which feels a bit like a sequel to Native in many ways), that style seems to be the main thrust. With their many stringed instruments occasionally seeming to make an appearance just for appearance sake.

I believe this takes us to the other dilemma, the occasional melodies and choruses that fail to stick. As was previously stated, Tedder seems to have taken a lot of time with the electronic scene, in fact, Cassius is even featured as one such collaborator (a French DJ). With this experimental tone on center stage here, one would hope Ryan (if he indeed is gun ho in this new direction) could steadily guide this tone and sound of his to brand new heights. As always, there is no denying Ryan’s knack for enforcing and cultivating mesmerizing sounds and beats, because the boys and he are simply the best with catching those essential background sounds. It’s just that when the sounds sporadically trump substance, it tends to be a bit unsatisfying. What I’m not suggesting is that every song ought to sound “radio ready”, in fact the notion usually shows any lack of dignity with an album. It is just that occasionally the song feels as if it truly wants to break forth and inspire us, but you can tell something wasn’t jiving in Tedder’s head. A few grim examples are Human and the yelly NbHD; songs I callout because there is visible potential, but the outcome is regrettably muddy. A few more that need extra time to appreciate due to occasionally flat deliveries are the title/dance anthem Oh My My and the Gospel-themed Choke (which sounds remarkably like their Christmas Without You single and one of my favorites, Preacher, but with a slightly underwhelming delivery). One more in need of calling out is the uplifting track The Future Looks Good, which I can tell will sound phenomenal live (and for some is already a fan favorite), but hasn’t jelled for me yet in the flow of the album, and feels more like a bonus song (just my opinion). This one also features the only FULL S word in the album (the impressive Dream and Lift Me Up each contain 3 muffled/muted S words, which is odd, but worth the time to edit if you are able).

Ultimately though, I feel as though the biggest issue with this album is that Tedder saw fit to form it as a “summer playlist” (his words), rather than a cohesive album. The reasoning behind this is interesting, but the execution is strange. But actually, this is where all my apparent pessimism show my truthful optimism. Because I feel that a few songs aside, this album has HUGE potential. There are a number of songs with such great depth, meaning, style, and refreshing sounds that could intrigue the senses. The only thing holding it back is the overstuffed track-list (which cutting 2-3 of the poor songs out as Deluxe Songs would have fixed the problem). Herein are songs that, when given just a bit more time, can be appreciated as fascinating pieces that don’t necessarily need Radio coverage, nor overly bold choruses. These can be found in the nicely familiar Born, the moving All These Things, the out of this world A.I (“Hey there, Peter Gabriel!”), and the near haunting Fingertips (which I predict will bring goosebumps when seen live). A few more that need nearly no patience is the catchy Better, the return to form Lift Me Up, and especially the ambitious Dream (minus the muffled curse words). Which may not be a “radio” favorite, but with the help of a killer baseline and even a Jamaican infusion, showcases perfectly what exotic new heights they were capable of (even when displayed as a “filler” song).

Along with these positives are the themes throughout (which I was thrilled to see the boys hadn’t forsaken). The album as a whole is a celebration of life, and one that urges you to make the most of where you are. In songs such as Better (which deals with mental instability), Let’s Hurt Tonight (which deals with surprisingly realistic romance), The Future Looks Good, All These Things, and even Kids, we see this mentality encouraged. A mentality that hard times may come, and the past may occasionally look nicer, but with sheer effort, you can make the future even brighter. A few more shout outs are the semi-bland Human, which has a refreshing tale of God talking to Tedder in an almost humoring manner, where He seeks to reach out and empathize with Ryan’s so called “problems.” The other being A.I which scrutinizes the lack of dedication and “human interaction” in modern relationships.

While I may have preferred a different approach, and may have a gripe or two with a couple of the tracks, my biggest flaw is the organization of the album. As I’ve said many a time, this album seeps with potential, but it lacks direction and enough courage to leave some songs on the editing floor (or on the Bonus tracks-list). Thereby leaving all the great and noble songs on display here feeling a bit lost in the mix. Because, while it undoubtedly falls short of the critically acclaimed Native, there are more than enough diamonds in this ambitious new record to save it from the rough presentation on display. Essentially though, since I am a “’die hard,” I will be more apt to see the beautiful story behind the confusion. But for those with no emotional connection, it will appear a possible misstep. It is for that reason I have made the bold and uncalled for move to come up with my own “cut” of the album. It leaves off 3 (possibly loved) tracks, all for the sake of album integrity. If you are so inclined, give it a listen. Otherwise, enjoy Oh My My for what it is, a messy pop album with beauty written all over it.

7/10 (which will easily get a full point higher after a month or two)

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