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Adam R. Holz

Album Review

When Imagine Dragons exploded onto the music scene back in 2012, I remember thinking something along the lines of, Sounds like OneRepublic 2.0.

Eight years later, Imagine Dragons is the last band standing when it comes to approximating anything even close to rock in the mainstream music space. Rock, for lots of reasons, has retreated like steadily a melting glacier, a forgotten monolith of a dying age. Imagine Dragons is one of very few acts still putting out songs that can compete against the avalanche of rap and R&B that rules the charts these days.

Given that reality, I wasn’t at all surprised to have the converse observation listening to OneRepublic’s latest single, “Connection.” It took me all of about five seconds to think, Sounds like Imagine Dragons 2.0. After all, OneRepublic’s frontman, Ryan Tedder, is one of the most influential producers and songwriters around. And you can be sure he’s been taking notes on Imagine Dragons’ soaring success.

Operator, Can I Get a Connection?

“Connection” pairs a fat, throbbing bass line with Tedder’s almost rapped lyrics, all of which leads up to an anthemic chorus. (A formula that pretty much describes every Imagine Dragons hit). Tedder and Co. throw down a deep, infectious synth-pop groove here, and it’s almost impossible not to nod along while listening.

Like so many OneRepublic songs we’ve reviewed in the past, this one delivers a positive, redemptive message … with just one pesky caveat (as we’ll see).

In a nutshell, the guys in OneRepublic know that society has a big problem: isolation. “These days, my waves get lost in the ocean,” Tedder begins. “Seven billion swimmers, man, I’m going through the motions.” A bit later, he adds, “Trying to connect, thinking maybe you could show me/If there’s so many people here, then why am I so lonely?”

Tedder knows what he needs: “Sent up a flare, I need love and devotion.” But meeting those relational needs isn’t easy these days: “Real friends, good friends, hard to find, let’s face it.” And materialism isn’t the answer either: “Buy the perfect home and there’s a flood in the basement.”

What’s needed is relationship, a message the chorus trumpets with a plaintive, repeated plea: “Can I get a connection?”

And how might we make that connection? Tedder offers a couple of strategies. First, it means reconnecting with our past and the important people who shaped our lives back then: “Maybe I should try to find the old me/Take me to the place and the people that know me.”

It also requires holding on to the values we were raised with, such as frugality in Tedder’s case: “Made a couple dollars now, and I ain’t tryna chase it/Kids from Oklahoma, man we don’t waste it.”

Finally, it means having a meaningful vision of the future, of where we’re headed. “I’m just tryna paint the picture for me/Something I can give a d–n about at maybe 40/ … ‘Cause there’s so many people here to be so d–n lonely.”

Those two mild profanities, by the way, constitute that caveat I mentioned above.

Staring at Our Hands

Though the song’s lyrics themselves don’t clearly deal with the issue of technology, the video definitely does. Performance shots of the band are intercut with Tedder wandering through a huge, white terminal, where almost everyone is walking around like zombies with a hand in front of their faces. They’re not holding phones, but it’s obvious that’s what’s being referenced here.

Into the midst of that crowd comes a woman, a dancer, who exuberantly bounds and glides through huge open space. She’s as alive as the people staring at their hands seem to be stiffly robotic. Her facial expressions speak to passion, while those around her are trapped in passivity. They’re unable to see her, unable to see anything other than their hands plastered right in front of their faces.

The video compliments the song’s impassioned plea for real relationship. It suggests that when all we can see is our own “hands” in front of our faces, we don’t really see anything. And despite the promise of connection that all our amazing technology brings, there’s no substitute for really connecting—and perhaps reconnecting—with those who know and love us the best.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

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