Title: OK Human
Label: Atlantic / Crush
Genre: Rock / Pop
Released: 29 January 2021
1. All My Favourite Songs
2. Aloo Gobi
3. Grapes of Wrath
5. Playing My Piano
6. Mirror Image
8. Bird with a Broken Wing
9. Dead Roses
10. Everything Happens for a Reason
11. Here Comes the Rain
12. La Brea Tar Pits
"She is my mirror image
Showing me who I am
Until the day that we shatter
She helps me understand"
For some people, writing great pop music is just second nature. They somehow just understand the exact right way to make a song click using the right chords, melodies, and instruments. And Rivers Cuomo is one of those people. In 1994, the first Weezer record, now referred to as “The Blue Album”, was released, and instantly showed Cuomo’s incredible talent for making amazing pop-rock bangers. And after that, with the more abrasive “Pinkerton”, he proved this once again, creating the band’s second timeless classic in only two years. However, after this brief ‘golden age’ in their discography, Weezer has become notorious for having an incredibly inconsistent collection of albums throughout the 2000’s and 2010’s. As someone who hasn’t actually gone and listened to every Weezer album that released throughout this period, though, I can’t speak directly from experience. So, my opinion on the band stretches about as far as those first two albums, as well as “Everything Will Be Alright in the End”, The White album from 2016, and their previous release before this: The Black Album. But considering I found that last album to be pretty weak in comparison to the rest of what I’ve heard, I didn’t really know what to think when I heard the band were releasing a new album in January. On top of this, the name “OK Human” made me pretty reluctant towards the project. Naming your album in reference to something that is considered a masterpiece by many just seemed a bit conceited and trite to me at first.
However, I was wrong to be concerned at all about either of these things. For starters, if this album proves anything, it’s that Weezer’s first two albums were no flukes. When Rivers Cuomo wants to make amazing pop music full of heart, he can do that at the drop of a hat. And that is exactly what he’s done here with “OK Human”. And although I still find the name to be fairly strange, since there doesn’t really seem to be any explicit correlation to Radiohead’s “OK Computer” throughout the album, this is honestly good enough of a record that it no longer seems overconfident in any way for Cuomo to name it this.
I listened to “OK Human” first with almost no expectations. And by the second time I’d heard it, only an hour later, I basically knew most of the songs already. This isn’t because they’re generic, but they’re so perfectly written that they make you wonder why that exact song hadn’t already been written and become a hit already. And the answer to why that’s the case is because Rivers Cuomo is the only person who could have written them. Almost every song on here is absolutely stunning, from both a compositional and production standpoint. “OK Human”, although sounding like classic Weezer through-and-through, is almost entirely orchestrally based. Rather than using the noisy, distorted guitars of “Blue”, or “Pinkerton”, each track has swirling, gorgeously composed strings that somehow work perfectly with Cuomo’s vocals. And this was another concern I had going into the album which was immediately alleviated as soon as I heard it. An entirely orchestrally backed Weezer album sounds pretty eyeroll-worthy on paper, but it works far better than it has any right to here. And while the lyrics are by far the most mixed-bag aspect of the record, with some of it being a little cringe-inducing at times, there’s also some surprisingly great writing throughout the album.
The album kicks off with its leading single, ‘All My Favourite Songs’, which is a beautiful and charming introduction with strings that sound vaguely reminiscent of a more exuberant version of The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. Its slightly corny, but still manages to hold a fair bit of weight in its lyrics despite this. And most importantly, it’s an absolutely incredible pop track that is an instant earworm. And this something that is a recurring characteristic throughout the entire album. “OK Human” has hardly been out even for a week, and I’ve already had the majority of the album stuck in my head from one time to another.
From here, ‘Aloo Gobi’ continues on from the opener by delivering another extremely solid and instantly likeable song, with more of a focus on piano than the previous track. As well as being incredibly solid in its own right, it also introduces one of the album’s other great features: song transitions. Almost every song on “OK Human” leads on from the last, creating a sense of coherence that is unmatched from anything that I’ve personally heard from the band in the past. Some of the transitions between tracks, such as between ‘Playing My Piano’ and ‘Mirror Image’, are even highlights of the album, and the orchestral suite brings an almost musical-theatre quality to these moments. And this first transition between ‘Aloo Gobi’ and ‘Grapes of Wrath’ is one of the slickest on the record, too, shifting suavely from ‘Aloo’s’ endlessly catchy chorus, directly into the moody string intro of the next track.
