Weezer was my high school art teacher’s all-time favorite band, and thus I was unwilling subject to at least several hours’ worth of their discography through my high school years. I remember positively none of it. Weezer’s hidden superpower is being a great close listening experience just as much as entirely unnoticeable background music, so I’m coming into this review as a relative band virgin, with no preset expectations.
When COVID first struck, one of my first thoughts were “man, indie music is gonna surge in this environment”. Well, okay, those weren’t exactly my first thoughts but it came to mind. A grounded genre celebrating the melancholies of the status quo seems perfect for a world where status quo is aggressively enforced by health guidelines. And yet, it didn’t. In fact, aside from a slight influx in depressing ballads, the music world seems fairly intent on either shrugging the virus off, or ignoring it completely. Party jams are still coming out. Brag rap and bro-country haven’t really left the stage, at least not long-term.
Not this album however. An almost completely unadvertised prelude to Weezer’s May 2021 tribute to Eddie Van Halen (creatively titled “Van Weezer”), “OK Human” is a strange album in that it’s a comeback to the band’s indie rock roots, all the while trying to adopt a somewhat new direction on the side.
Frontman Rivers Cuomo has stated that the album was intended to adopt a more grandiose, arena-friendly sound in lieu of Fall Out Boy – a band they have frequently toured with and worried being overshadowed by live. At the same time, the scaled-down themes of quarantine-induced withdrawal from socialization, together with somewhat dramatic instrumentation, and soft percussion and singing yields a strange, rocky, but at times robust package.
I’m extremely ambivalent on this album: with a bit more production, maybe a bit more effort, “OK Human” (a play on Radiohead’s “OK Computer”) could have really capitalized on the late-stage quarantine outlook on the world, and made for an experience that was both fun and relatable. When it hits, its somewhat uncanny combination perfectly fits the present mood – melancholic, but subtly jovial. Both grandiose in its expressive near-orchestral work, yet down-to-earth at the same time. The album’s headliner, “All My Favorite Songs”, to me perfectly encapsulates the experience of air-guitaring on a roll of gift wrap, still in pajamas at 5 pm, the music the only thing cutting through the silence of the once-robust street. It’s that late-stage quarantine mood, where societal standards are a semi-forgotten relic of a better past. The album initially captures this precise feeling impeccably, an upliftingly downtrodden bittersweet pill only indie power pop can provide.
The sudden drop
But, alas, I do have my issues. While the first five songs – yes, exactly five – are perfect examples of a well-trodden formula done by experienced artists – the quality drops off hard after that. Maybe they didn’t have time. Maybe “Van Weezer” took priority. More than likely having to make an impromptu album in quarantine had its technological limitations.
But in the nicest way possible, everything from “Mirror Image” up until “Dead Roses” feels like walking in on a middle school talent show. There’s janky vocalization (“Mirror Image”). Some half-hearted, almost OK boomer-worthy attempt at prolific commentary (“Sceens”). In a short period, it commits almost every cardinal sin power pop can commit.
Surprisingly enough after a few blunders “Dead Roses” does pick up the antisocial ecstasy felt in its first half. But it’s just not enough by that point to make me forget the bitter aftertaste.
Despite its whopping 38-piece orchestra, “OK Human” is definitively a COVID album. Even its noticeably weaker pieces can be arguably indicative of one’s deterioration during the lockdown. Perhaps it would deliver this message better with more focus, more attention, a few more weeks in production – but it’s clear that while there is effort, this album wasn’t any member’s top priority.
If you, like me, are new to Weezer, this makes for a good, brief five-song experience. How much further you want to go after depends on how much you like the band. As an overall short, relatable piece to hold you over until the supposedly much more resplendent “Van Weezer” comes along, it should do well. As an introduction, or worthwhile addition to this beloved band’s three-decade discography – it frankly flutters.