Music Mondays: Weezer's "OK Human"
Following a run of disappointing and critically panned albums, which marked a departure from the band’s past authenticity, Weezer staged a return to their gloriously dorky and emotionally vulnerable form with their surprise new release: “OK Human.” Juxtaposing the bloatedness and disingenuity of their last two releases (the malfitting covers of the “Teal Album” and the overproduced pop-car-crash of the “Black Album”) Rivers Cuomo and company strip bare both sonically and lyrically to create their most direct and intimate project since their heyday in the 90s. And now could not be a more fitting moment for this recalibration.
With “OK Human,” Cuomo offers his interpretation of a quarantine album, pulling both from the collective despondency of the current moment and a deeply personal vulnerability reminiscent of their 1996 album, “Pinkerton.” The intersection of these elements meshes to produce a version of “Pinkerton”’s raw emotionality revised and refurbished for the quarantine generation and for a matured Cuomo. Instead of aimlessly venting his internal angst like in the past, Rivers channels his discontent into something contrived and eloquent by Weezer’s standards. It’s something that demonstrates the 26 years of growth and maturation that they have experienced since 1994 with the release of their seminal “Blue Album.”
This maturity is reflected in a change in instrumentation, as the band trades their usual nerdy guitar heroism for an uncharacteristic but fitting marriage with classical string orchestration and Cuomo’s piano playing. Despite these drastic changes, the band is able to retain their usual pop sentimentality, and the shift in instrumentation substitutes seamlessly without sacrificing the classic Weezer sound.
This is especially apparent on tracks such as album highlight “Aloo Gobi,” where the idiosyncratic lyrics, Cuomo’s recognizable vocals and the masterful, catchy chorus scream Weezer, yet it’s all accompanied by evocative strings and playful piano. The track sounds as if it could fit perfectly between the songs of their earlier albums, yet the exchange of instruments is just distinct enough to be fresh and interesting.
Cuomo explicates this change from a personal perspective on the track “Playing My Piano,” where he frames his piano playing as a distraction from the struggle and monotony of quarantine life. And this adds a layer of meaning and relatability to the instrumental shift with lines such as, “I should get back to the Zoom interview, but I get so absorbed and time flies.” This infuses the tracklist with a personal essence, and it becomes apparent that the creation of this album was Cuomo’s quarantine project. This puts the ruminatory tone of the album into context, as the isolation of quarantine forced Rivers, as it did all, to reflect upon the state of the world and the state of oneself.
Rivers can be heard introspecting throughout “OK Human” with his typical blunt and cheesy lyricism, which gives the album a more relatable tone and makes its messaging more easily resonant. This is demonstrated on tracks such as “Grapes of Wrath,” where Rivers discusses his use of literature as a method of escapism and how this can often make him distant and apathetic to real life, singing, “I’m gonna rock my audible headphones “Grapes of Wrath.” / Drift off to oblivion. / I just don’t care, I just don’t care.” This sentiment is punctuated with a driving drum beat and percussive strings that accentuate the hissing lyrics.
He dives into similar themes on the opening track “All My Favorite Songs,” where he discusses his self-destructive tendencies such as primarily listening to depressive music and favoring people who anger him, singing, “I love parties, but I don’t go. / Then I feel bad, when I stay home.” The simplicity and directness of the lyrics makes the album all the more revealing, as if the listener is peering into Cuomo’s unsculpted thoughts.
Despite the often sad and self-depreciative tone of the album, there are glimpses of light that offer solace and comfort to both Cuomo himself and to those listening. On the track “Mirror Image,” he divulges his love of his wife and the interdependence that they share atop soaring strings and crashing cymbals with lines such as, “She is my mirror image, showing me who I am.” Also near the end of “Aloo Gobi,” Rivers reassures listeners and himself of their worth by repeating, “You are not alone,” which is a sentiment that is especially necessary within the isolation of quarantine.
With “OK Human” Weezer redeems itself and creates a body of work that matches the quality and resonance of its classics, while diverging from them enough to be refreshing. The combination of the bittersweet strings and Cuomo’s straightforward and revealing lyricism create a perfect representation of quarantine life and contains a quality of emotion and messaging that will live long after quarantine ceases.
This article was previously published at thecollegianur.com.