Here’s a question. Can X Ambassadors pull off a two-fer with the release of Orion? Unless you’ve been hiding on a remote island, you’ve probably heard “Renegades” or “Unsteady,” which brought the people together via an anthem for the underdog and a desperate love song.
Orion, after “Hey Child,” leaves an impression that they’re going to change a lot with this album. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I suppose. I have to tip my hat to crafting a sound that is distinctive in spite of not being too far off from Imagine Dragons. This sound is one that conveys a little more humility and less spectacle. This even carries over into the shiny, quirky “Confidence” that introduces dark pop/hip hop star K. Flay into an airier context than I’m used to hearing her in. “Confidence” definitely isn’t “Blood in the Cut,” but it feels like a hit. I’m not completely sold on K. Flay’s inclusion here—it feels like she was more inserted as a marketing decision than an artistic one.
One of the more conflicting moments on the album for me is “Boom.” I can tell that I’m going to have a love-hate relationship with this song, especially if it makes it onto radio. It’s dang catchy, but the lyrics cringeworthy. But it’s the sort of cringe that makes me want to sing or hum along anyway. The last time this happened with me was with Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder.” I imagine many feel the same way about “Old Town Road” right now. That groove, though!
“History” is the opposite of “Boom.” It’s a simple acoustic ballad, sung with authenticity. It sounds like it could fit on adult contemporary radio, circa 2005 alongside the John Mayers and Goo Goo Dolls of the world – and that’s not an insult. We really get to hear what vocalist Sam Harris is capable of. It’s a surprisingly uplifting breakup song. “Recover” appropriately follows and sounds like the antithesis to “Unsteady”—a mid-tempo anthem with large swells juxtaposed with acoustic licks.
The strongest song on the record for me has to be “Wasteland,” which mixes vibes of Collective Soul (“December” anyone?) and NEEDTOBREATHE. It’s a power ballad that ends too soon, building up into a powerful section with a simple yet poignant electric guitar melody at the front of the mix. It sets the mood well for “Shadows,” which plays out like a quick-tempoed march. Both of these songs would fit well on a Coldplay-centered playlist, to be honest—Sam really channels his inner Chris Martin on the latter.
Orion is a solid, mostly predictable release that ought to keep the core fanbase of X Ambassadors happy through the duration of the next album cycle. There were moments that really hit the spot, but I don’t see myself turning into a superfan anytime soon. Their live show is still recommended, though.