Weezer – OK Human
Released January 29th, 2021 on Atlantic Records
In the mid-1990s Weezer put out two classic albums of fuzzed-out alt-rock. The first, a self-titled effort referred to ever after as the Blue Album, sold scads and seemed tailor-made to keep the crowds jumping in the wake of the death of Kurt Cobain. The second, Pinkerton, sold much less well and was regarded with suspicion or outright derision by critics; it would go on, both despite and because of it it’s inherent toxic creepiness, to be a major touchstone for sensitive emo bands who would point to the album as a way to cover for more obscure references like Mineral and Texas Is The Reason. In the wake of the initially poor sales of Pinkerton, however, the band went on hiatus. They came back for a ten-year run starting in 2001 that started strong enough with the Green Album but eventually devolved into boneheaded contemporary pop-rock and ended with naming an album and crafting the cover art after a character from Lost. Sick of people telling them that they sucked, they went on hiatus again. They came back in 2014, because they don’t know any better. That’s really the biggest problem with Weezer: they think that if they just keep making albums they’ll be able to outrun the people rolling their eyes at every new release. They’ll release a karaoke album like the “Teal Album” they did in 2019, which likely ranks among the worst covers albums ever recorded.
Then there’s OK Human. When Weezer sticks to what they’re good at – big guitars and dumb fun – they’re at least passingly tolerable. 2005’s “Red Album” was bad, but at least it was fist-in-the-air bad. “Beverley Hills” was the most obvious song of the year but it was also ok, for big radio stomp. When they try to get slick and clever, though, things start to go south. The band’s entire Trump-era output has been a testament to the fact that when Rivers Cuomo writes in a pop mode he is entirely too sunny and saccharine. The melodies that he writes are the same regardless of the background music he’s setting them to, and what sounds good over saturated-gain power chords sounds less good over Vitamin D-soaked airtight studio pop production. Hence we come to the problem with OK Human. This is a collection of Rivers Cuomo songs set to a 38-piece orchestra and driven by a copy of that record where Harry Nilsson sings Randy Newman. The whole thing sounds pretentious; it’s unfortunate, since they’re at least trying something new, but new doesn’t always mean better. Cuomo tries his hand at more personal songwriting, something that has fallen by the wayside in the last twenty years, but can’t help but mar this with shallow lines that scan badly and sound worse. “Grapes of Wrath”, which is ostensibly a tribute to escapism through reading, devolves into an Ernest Cline-esque checklist that ends in product placement for Audible. “Playing My Piano”, also a tribute to escapism, starts off relatable: “My wife is upstairs, my kids are upstairs / And I haven’t washed my hair in three weeks / I should get back to these Zoom interviews / But I get so absorbed and time flies”; after this, however, the whole thing falls apart into a dashed-off chorus about playing his piano and singing his tunes. “Bird With A Broken Wing” uses a bizarre metaphor about being a once-mighty hunting bird to tell a story about how hard done by he is that he’s no longer the culturally relevant rock ‘n’ roll icon he once might have been. “Here Comes The Rain” is that most terrible of ideas, a song sticking up for Sam Harris. This is just a dip into the songs contained here; the others are just as awkward in their own way. It’s nice to see the band try something beyond either three-chord stomps or slick L.A. pop, but it’s severely undermined by the banality of modern existence, which Cuomo seems to be mired in but cannot channel into meaningful artistic statements. Better luck next time; I hear it’s going to be more high-flying guitar hijinks with the painful name of Van Weezer. If it’s along the lines of the stuff the band has been putting out lately, hard pass. If it’s more like Maladroit, the underrated 2002 follow-up to the Green Album, then maybe.