‘Grapes of Wrath’ is a pretty weird song that sounds like a product placement deal with audible that’s been thrown into the album. It sounds so incredibly good, with the hook being one of the most infectious on the whole record, but it’s also where some of the lyrics start to raise some eyebrows. The whole track revolves around Cuomo singing about his favourite books, and finding entertainment and comfort though listening to audiobooks throughout quarantine. It’s a bit difficult to tell if it’s cute or cringeworthy at first, but the song in general is just too captivating and fun to really care by the second or third listen. And on top of this, it’s followed by one of the best tracks on the album, ‘Numbers’, which despite my lack of knowledge on Weezer’s back-catalogue, has to be one of their most beautiful songs to date. It has such a gorgeous and melancholy chorus that makes the track feel as though it may have even worked better as the album’s closer. However, it performs just as well where it sits in the track-listing, and is absolutely one of “OK Human’s” best moments by far.
Cuomo continues the references to living in quarantine in the soaring ‘Playing my Piano’, which has some of the best and most interesting compositional choices in the record; morphing into a playful musical-esque section during its bridge, as well as including another unsurprisingly excellent hook. The track has Cuomo using his love for (you may have guessed it) playing the piano, to help work through the loneliness and anxiety of life during the Coronavirus pandemic, describing it as a sense of escapism from daily worries. While the lyrics are slightly cheesy at times, the sentiment is certainly there, and it’s expressed through Cuomo’s excellent and emotional performance. And while speaking of excellent and emotional performances, its impossible to not mention the very next song, ‘Mirror Image’, which is not only absolutely beautiful sounding, but it has some of the most mature and intimate lyrics I’ve personally ever heard from Cuomo. It’s only very short, feeling almost like a coda to the previous track, but it’s incredibly effective, and from what it lacks in length it makes up for in heart.
This excellent streak of quality tracks continues throughout the next few songs, with ‘Screens’, ‘Bird with a Broken Wing’, and the absolutely phenomenal ‘Dead Roses’. The latter two of these are particularly excellent, but ‘Dead Roses’ is one of my personal favourites from the album, with a beautiful, mournful performance from Cuomo, as he laments over the death of someone close. It’s an affecting point on the record, and an instance where the symphonic choice of instrumentals aligns in an absolutely perfect moment. It’s then followed by a short interlude before transitioning into the next song: ‘Here Comes the Rain’.
‘Here Comes the Rain’ sounds almost like a Bill Wurtz song, with an extremely upbeat, quirky, and fun chorus that constantly remains stuck in my head for hours and hours after I’ve listened to the album. It’s colourful, vibrant and includes some great string and piano sections that sound absolutely excellent. Much like the rest of the album, the production is absolutely impeccable here, with the only let down of the track coming with its lyrics, which once again suffer slightly from their lack of depth. It’s some pretty cute songwriting, but doesn’t stretch much further than that. And from here, the album concludes with ‘La Brea Tar Pits’, which unfortunately isn’t one of the better moments on the record. Where I think ‘Numbers’ could have delivered a cathartic and worthy resolution to “OK Human”, ‘La Brea’ doesn’t really do much for me. There isn’t anything wrong with it; it’s a pretty decent song, however as the album’s closer it falls a bit flat, especially after such a consistently amazing collection of tracks. It ends with a strange, dissonant string line, which is slightly interesting, but all in all, this is the only song on the album which ends up feeling quite underwhelming. And while the album doesn’t necessarily stick the landing perfectly because of this, the majority of the music on “OK Human” is still absolutely excellent either way.
I walked into this album not really knowing what to expect. I’d heard that Weezer had put out a wildly inconsistent collection of albums over the last two decades, and I really wasn’t sure whether this would be another instance of the gods flipping a coin every time the band puts out an album. However, to me this just went to prove that Cuomo fully understands how to write excellent music, and is entirely capable whenever his heart is in it. I really loved “OK Human”, and it’s given me the motivation and interest to revisit the rest of the band’s work, despite their reputation. Although I haven’t been entirely sold on the sound of their next album coming out later this year, “Van Weezer”, I’m once again cautiously optimistic that it’ll come out as another great record. And if “OK Human” is indicative of the level of quality that the band can hit even 27 years after their debut, then Weezer could certainly have a great decade ahead of them.
"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"