Sunday, January 31, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Weezer - OK Human

Welp, here we are. The first new album review of 2021. I didn't anticipate starting the year off by reviewing Weezer but this album literally came out of nowhere so here we are. If you, for some reason, have never heard of or never listened to Weezer, first off, have you been living under a rock? Second, they are one of the most revered and respected Alternative Rock bands to ever come onto the scene, even if they're also one of the most inconsistent. Their first self-titled album, popularly known as The Blue Album, came out in 1994 and the band automatically shot to fame. And rightfully so, the album is fantastic. The production is handled by the late great Ric Ocasek and he did a great job with it, and Rivers Cuomo's lyrics are unapologetically insecure and even nerdy at times. Songs like Buddy Holly and Say It Ain't So are classics to this day. In 1996 came Pinkerton which is an album I could probably do an article on alone but to sum it up, people hated this album when it first came out, leading the band into a hiatus. But, slowly and surely, it started growing on people and now it's thought to be their best album ever and one of the best alternative albums of all time. But ever since that hiatus, the band has been on a long period of inconsistency. The Green Album and The White Album are probably their only two albums since then that I've enjoyed in full. Every other album is probably good for a single or two but the rest of the songs are either forgettable or just kinda boring. However, things have been looking up for the band more recently ever since they shot up to mainstream relevancy again. 

Weezer in a promo image for this new album. (From L to R: Brian Bell, Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Scott Shriner)

Not like they ever fell out of the mainstream but they're more popular now than they've ever been. It started with a random cover of Toto's smash-hit Africa that put the band onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in over a decade and put them at #1 on Billboard's Rock Airplay Chart. Then came The Teal Album, a fun album with 10 covers that range from good to great. A month and a half after that was The Black Album which has its moments for sure but it falls flat on its face after Living in L.A. At the end of 2019, the Hella Mega Tour was announced with Weezer opening for Fall Out Boy and Green Day, also announcing their next album, Van Weezer, and dropping the amazing teaser track End of the Game with super heavy lead guitars and a lot of RAWK AND ROLL energy in a good way. We also got Hero in May of last year and I love the childlike innocence of the lyrics and how it sort of morphed into a song about essential workers and how they were heroes to us in these strange times.

But now Van Weezer has been pushed back to May of this year and out of nowhere, we have this Weezer album. We had one teaser track, All My Favorite Songs, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. It's really bold for a Weezer song with a lot of strings and not any noticeable guitars. But reading into this album, it makes sense as this album was recorded with no electronic or synthetic instruments. They even made sure to clarify that there wasn't even any electric guitar on the album. So, naturally, this album piqued my interest. It's an interesting concept for a band to record an album in today's day and age without any electronic or synthetic instruments, it's an even more interesting concept for Weezer to do it, a band who has made their name on huge guitar riffs. So, I was excited to give this album a shot but you know what, maybe I set my expectations a little too low. 

When this album first got announced, given the title, I expected this album to be Weezer's Radiohead moment but if anything, it's their Beatles moment. Across 12 songs and 30 minutes, Weezer's experiments pan out in the best way possible. The orchestra and string arrangments on here are fantastic and somehow replace all of the guitar riffs while still keeping the same energy. I also have to point out how well these songs flow together and the transitions on this album are crazy good. I don't know what kind of black magic happened in the studio but I really can't say I hate anything on this album. 

According to Cuomo, the song Aloo Gobi has aged horribly. He wrote it about being stuck in the same social routine but now that COVID is with us, he has stated that he took it for granted. In the song, he sings about not wanting to sit next to humans at a movie theater because he's "agoraphobic," meaning that he gets anxious in situations where he is uncomfortable and can't find an easy way out. The themes of being stuck in the cycle really make themselves present on the chorus and 2nd verse, singing about how his days are the "same old dull routines / same aloo gobi." I also love that "Walking down Montana OOOH OOoh ooOH" chorus. The way the strings build on the song is fantastic too. The song Grapes of Wrath is where this album's themes of isolation and being stuck at home start to come through as the song lyrically is about covering up with a blanket, putting on headphones, and listening to books on Audible. He sings in the chorus:

I'm gonna rock my Audible
Headphone, Grapes of Wrath
Drift off to oblivion
I just don't care, I just don't care

