Album Review: OneRepublic - 'Human'
Sometimes, delayed releases for movies and albums are worth the wait. In the case of OneRepublic’s latest album “Human,” the consensus will hardly be unanimous on whether it lived up to the hype.
“Human” was originally supposed to be released in late 2019, but was delayed to allow more production time, and its release was pushed back again in May 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
OneRepublic’s fifth studio outing marks a notable shift in the style of music the group intends to produce going forward, opting for ear-pleasing melodies and compositions instead of richer, deeper songs like from their hit 2013 album, “Native.”
“Run” opens the record and sets the lyrical tone for most of the first half of the album, with a light, beat-driven song with a melodic whistle and simple electric guitar riff. “Distance” immediately follows and opens with an aesthetic ripped straight from the chillwave genre before launching into a standard pop rhythm and bass track to back the leadup to a soaring chorus.
“Someday” begins as an acoustic track that strongly invokes Phillip Phillips before becoming another standard, beat-driven pop song like the opening track. “Didn’t I” comes off as a dull track that doesn’t offer much new to the tone or message of the album, and the repetition of “Didn’t I” to start the chorus only serves to channel a certain Cheap Trick song.
“Rescue Me” sounds the same as the rest of the album in the supporting instrumentals, only differing in the fast and rushed delivery of the vocals, leading to the track being one of the shortest on the record. “Savior” follows and again seems to channel another artist or band in the opening, this time Sam Smith, with a soft-spoken Ryan Tedder and simple piano chord changes drawing the listener in before a driving chorus with some melodic falsetto appearing once again.
The next trio of tracks, “Take Care of You,” “Forgot About You” and “Somebody To Love,” all embody a large shift in the musical composition of the record as it leans toward a style in the vein of Twenty One Pilots or light hip-hop. The songs, which are the weakest on the album, all suffer from being repetitious, overblown with booming synthesized bass and extremely safe in their musical choices.
“Wanted” is the shortest track on the record and falls into the same trap musically as the last three songs, but it has some of the strongest lyrics on “Human,” as the female main character grapples with her feelings of loneliness and her desire to be wanted by another person. It has the deepest premise of any song on the record, but doesn’t truly deliver in a lasting, satisfying way.
“Take It Out On Me” is another strong song lyrically and has more complex themes associated with it than many of the others on “Human,” and uses a simple piano accompaniment to back the track and allow the substance of the song to shine through. Unfortunately, this track feels like it’s building up to a grand climax that never happens and passes away with a whimper.
“Better Days” closes the album and is the most suited song on the standard album to do so, as the song focuses on looking ahead of present circumstances to the good that may lie ahead. The track embraces some of the rhythmic similarities from the middle of the record and concludes the album in a way fitting with the direction the record guides listeners.
The deluxe version of “Human” contains four additional tracks, which are without any debate the best tracks from the tracklist, so it is unfortunate they are not part of the standard album.
“Wild Life” feels like either a perfect beginning or ending track to “Human” and could serve as either the start or conclusion of a musical journey an artist could take during an album. The instrumentation is simple and doesn’t suffer from being overproduced or too busy like some other tracks do, and it feels like the first time OneRepublic finds their stride in more than a half hour.
“Ships + Tides” is the most haunting song on the album, again using minimalist instrumental arrangements to create arguably the best in the entire runtime of “Human,” something that the acoustic rendition of “Someday” accomplishes too as it outshines the album version of the song.
“Lose Somebody” is a fantastic ending piece for the deluxe album, tackling loss and how to maintain a positive perspective despite tragic hurt as someone is no longer around, whether from a failed relationship or their death as the song leaves itself open to interpretation.
With only a 34:51 runtime in its standard form, “Human” feels like it’s unnecessarily rushing to say something important, but winds up saying hardly anything at all. Lyrically, the songs do not offer any unique perspective or insight that has not been said or done before and does not do it better, and the album fails to stay on par with the rest of OneRepublic’s work.