Photo Credit: Sean Murphy
Last summer Weezer had been scheduled to set out on a stadium tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy, which needless to say was not able to come to fruition. Like many artists who were forced to deviate from their planned roadwork because of COVID restrictions, Weezer seemingly chose to shift their focus to studio work. But they still ended up with a crowd…of sorts: in addition to the four members of the band, no less than twenty-three other musicians appear Weezer’s fourteenth studio album, OK Human.
While the title is an obvious reference to that of Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer, Weezer’s OK Human takes much of its inspiration from somewhat older material, specifically the unprecedentedly ambitious (for the time), orchestra-heavy work that the Beatles and the Beach Boys had spent much of 1966 and 1967 on. Strings and/or horn sections appear on every track of OK Human, and overall the results are pleasant but hardly groundbreaking, not even within just Weezer’s own (mostly very good) body of work.
Opening the album with what almost sounds like a minuet on “All My Favorite Songs” is bound to provoke either curiosity or fear in longtime Weezer fans, but fortunately the tempo picks up a couple of bars in. The lyrics, then, both cleverly and honestly reflect the feelings of isolation that nearly everyone experiences at one time or another, but which may have been exasperated many times over by the events of the past year (“I like parties, but I don’t go // Then I feel bad when I stay home”).
“Dead Roses”, arguably the album’s best track, features a strong, British ‘80s-style hook as well as the downer-ish motif suggested by the title (“… now I’m crying over dead roses”). But of course we know from Weezer’s history (now twenty-seven years and counting) that the light is always going to outweigh the heavy, which remains glaringly obvious on tracks like “Playing My Piano” (“I haven’t washed my hair in three weeks // I should get back to these Zoom interviews”). The layering of vocal tracks works quite well on “Mirror Image” (all 1:17 of it), while “Grapes of Wrath” starts out sounding like a forgotten James Bond theme before giving way to a bouncy ode to the joy of losing oneself in audiobook literature (not the most rebellious ideology ever suggested by rock ‘n’ roll, but here it works).
Although lead singer-guitarist and songwriter Rivers Cuomo had always administered pop hooks generously in his songs, Weezer have never quite wore a Beatles influence on their sleeve as much as Oasis or even the Foo Fighters. But while “Here Comes the Rain” and “Bird with a Broken Wing” almost smack of Beatles-like mutations of very specific Fab Four titles, a few of the tracks seem to take the scenic route through other artists influenced by them. “Rain”, for example, seems to have learned its ABCs from XTC and similar Beatles-influenced new wave bands.
Mid-tempo “La Brae Tar Pits” is a solid, pleasant album closer. There are times when OK Human sounds less like the Beatles or Beach Boys and more like songs by lesser ‘70s knockoffs that ended up as filler on TV-advertised K-Tel Super Hits collections. On the aforementioned “Here Comes the Rain”, for example, Cuomo does a traditional – or possibly clichéd – bring-it-all-home-type holding of a single note towards the end of the song. Is this supposed to be irony? It seems as though even after the final mix was completed and the album was released, Weezer was still deciding if – or to what degree – OK Human is a parody. Listeners will be the ones handing down the final verdict.