[10 January 2008]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
2007 was definitely a good year for Ryan Tedder. After all, this was the year where he became a reputable song doctor (re-tinkering tracks for the likes of Natasha Bedingfield and Hilary Duff), a go-to producer (doing lots of work on Jennifer Lopez’s much-maligned Brave), and—most importantly—a bankable star. His band, OneRepublic, had a little song called “Apologize” that was remixed by Timbaland and soon released as the third single from the hip-hop producer’s eclectic Shock Value album. It also became one of the biggest singles of 2007. So while Tedder’s stock is on the rise, Columbia Records suits remain sitting in their board room, smacking their heads and questioning why they inexplicably dropped OneRepublic from their roster only a few years earlier (so quickly that the band didn’t even get a chance to record an album under the Columbia banner).
If experience has taught us anything, however, it’s that a monster pop single does not necessarily mean that there’s a monster pop masterpiece backing the song up (need we be reminded of JoJo? Anyone?). Tedder’s pop-rock outfit is simply that: another entry in the long line of generic radio-friendly bands that are celebrated momentarily and forgotten before their decade of popularity is closed out. Though OneRepublic has been somewhat-unfairly compared to Coldplay, they ultimately come off as a Snow Patrol cover band without any of that band’s dynamics. Though Greg Wells’ high-budget production gives Dreaming Out Loud a professional sheen, the problems start and end with Tedder. His band, his voice, his lyrics—they’ve all been heard before. What’s particularly disappointing is how his songs all just blend together in a strictly melodic sense. It’s hard to distinguish the differences between tracks like “Mercy”, “Prodigal”, and “All We Are”; they’re so precisely executed that no room is left for tension, conflict, or even that sought-after catharsis that is so lacking from FM radio these days.
Yet perhaps the most disappointing thing about OneRepublic is that there are some genuine flashes of originality that shine through and ultimately get lost in the rush of things. “Say (All I Need)” is a helluva album opener. With chopped-up, choir-like vocals (and, yes, a very Timbaland-infected vibe), Tedder is able to launch a rock ballad that’s filled with rising crescendos and interesting musical textures. “Tyrant”, meanwhile, isn’t afraid to crank up the rock guitars just a little bit, letting just a little bit of angst bleed through the band’s performance. Yet best of all is “Won’t Stop”, a remarkably fluid ballad that wouldn’t sound too out of place on Turin Brakes’ classic Optimist LP, replete with strings, bells, and beautifully harmonized vocals. It’s these moments that serve as a breath of fresh air to the painful monotony that surrounds the rest of Dreaming. One can’t blame Interscope for wanting to rush-release the album, but given that “Apologize” is still the #1 song in all of Europe as I write this, a little bit of extra time would have gone a long way.
Which brings us back to “Apologize”. Heavy on self-imposed melodrama, the song works because of the heightened sense of importance: hip-hop beats mingling with a string section and Tedder’s everyman croon. It’s this kind of dynamic energy which separates it from every other track on the album, and making it the easy/obvious highlight. The Timbaland remix is tacked on as the unnecessary “hidden track”, and—ultimately—it’s hard to tell what his contribution is aside from a few trademark “yeah” grunts in the background and a slight resequencing of the drum patterns. Yet a good song is a good song, regardless of its context. Its obvious that the group wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now without Tim Mosley’s divine intervention (the disc was released on his own vanity imprint, afterall), but a more intriguing question is where Tedder could take his bandmates riding on his own talent and nothing else.
Ultimately, Dreaming Out Loud isn’t going down in history for any particular reason, nor will it abscond with any critical kudos. It’s a pop album, pure and simple. You can’t blame a label for wanting to capitalize on a sudden goldmine, but you also can’t help but wonder if these golden boys can come up with something a bit more original when the spotlight comes around for a second go. Only then will we see if they have anything to truly apologize for.