Favorite Track: "Grapes of Wrath" Least Favorite Track: "Mirror Image'
As far as musical quality and critical acclaim goes, Weezer has had an incredibly rocky and unpredictable career. Their first album Weezer (Blue Album) was one of the most lauded records of the 90’s, mixing roaring alt-rock instrumentation with witty pop sensibility in a way that shone bright on tracks like “Surf Wax America” and the smash hit “Buddy Holly”. Their 1996 follow-up Pinkerton was much more raw, and to many fans, it didn’t manage to make the cut. The incredibly pained and somewhat intriguing immature views on love and sex present on Pinkerton were a fantastic exploration of a 26 year old frontman Rivers Cuomo, jaded by the newfound fame and success found from Weezer’s debut. After the album’s vulnerable nature ended up being publicly scrutinized by fans and critics alike, Weezer returned to more of the same pop-rock formulas present on their debut with Weezer (Green Album). Since then, all subsequent Weezer releases have held pop-rock styles in high regard despite the formula working against them heavily on nearly every album following 2002’s Maladroit. This resilience to criticism is one of the sole things keeping the band on track, as their intense love for the musical craft continues to lead them on a successful path no matter the musical blunders that would ensue.
After a somewhat disappointing 2019 for Weezer with their Weezer (Teal Album) and Weezer (Black Album) releases, the band retreated to the studio prior to the 2020 pandemic to begin work on their upcoming album Van Weezer. Lead single “The End of the Game” alluded to heavy Van Halen influence, leaving many classic rock fans heavily anticipating the upcoming release. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the release was delayed prompting them to begin work on another album which would eventually be known as OK Human. On the official Weezer twitter, the band explained that they took to the studio with a 38-piece orchestra, and an aim to make an album that is, at its core, “about feeling isolated, alienated and secluded - the perfect soundtrack for today.” The album captures a lot of the melancholic ideas and thoughts that come from being stuck in quarantine for so long, and also brings multiple tracks to the table about the sweet reliefs from said anxieties.
As far as quality goes, OK Human is the best return to form Weezer has had since 2016’s Weezer (White Album), and in numerous ways, it surpasses that record. The fun and quirky songwriting fans have come to expect from frontman Rivers Cuomo is more than present, the production on the record is top-notch, with each and every string inflection coming through crystal clear, and this record has some of the best performances the band has laid to tape, no question. Take the opening track, “All My Favorite Songs” for example; Rivers’ lyricism, although slightly basic, is enticingly melancholic. It explores the infatuation with sad music and conflict with people around you in the chorus, and reflects on the life of a rockstar on the verses. The piano and strings on the track are absolutely gorgeous, with Rivers’ climactic vocals taking hold on the chorus and leading the song to a soaring climax with one of the most infectious hooks on the record. The melancholy continues on cuts like “Numbers” and “Bird With A Broken Wing”, the former being a depressing and enlightening assessment of humanity’s obsession with quantifying worth in ourselves and the latter a deeply saddening examination of missed potential. The emotion on these tracks is palpable, accentuated perfectly by the stunning classical instrumentation.
The record does take multiple turns away from these sadnesses though, and takes an occasion lyrical direction in which the band discusses everyday activities that comfort them in times of need. “Playing My Piano” is a entrancing ballad about the simple joys of playing an instrument, with Rivers detailing his time spent “Poundin’ out the bass, singin’ out the tune”. The track is cute, to the point, and one of the most enjoyable songs Weezer has recorded in a long time. “Grapes of Wrath” is another track about simple pleasures, but this time Rivers finds his comfort in a somewhat odd place: the world of audiobooks. The chorus may run like an Audible plug, but it is impossible to not get sucked into the groovy strings and drums on this chorus. Rivers sings with such unmatched swagger here, the subject matter could be anything and still stick with the listener like glue.
With past Weezer releases, it was clear that the band was having a substantial amount of fun, but the end result was nothing more than disappointing. While it is easy to respect the band for following their own path, it can become aggravating for longtime fans to continue to see them fall flat with each passing release. Fortunately, OK Human is the much needed breather that followers of the band need. The songwriting is just as witty as the material on Weezer (Blue Album), the instrumentals and hooks are sticky and sweet like Weezer (Green Album), and the same sense of fun and unabashed love for the art of music is ever present on the record as well. The lyricism is occasionally cringey or out of touch, like on the seemingly anti-technology rager “Screens”, but it is hard to expect anything less from a band composed of late-40’s dads. Nothing about OK Human convinces the listener that Weezer is on a down-tick, instead, it is the exact opposite. OK Human is Weezer’s best album in nearly two decades, and fans and critics alike should rejoice at the remarkably fun and musically mature feat.