Weezer are getting awfully brave in their old age, aren’t they? Granted, that isn’t a new phenomenon per se – this is the band who released Raditude with a totally straight face, after all – but it feels as though playing fast and loose with how much people are willing to tolerate from them has become a shtick they’ve taken to more readily in recent years. Weezer albums are released at a closer proximity to each other nowadays than ever before, but that’s rarely felt like the result of some creative hot streak. Hell, you’d be hard pressed to say they’ve put out a good one since 2016, but because Rivers Cuomo has developed a penchant for really seeing what he can get away with, Weezer have been given the opportunity to faceplant time and time again, and never seem to get all that worse off for it. Maybe that’s a result of expectation, where Weezer’s lack of self-seriousness and their craving for a share of the modern pop-rock pie have become well-known, but the fact that these albums keep getting shovelled out feels like a product of the enablement that’s surrounded this band for so long. Yes, everyone laughed along with the surprise covers album they released just a month before their highly-teased Black Album, but conveniently ignored how it was a distraction tactic for how bad that album actually was. But this almost feels like a completely different animal entirely, where not only had Van Weezer been teased since 2019, but it actually sounded like it was going to be good. The End Of The Game and Hero are both great songs, and while it’s not entirely Weezer’s fault that COVID saw them delay the album by an entire year, it still begs the question of what OK Human is actually doing here, and what it’s looking to accomplish. This is a new height of self-cannibalism for Weezer; this is a brand new, original album, not a covers record, and thus there’s a built-in sense of meaning that this carries that the circumstances of its release seem to want to scupper at every turn. And yet, when it’s dropping in the cycle for a completely different album that’s still due to come out in May, it’s hard to know what to make of that from any perspective.
And even when the album when the album is actually here to listen to, that hasn’t really changed. The most concrete conclusion that can be drawn is that it feels like an appropriate album for Weezer to release now; in the run-up to the big, brash, celebratory nature of Van Weezer, a more sombre, low-key lockdown album at least fits. But it still doesn’t answer the question of what exactly OK Human adds to anything when, beyond the baroque-pop styling, Weezer just seem as though they’re running on autopilot. It doesn’t have the egregious moments they’ve been all too happy to dish out in recent years, but that would at least make for something mildly interesting to talk about. Without that, OK Human is just a less excessive version of where Weezer’s last handful of albums have gone, trying to get something down and pull in those who want constant gratification, without the quality control to ensure what they’re doing is actually, y’know, gratifying.
That’s been one of the more annoying trends with Weezer lately, too – their albums just feel so threadbare and weightless, as if the consequences of shovelling them out to such a degree are starting to catch up. It’s why, for as low as the bar is to clear, it’s nice that there’s some actual charm brough back occasionally, when it’s been replaced by coasting for so long. Rivers settling down with an audiobook on Grapes Of Wrath or getting lost in his own music on Playing My Piano make for cute images, and there’s a genuinely nice whimsy to Here Comes The Rain and how he sees it as a sign of hope and renewal. Beyond that though – and beyond the utterly tired complaints about technology on Screens – this just feels like Weezer going through the motions in depressingly normal fashion, bringing the same lack of imagination that’s so negatively coloured their last few albums. They’ve got some better word choices than most on Aloo Gobi and La Brea Tar Pits, but these are the sort of songs that feel as though they’re ticking off every convention of a lockdown album as they go, highlighting loneliness, boredom and the hope that something better might come from it. Also, because Weezer are utterly terrified at coming across as out of touch or irrelevant (something which the mere existence of Screens only seems to negate), they’ll pepper in references to streaming The Walking Dead, Zoom and Blackpink, but they really don’t amount to much beyond the line-grabs. To be fair, they aren’t as cynically injected as Weezer have been wont to do in the past, but you almost wish they were, if only to make the album feel less horrendously milquetoast. Better technical writing aside, there’s really no impact to be had for the majority of OK Human, and the shorter song lengths and overall breezier pace almost end up feeling like a retread of Pacific Daydream in its overall ephemerality.
To Weezer’s credit though, they’ve at least picked up a more distinct sound here, as they’ve doubled down on the strings and baroque-pop touches that are clearly drawing from The Beatles, but at least sound different in the context of the band’s catalogue. At its best, it fits in with the playfulness that can at least be refreshing coming from Weezer, like in the ticking, slightly sharpened groove of Grapes Of Wrath or the transposed Pretty Woman riff on Screens. It’s a wise move to keep it sounding more intimate as well; Bird With A Broken Wing might seek out the album’s greatest moment of bombast, but generally, there’s a nice amount of restraint that’s maintained in what feels like the closest that Weezer are going to come a bedroom-pop style. But as modern Weezer albums have not ceased to show, the production is really letting them down at this point, and while the abundance of strings can mask quite a bit, the guitar presence is universally gutless, and the fake, weary slap of the drums can be really distracting when they punch through the mix like they do. There’s occasionally some thumping bass work that’s good, but that can’t really rectify how dry this album sounds, as opposed to the prim stateliness they were presumably going for. And then there’s Rivers as a singer, and while he’s not been that great for a while, moments like Numbers and Dead Roses betray an immense weakness in his lower range, as he tries to sound vulnerable in a way that his broader voice just isn’t accustomed to. It’s probably the closest that OK Human comes to meeting its slapdash preconceptions, and while it’d be unfair to tar the entire thing with that same descriptor, it’s still not a very engaging listen all the same. It sounds nice in places, but in the same way that writing doesn’t have much depth, it’s a not a sound that’s explored all that thoroughly, nor does it give Weezer much room to modulate between arranged, mid-tempo ballads.
At this point though, it’s hard to really call this a disappointing album. Weezer have been trafficking in those for years, to the point where it’s effectively the new normal, and to have a less-than-stellar album at least try to sound distinct makes for a point in their favour. But at the same time, OK Human feels strikingly similar in what it is to The Teal Album, as a fast-tracked release before another, considerably more anticipated album that doesn’t exude any sort of staying power. No one is going to call OK Human their favourite Weezer album at any point in time, because it’s simply not built to be that, and instead comes across more like the band twiddling their thumbs before their more important release drops. You’ve almost got to respect the brazenness of it all, where Weezer believe that people are craving new music from them so badly that they can’t wait another four months, but again, this isn’t going to satisfy anyone that much, probably not even until Van Weezer comes out. It’s misguided more than outright bad, and for Weezer in 2021, that’s a step up, but it still can’t be used as a point in this album’s favour. OK Human just kind of exists in a between-album limbo, where it’ll presumably be forgotten as quickly as it was announced given that it’s really not much of anything to write home about. And when Van Weezer does come out, that’ll likely be even more true.
For fans of: The Beatles, The Byrds, Twenty One Pilots
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘OK Human’ by Weezer is out now on Crush Music / Atlantic Records.