Review: Weezer – OK Human

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.

You can buy or stream OK Human on Apple Music.

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.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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.”

Generational Punk: Riot Fest 2014 – Day 3

RiotFest

The third day of Riot Fest is always a tiring one. By the time the diehards enter the grounds, they’re still somewhat recovering from at least a dozen hours jumping and wandering from the previous two days. The offerings for a festival’s finale were tempting: a swarm of legendary bands on almost every stage culminating in a three headed beast of a finale: The Cure, Bring Me the Horizon and Weezer playing at the same time throughout the grounds.

The entire day was marked by gripping choices between generations of music; on one stage is Naked Raygun with Motion City Soundtrack at the other end of the park at the same time. Social Distortion played at the same time as New Found Glory. There was more to see than one could make time for, with generations of punk bands dueling for fans. The bands that I grew up loving played next to the bands older siblings listened to in the 90’s, next to the bands my parents loved.

Motion City Soundtrack pulled out a stellar performance studded with the well known singles, “Everything is Alright” and “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”, as well as a new single from their upcoming album titled “Anything At All”. If it is any indication, their sixth studio album looks like it may be a rocker more in line with My Dinosaur Life.

Social Distortion tore through the soulful punk that only they can produce for songs like “Machine Gun Blues” and “Through These Eyes”. Mike Ness’s deep croon lulled the audience in sing-a-long while the guitars blasted away.

The smaller stages saw I Am The Avalanche draw in the faithful fans that Vinnie Caruana is known for during his hard set, but the real surprise was a few hours later when Modern Baseball took the same stage. As a rising star in the pop punk community, they drew in the biggest crowd the small Revolt Stage (tucked between the larger Rock and Riot Stages and next to the food carts) had seen the entire weekend and would be considered an almost sold out audience for a club. Fans filled the lawn to sing along.

My personal high point was seeing New Found Glory for the first time since the departure of guitarist Steve Klein. Bassist Ian Grushka officially takes MVP for not only fulfilling his duties as bassist, but also covering Klein’s guitar riffs, officially making the band’s sound weightier and deeper than ever before. Guitarist Chad Gilbert essentially has free reign of the guitar section and makes sure that the band’s signature pop aesthetic is louder than ever. For as much as they have gone through in the last year (Gilbert described it on stage as “the rock bottom”) they’re a band completely reborn with a new energy and inspired vigor.

The festival ended with three generations of bands helming the headline duties on different stages. The Cure took up one of the biggest stages with a massive audience of mostly the older attendees. The few songs I heard sounded epic and tormented, the way any good Cure song should. At the other end was Bring Me The Horizon, blasting an explosive hardcore set for the younger audience to cap off the festival’s newer bands.

Weezer though, was another animal altogether. Anyone claiming that Weezer has lost their popularity can go screw; this was by far the biggest and most excited crowd of the festival. The area surrounding the stage packed full of people to the point of crushing. The thin lines of people moving through the crowd were regularly pushed to a dead halt against audience members refusing to budge for fear of losing their spot. Stepping into the outside rim of the crowd, it took me a solid ten minutes just to get out. People climbed into trees and lay down atop the chain link grating of batting cages to see the stage.

Weezer appeared to a shattering thunder of cheers. With the promise of playing The Blue Album front to back, they knew how to properly tease an audience by working their way back in time. Their first song was “Back To The Shack”, the lead single to their upcoming album followed by the famous songs to nearly every album (“Pork and Beans” for Red, “Perfect Situation” for Make Believe, “El Scorcho” for Pinkerton) before a brief hiatus when they took the stage for Blue.

“My Names Is Jonas” started a frenzy that never subdued until the finale of “Only In Dreams”. Thousands of voices shouted every lyric to each song in perfect time to Rivers himself. Weezer’s newer albums may not land them the hypnotic cultish fan base of Blue, but by the amount of people singing “Back To The Shack”, they haven’t lost anything.

Riot Fest has proven itself more and more as the ultimate destination for the punk rock faithful of any age. There were literally just as many mohawks on the kids as there were on the graying men who saw the genre on the rise. While seeing the best of the modern era of punk on stage is as exciting as it should be, the thrill of seeing a band that has been in the game for decades command an audience is intoxicating.

Though Riot Fest tours in a limited fashion across North America, it is quickly becoming the best festival in Chicago. For those unwilling to let rock fade away, Riot Fest keeps the spirit alive more than any other festival can, and the wait until next year’s all the more worth while.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 spent nearly twenty-two collective hours at Riot Fest 2014. Please make paper mache effigies of him and feed them ham.