After album delays and postponed tours, Weezer is back with a brand new sound. Released Jan. 29, “OK Human” is the Los Angeles rockers’ 14th studio album.
The album’s title is a not-so-subtle nod to Radiohead’s 1997 album “OK Computer,” and similarly explores different aspects of anxieties surrounding technology and the age of social media. “OK Human” maintains a cohesive theme as the band shifts away from their typical fare and swaps heavy guitars for orchestral arrangements.
More baroque-pop than alt-rock, the record’s sound is unplugged and organic, a deliberate rejection of the technology explored in the lyrics of tracks like “Screens.” The band’s website states, “With all the chaos, we decided to ditch the computers, go back to analog and enlisted the help of a 38-piece orchestra to make the record.”
The album opens with “All My Favorite Songs,” which sets the tone for the project. Despite being written prior to the pandemic, it presciently encapsulates the disappointment, disillusionment and conflicted feelings surrounding the year 2020.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” frontman Rivers Cuomo laments over sweeping strings as a hopeful trumpet trills in the background.
On “Grapes Of Wrath,” the cello heartbeat that thrums through the record takes a darker and more aggressive tone. Cuomo namechecks several classic novels, portraying his use of audiobooks as a way to escape from the world around him.
“Drift off to oblivion / You think I care, I just don’t care,” he huffs dismissively, “I’m barely there.”
“Playing My Piano” likewise paints a picture of how music can be a way to cope with life under lockdown, even if it means shutting out family and responsibilities along with the outside world.
The songs flow together and, like daily life during a pandemic, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish where one melody ends and another begins. That said, the record is tightly paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tracks like “Mirror Image” say what they have to say before hurtling onward to the next song, but would do well to stay longer, to settle in a bit and get comfortable.
“Numbers” takes a turn for the somber and slightly paranoid, focusing on the myriad ways in which every aspect of modern life has been quantified and narrowed down to data.
“Numbers are out to get you / They’ll kill you if they get through,” Cuomo warns before extending a hand across the digital divide.
“I hear the sadness in your laughter / So call on me and tell me what you need.”
It’s a moment of genuine emotion, briefly dropping the shield of irony that has often been the band’s hallmark.
The penultimate track “Here Comes The Rain” bounces breezily along, buoyed by peppy piano and a whimsically catchy hook. The title calls to mind The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun,” which is fitting, as the strings for “OK Human” were recorded at Abbey Road Studios prior to lockdown.
Cuomo gets personal in the second verse, but his lighthearted tone belies the criticism and self-reflection therein.
“I got dirty / Just another punk that bit the dust / In the mirror / I could not recognize myself / The person I’d become,” he hums in his boyish tenor.
The record closes out with “La Brea Tar Pits,” an eclectic bop sung from the perspective of a prehistoric hunter trapped in the titular tar pits located just outside of Los Angeles, where the bodies of countless animals have been preserved over the centuries.
Cuomo explained the lyrics in an interview with Upset Magazine, saying, “All those animals ended up extinct, so I think it was a metaphor for me feeling like the world has evolved beyond me and I’m going extinct, and no matter what I try to do, I’m just stuck here in this tar.”
The melody is bright and upbeat in spite of the macabre lyrics, and it’s one of the best tracks on the album. Like the narrator in the tar pit, the song doesn’t go down easy, winding down into warm and slightly discordant string harmonies.
Though it may be a divergence from Weezer’s usual vibe, the album is definitely worth checking out. Clocking in at 30 minutes, “OK Human” is a brief listen, perfect for a break between Zoom meetings.
“OK Human” is available on Spotify, iTunes and other streaming platforms.