ALBUM: Oh My My ARTIST: One Republic
Album release date: October 7 / 2016
The Man Behind the Music
While you may not recognize the name Ryan Tedder, there’s little to no chance you haven’t heard his work: the 37-year-old Tulsa native has written and produced a staggering number of pop hits that have dominated the airwaves over the past nine years or so, beginning in 2007 with Leona Lewis’ viscerally-worded song Bleeding Love. Tedder has gone on to write and produce hits with the likes of Adele (Rumour Has It), Taylor Swift (Welcome to New York), Kelly Clarkson (Already Gone), Beyonce (Halo), and many others: who knew all of Hollywood relies so heavily on one man to write their songs (maybe not you, until this moment)?
While his success in writing and production has been enormous, gaining continual momentum since its beginning, in 2002 the ever-ambitious Tedder formed his own band, the well-known pop rock band Onerepublic. Their first major hit, the Timbaland remix of Too Late to Apologize, became an international sensation, and shortly thereafter the album on which it was released (Dreaming out Loud) was certified Platinum. Their second album, Waking Up, was released in 2009 and climbed quickly to the top ten of the US Billboard Hot 100.
But it wasn’t until 2013, when their third album Native was released, that the world experienced the full Onerepublic experience. Primed by the emotional panache of Tedder’s lyrics, the expansive, grandiose musical compositions and the percussion-heavy style of the band’s previous releases, America – and the world at large (though music critics are always another story)- was wildly enthusiastic toward Native, which included all of these familiar elements but raised them to a higher, more consistently ear-wormy level. The aggressively unforgettable songs Feel Again, Counting Stars, Something I Need, and I Lived made a seismic impact on the mental landscape of people within my peer-group, and Tedder’s distinct vocal and writing style had all of us feeling invincible as we listened.
A Bite That’s Just Too Big
Now, three years later, Onerepublic has just released their fourth album to date. Oh My My was first hinted at in 2014, when the group posted photos from a hotel in Poland, suggesting they were in the middle of recording new material while on the road. The idea behind Oh My My, according to Tedder, was that of a 2016 playlist: how do people throw their ideal playlist together, what motivates them to put which song where, and how do genres merge and fluctuate? If we’re to take Tedder seriously, then his opinion of the average 2016 listener is that all anyone wants is a collection of formulaic, haphazard, epidermal, mindlessly predictable songs that challenge nothing within.
The album consists of 16 tracks, and clocks in at over an hour in length: though admittedly, listening to it in its entirety felt like it took much longer than sixty-some minutes. An overly produced, overly ambitious EDM vibe jostles throughout most of the songs, attempting to convince the listener of a dark meatiness that simply isn’t there. Huge, mellowdramatic swells and drops make cheap passes at the old amygdala, but the lackluster lyrics stand in such hollow contrast to the grandiose production that nary a goosebump can be found. The album sits like leftovers from a pretentious restaurant posing to be fresh-made that day: despite all the seasoning in the world, the taste of repurposing can’t be denied, regardless of the price-tag or brand attached. It’s vaguely insulting to think that any discerning listener wouldn’t be able to sense the flavor of pandering beneath these repetitive, uninspired tunes.
The Familiar Sound of Machinery
I realize I totally sound like Miss Michin. It’s just been a goodly while since I’ve heard an album that is so blatantly directed toward “giving people what they want” (and sadly falls short), while at the same time comfortably touting the flag of edginess and progress. While a couple of songs feel less deflective and/or fabricated – Fingertips and Choke – the bulk of the album comes off sounding like the work of someone who has a thorough grasp on music composition and production – which Tedder surely does – but who’s too pressed for time to fully put his heart into any one thing. The fact that the album was recorded in its entirety while the band was touring – each song recorded in a different city, with whatever local musicians could be conjured up – speaks to this fact. While the idea of recording an album all over the world while on tour is novel, it goes against the grain of truly creative work, which requires stillness, present-ness, and devotion.
Oh My My is not a truly creative work: it is, rather, an imitation, created to be consumed, and impossible to contemplate. It is the sound of being stretched too thin, the sound of borrowing whatever ideas are most readily available, the sound of pretending to be deeper than one actually is.