Credit: Press

Review: OK Human by Weezer

By Fred Bruce

Weezer brings a much-needed sonic shift on OK Human, and the result is the best album the band has released in decades.

The Weezer discography is, in diplomatic terms, tumultuous. Following a pair of decade-defining albums in the 90s, the California group struggled to find an identity in the new millennium. Releases ranged from the universally maligned Raditude to the downright great White in 2016. So, when Weezer announced a new record in the early days of the new year (as well as delaying the highly anticipated Van Weezer until later this year) – it’s fair to say all bets were well and truly off. 

The lead single, All My Favourite Songs, saw the band taking a notably more-focused approach to song-writing than past efforts. The instrumentation was unexpectedly lush with strings, and Rivers’ lyrics were poignant and more cohesive than he’d sounded in years. Weezer remains unrivalled in writing catchy, self-deprecating pop-rock tunes, and while All My Favourite Songs substitutes the typical crunchy guitars for a classical baroque arrangement, it is nonetheless the band at their best.

This turn toward chamber pop is maintained across all of the thirty-minute record, immediately marking OK Human out from the greater Weezer discography. The 38-piece orchestra allows for a far deeper, richer sound that brings something new on every listen. The album deals mainly in themes of isolation and nostalgia for the time before Covid-19, and the luxurious arrangements are crucial in building this sense of ethereality. OK Human also sees Rivers’ best lyricism this side of the millennium. There are moments on the album that rival Pinkerton in terms of emotional power, with the unfocused poetry-by-numbers that has mired much of modern Weezer thankfully absent. The overarching pandemic theme means Rivers is exploring his ideas in wonderful depth, such as the amazingly catchy pining for mundanity on the track Aloo Gobi. The track centres on the Cuomo family’s “boring” old routine that now seems heavenly in comparison to pandemic living. It’s one of the best cuts on the record, featuring an early contender for the catchiest hook of 2021. The whole album is littered with these earworm choruses. Like Grapes of Wrath, a track with a hook so catchy you can almost look past the whole song sounding like a three-minute ad for Audible.

Playing My Piano is a gorgeously composed reflection on the songwriting process in the 2020s. Rivers’ depiction of his family life and the escapism brought by music is stunning, and he’s backed by these dramatic, soaring strings that create a beautifully melancholic atmosphere. At times, OK Human can be genuinely haunting, such as when the strings dissipate on Mirror Image and we’re left with just a lo-fi recording of Rivers singing over a scant piano melody. Despite being just over a minute in length, the track makes for one of the most emotional moments in Weezer’s discography.

The subsequent tracks are probably the “weakest” on the album. Screens sees Rivers taking an oddly technophobic view on modern life which, even setting aside the band’s entwinement with social media, lacks the power of the preceding tracks. Bird with a Broken Wing is the longest on the album, coming to just under four minutes. While it certainly packs an emotional punch, neither the lyrics nor the instrumentals are among the strongest of the record, making it feel a little overlong. 

Dead Roses takes a similar dejected outlook, but is the better of the two songs. It’s a subdued track, quietly featuring incredibly poignant and mature lyrics from Rivers. It lifts the album out of the (brief) slump and into the strong final leg, which culminates in melancholic optimism on La Brea Tar Pits. Rivers uses the titular location as a vehicle for sad reflections on death and mortality, tempered by his reassurance that he still has much more to give. It’s the perfect closing for the album: a forlorn lamentation bathed in layers of luxurious instrumentation.

OK Human is not the record fans expected, especially given the glam rock sounds the band were producing on the Van Weezer singles. Instead, Weezer took a stylistic left turn and has come through with the catchiest and most emotionally resonant set of tracks since White (and possibly even before). It’s difficult to say where OK Human will rank across the band’s entire discography, and equally hard to see what the album means for their future. Whether its acclaim sees Rivers and co. taking more sonic risks or if this turns out to be a one-time oddity in their catalogue is pretty much unknowable. However, what can be said (loudly and repeatedly) is that OK Human is a fantastically warm chamber pop album and an absolute joy to listen to. 

Top Track: Aloo Gobi

Overall Rating: 9/10


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