The song Numbers is a slow burner about the impact of numbers on the world. Rivers sings about how numbers determine everything we can and can't do today, singing in the second verse "They say that you're too short to join the team / And your IQ's too low for poetry." I also really love the opening line of the song where Rivers sings "There's always a number that'll make you feel bad about yourself." I also think Rivers' vocal performance on the song is awesome. He goes from this super tense and anxious voice in the verses to pulling out this amazing falsetto throughout the choruses. It's like Rivers is genuinely scared about numbers impact. Playing My Piano is another song about being stuck at home but it's much sweeter as this one has some more family values in it. The lyrics on the song are also extremely timely and I know they're gonna age horribly but given the world we live in right now, he sings about how he hasn't washed his hair in 3 weeks and how he "should get back to these Zoom interviews." The main point of this song is that he gets so absorbed in playing his piano that he loses track of everything around him even going so far as to saying that "Kim Jong Un could blow up my city, I'd never know." The choruses on the song are grand with a rush of strings and some fluttering piano notes. Right after this is the song Mirror Image which is without a doubt the best song on this album. 

And that also kind of hurts to say because it's one of the shortest songs on here as well. This song is classic Weezer through and through and Rivers' lyrics on the song are some of his best in a long long time. The first half of the song is Rivers singing about how his wife completes him, singing:

She is my mirror image
Showing me who I am
Until the day that we shatter
She helps me understand

I also love the voice memo outro of the song with Rivers singing some sadder lyrics about how Heaven has forgotten about him and that it's even shut the door on him. I also love the vocal harmonies in the background of the second half of the chorus, they fit in so nicely. I honestly don't think this song has a single flaw besides the fact that it needs to be longer. Screens is a song with Rivers fearing the world becoming even more technologically advanced. He sings in the chorus about how as the real world dies "everyone moves to the cloud." He also sings about a young girl in the first verse who's having a tough time deciding between "homework or memes, slime or BLACKPINK." It's a random reference but it's funny so I won't complain. The huge buildups to and in the chorus are fantastic however, this is one song where I wish we could have those electric guitars back but I won't complain. The song Bird With A Broken Wing is a song that Rivers wrote about feeling irrelevant and "past his prime," and with that in mind, this song stings. The chorus is super self-deprecating with Rivers singing:

Now I'm just a bird with a broken wing
And I still have a song to sing
Turning night to day, warbling clouds away
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

The instrumental on this song is fantastic however and it really helps the sad lyrics feel sadder in a way. It almost feels like something from a movie scene where a character is out on a boat in the middle of the sea while it pours down rain. I don't know, just the vibe I get. 

Dead Roses is the only song on this album I would consider a miss not because it's a bad song, I just think it pales in comparison to the rest of these songs. I also think that the song just sort of builds up and then gives us nothing. Here Comes The Rain gets the album over that small speed bump though and while I do think it's straight Beatles worship, I don't care, this song is fantastic. It's a lot happier sounding and the pianos on this song are almost like Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da or Lady Madonna. Rivers lyrics on the song are sort of tongue-in-cheek singing how the rain makes him and his umbrella look like the Morton Salt girl. The chorus is amazing and I can't wait to hear this song live. The album ends with La Brea Tar Pits and being honest, I think it's a little underwhelming. It's such a soft note to bow out on and I wish that either Here Comes The Rain or Numbers ended this album but I won't complain too much. The song once again shows Rivers singing about losing relevancy singing about how he's sinking in the "La Brea Tar Pits" of LA and doesn't want to die "'cause there's still so much to give." I do really like the string outro that closes the album and even if I do wish it was a little grander. I can't really complain. 

So all in all, I really enjoyed this album. Sure, there were a few spots where I would've preferred there to be some distorted guitar instead of strings but that's just me. And while the lyrics aren't ever the most important part of a Weezer album, I'm really happy to see how introspective and personal Rivers got on this album. Sure there were some misses and I don't think some of these songs will age well, I'm pleasantly surprised with Rivers' pen game on here. We already know Van Weezer is coming next but I honestly hope that Weezer can put together an album in the future that blends these string sounds and their trademark rock sound. In the meantime, see you in May for the Van Weezer review and please give this album a shot if you can. 

I would rate
OK Human
by Weezer


This album is on all streaming services now and physical copies are set to be released on February 12th. 

Listen to OK Human on streaming here:

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