Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. You know who we haven’t heard from in awhile?
You’d have to make a few jumps to say anything really mean about them, but the fact that OneRepublic have had steady work the last six years says something about a lack of quality pop-rock on the charts. There’s just nothing to these guys; I can roll my eyes at Maroon 5’s Axe-drenched doucheyness and use Jason Mraz’s acoustic guitar and notebook of Sensitive Guy bullshit as kindling, but OneRepublic are so milquetoast that the worst I can do is shoot spitballs at them. I’ve never listened to one of their albums end to end, but if their singles are any indication, it has to be like drowning in a sea of beige. But, they finally got a hit off this year’s album Native, so here we are.
Before we get to “Counting Stars”, let’s take a moment to look at what makes OneRepublic two steps above dental office muzzak. The band’s frontman and journeyman songwriter/producer Ryan “I really should have picked a stage name” Tedder has bragged that, “We’re no respecters of genre. If its a good song or good artist whether rock, pop, indie, or hip-hop, they’ve probably influenced us on some level”. I mean, I get idea here: take the best bits you come across, and make something great out of them. But, for that to work, you have to either 1. Not sand all the edges off your influences or 2. be really good at cherrypicking and mixing styles together. Ok, let’s finally delve into “Counting Stars”.
After a brief opening that sounds worryingly like more Mumford & Sons imitation, “Counting Stars” reveals it’s true colors: part folk and part rock with some electronic undertones and some honest to God momentum. The galloping drums, the group vocals, the somewhat triumphant lyrics…there’s even some “Hey!”s snuck in the chorus. Hang on…
Holy shit, OneRepublic went Of Monsters and Men on us.
Ok, fine, it’s a poppier version of Of Monsters and Men, but I can’t be the only one who hears it. “Counting Stars” works because the main influence isn’t the only one. There are a few synths tucked into the songs background, some soulful backing vocals, and the almost gospel group on the bridge. It reminds me of the genre mesh on “Locked Out of Heaven”, where the song took two ideas that were ok but flat on their own, and made them feed into each other.
Hey, by the way, what does “Counting stars” even mean?
“Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep/Dreaming about the things that we could be” No, please, this song had actual personality before I started listening to the lyrics.
“But baby, I’ve been, I’ve been praying hard/Said no more counting dollars/We’ll be counting stars” You’re going to what, renounce all your possessions and wealth and become a wanderer of the Earth in the name of religion? I know there’s some extrapolation there, but what else can I come up with?
“In my face is flashing signs/Seek it out, and ye shall find” Yep, definitely going to be a monk.
“Take that money/Watch it burn/Sink in the river/The lessons I’ve learned” Something something the trappings of wealthy living? Look, there might be some deeper thought behind these lyrics, but they also sound like Tedder was just slinging rhymes together.
But, oblique lyrics aside, I like “Counting Stars”. OneRepublic finally made a hit that cribs from other acts, but it’s still enjoyable on its own. It’s the least like themselves they’ve ever sounded, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.