To be a modern Weezer fan is to approach each new release with a sense of skepticism. Having made their mark in rock early on, the band has spent the last decade or so really trying something new with each album. While some incredible success has come from this, there have also been some massive misses. OK Human, the band’s surprise release is a resounding success. The album fundamentally alters the core Weezer sound while retaining their signature mark, analyzes the feeling of passing your prime and still manages to feel fun and goofy. OK Human verges on being the landmark Weezer album none of us knew we wanted.
OK Human is an indie album in all regards, ditching anything close to the guitar sound associated with Weezer in favor of a full orchestra. It’s odd then that the album’s sound seems to rest comfortably somewhere between Pinkerton’s confessional style of songwriting and The Red Album’s escapism.
The fact that it took the band this long to release a stripped back album seems detrimental in retrospect. Drummer Patrick Wilson stands out more than anyone else, as his relaxed percussion takes center stage without the distraction of guitars (“Numbers”). Meanwhile, Brian Bell’s keyboards and Scott Shriner’s bass sound completely new in the context of being part of an orchestra (“Dead Roses”). For his part, singer and primary songwriter Rivers Cuomo sounds at home against the gentler sound. Although he never truly pushes his voice, he finds gracious melodies that fit the softer tone of these songs (“Bird With a Broken Wing”).
For its part, the orchestral backing does a shockingly adept job of performing a pop melody for the bigger, Weezer-esque songs (“All My Favorite Songs”) and an appropriate tension for darker, more thematic tracks (“Dead Roses”). For being one of the more distinctive steps outside of Weezer’s comfort zone, the orchestra does an amazing job of finding the perfect balance between a new sound and the brisk balance of pop tracks.
At its best, OK Human is a study of finding one’s place in an ever evolving world that only sees the value of your past accomplishments. The most straightforward song on this topic is “Bird With a Broken Wing” as Rivers sings “Long ago, I was flying in the air / Looking at the sea below / I was hunting to kill”, before lamenting, “I’m just a bird with a broken wing / And this beautiful song to sing / Don’t feel sad for me, I’m right where I wanna be”.
While other songs tackle the same issue, such as “La Brea Tar Pits” (“Cause I’m sinking in the La Brea Tar Pits / And I don’t want to die cause there’s still so much to give”), others examine it in indirect ways. “Screens” looks at a world lacking human contact as Cuomo sings “Now the real world is dying / As everybody moves into the cloud. / Can you tell me where we’re going?”
OK Human also sees some of the best lyricism Cuomo has written in quite some time. “Dead Roses” traces the sorrow of what an imagined relationship verses what it actually is in brutal, haunting poetry (“Lamplight falls, and casts a laughing phantom / I imagine your smile and the life that we could share / But with the last of my steps, I see the truth lying there”).
Another recurring theme, the struggle to adjust to an ever increasing world reliant on technology appears early on, with much more straightforward prose. “Numbers” tackles the depression of social media and the obsession with being seen (“Look at him, look at her, they’ve got a million likes / … / Numbers are out to get you”).
Where OK Human falters is when Cuomo seems to almost stop trying to find the perfect allegory to what he wants to say, and instead just blurts out whatever is in front of him at the time, including several tech services that may ultimately date the album to an extremely specific period in time. “Playing My Piano”, a catchy song about losing himself in music, is hampered by extremely stagnant lyricism (“My wife is upstairs, my kids are upstairs / … / I should get back to these Zoom interviews, but I get so absorbed and time flies”).
“Grapes of Wrath”, an ingenious song idea about relaxing while listening to audiobooks, stumbles in the chorus as it sounds like an advertisement more than a heartfelt ode (“I’m gonna rock my Audible / Headphones, Grapes of Wrath, drift off to oblivion”).
Slightly more focused, OK Human could have been the next legendary Weezer album. That said, it’s still an incredible work of art that mostly succeeds at its experimentation. In terms of Weezer’s discography, it sounds distinct and vibrant, and oddly seems to stand amongst the louder of the band’s legendary catalog. If nothing else, it proves that Weezer still have so much left so say.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and accidentally drank from a water glass he remembered he saw his cat drink from 20 minutes beforehand as he gulped it down. He drank cat water. He is now know as, “Cat Mouth.”