Weezer Cast the Guitars Aside — and Thrive — with the Intimate and Inspired ‘OK Human’ (Album Review)


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Rock Cellar Magazine
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Rivers Cuomo and his pals in Weezer are back with a new album, but don’t hit play on OK Human expecting anything remotely close to “Hash Pipe,” “Pork and Beans,” “Buddy Holly” or even “Island in the Sun.” Don’t expect the Weezer you know.

This warning refers to both the 1990s alt/pop/emo Weezer of the beloved self-titled Blue Album and its follow-up, the then-underappreciated Pinkerton, as well as the more eccentric, hit-and-miss Weezer of recent years.

No, OK Human has no electric guitars. None. There are no “riffs,” at least in the traditional sense of the term. It’s an intimate, reflective, and hushed album leaning heavily on strings, the result of the band working with a 38-piece orchestra. Press releases for the album name-dropped Pet Sounds, Harry Nilsson, the Carpenters, and Radiohead (whose OK Computer inspired this album’s title), and with good reason.

The introduction to the album, “All My Favorite Songs,” was a tip-off of what Rivers and company were up to this time around:

The concerted effort from all involved here to craft a musical statement so far removed from the “typical” Weezer album is especially notable. And it’s very much by design, as Weezer said in a  statement:

During the summer of COVID-19 we grabbed our masks, hit the studio & began to chip away at what is now known as OK Human. An album that was made by a handful of humans using only analog technologies (including a 38 piece orchestra) for all of you humans to consume.

OK Human was made at a time when humans-playing-instruments was a thing of the past. All we could do is look back on ancient times when humans really mattered and when the dark tech-takeover fantasy didn’t exist. We used our instruments to connect to the 1960’s and 1970’s and, with the orchestra, back to the 18th and 19th centuries. We had no click track or loops or hi-tech sounds. Not even an electric guitar.

“Grapes of Wrath” is probably the closest thing on OK Human to “standard contemporary Weezer,” just with strings where the guitars would be. Take its hook, for example:

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

That wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 2019’s self-titled Black Album, for example.

Fourteen albums into their career, Weezer have more than earned the right to pull a sharp directional shift, if only for one album. That’s essentially what went on with 2009’s Raditude, a “party record” that featured co-writers, a guest spot from Lil’ Wayne and some curious song choices. But that’s what it wanted to be. An experiment.

Click here to pick up OK Human on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pick up OK Human on LP from our Rock Cellar Store

OK Human is also an experiment, but here’s the catch: This is good. Really, really good, in fact. Like “Numbers,” one of the album’s strongest songs, which features a soaring chorus pairing Cuomo’s vocals to an orchestral flourish that ought to become a classic Weezer track:

I hear the sadness in your laughter
So call on me and tell me what you need
Just call on me and tell me what you need

The hooky “Screens,” another highlight, is relatable to anybody mired in unplanned work-from-home situations during the pandemic, being distracted from responsibilities in favor of solitaire games and listening to K-Pop stars Blackpink.

“Dead Roses,” led by an ominous stringed darkness lurking in the background, is another undeniable highlight.

As is the cheery, 1970s-ish “Here Comes the Rain,” which occupies a creative space adjacent to Ben Folds, quirky piano plucks and a non-linear structure charging forth until a massive Cuomo refrain.

Weezer had to put a pin in the planned Hella Mega Tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy last summer, which also put the “arena rock” album Van Weezer on pause as well. That record’s still coming out (in May, ahead of the rescheduled tour, should that actually take place), but they definitely found a new inspiration in the COVID-19 mandated lockdowns of the past year.

This a very … human effort, for lack of a better word. My wife is upstairs/My kids are upstairs/And I haven’t washed my hair in three weeks, sings Cuomo on “Playing My Piano,” noting that he should get back to “these Zoom interviews,” for example. Who can’t relate to that, especially right now?

OK Human runs by in a tidy 31 minutes. It’s over nearly as quickly as it begins, a concise statement of surprising depth and layers. It’s a reward to those who’ve stuck with Weezer over the years, through all of the highs, lows, and everything else. It also sounds fantastic on headphones, a compliment to producer Jake Sinclair.

Expect the unexpected with OK Human. While stylistically unique, it’s very much a Weezer record … just not the Weezer you’ve come to anticipate. And that’s a compliment to all involved.

Stream OK Human below, via Spotify.


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