Weezer clash with the orchestra on OK Human
The best Weezer songs have always executed a tension between Rivers Cuomo's everyman quirks and his remarkable gift for pop melody. That balance was delicate even at their greatest moments, but over the years it's tipped, tilted, and fallen off the hinges entirely at points. Hardcore fans have mostly given up hope for another front-to-back classic from these guys, so being a Weezer fan for the last two decades has been equivalent to watching the Mets: you know they're going to let you down, so you're just rooting for a close enough game that doesn't require you to chuck the remote and storm out halfway through.
In that sense, OK Human isn't looking hopeful after the first few innings. After a pleasant realignment with their power-pop roots on 2014's muscular Everything Will Be Alright In The End and 2016's breezy Weezer (White Album), their long-lost momentum fizzled when they clumsily attempted du jour pop on 2017's Pacific Daydream. They followed that in 2019 by cashing in on their "Toto" virality with a covers album nobody asked for, and then released Weezer (Black Album) that same year, an awkward hodgepodge of cringey funk, uninspired disco, and irredeemable rap-rock.
Contrary to the Radiohead dad joke in its moniker, OK Human isn't another one of Weezer's funny albums. In fact, it's arguably the darkest and most personal record that Cuomo has written since his fans' beloved Pinkerton. It's also one of the most musically ambitious projects in their entire discography. Instead of reaching for his Strat to reconnect with the angst of his younger days, Cuomo wrote all of these songs on the piano and then enlisted a 38-piece orchestra to fan them out into ornate suites.
On their 2008 gem "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived," Weezer proved that a grand exaggeration of their non-pretentious pop-rock could actually land, and the first track on OK Human does just that. "All My Favorite Songs'' takes the bones of a great Weezer song — a sticky hook and lyrics about reveling in sadboy lonerism — and dresses them with majestic strings and glorious trumpet blasts. Save for a few cheesy rhymes, it's a strikingly well-written song, but it's sadly the only moment on the album that achieves true symbiosis between Cuomo and his players.
The mood throughout the rest of the record is driven by weepy strings, tragic piano notes, and dreary melodies that sag like a worn-out pillow as soon as they leave Cuomo's lips. Songs like "Numbers," "Bird With a Broken Wing," and "Dead Roses" muster convincing tenderness, but the elegance of their instrumentals is bungled by Cuomo's lazy lyricism.
The couple songs that do pick up the pace are similarly disjointed. "Aloo Gobi" tries to defy depressed stasis with a head-bobbing strut, but the cliché "You are not alone" makes for a lackluster payoff. "Grapes of Wrath" has a swift movement to it and features a strong bridge melody, but the lines that don't sound like sponcon for Amazon's Audible are almost too honest about Cuomo's lack of investment in what he's singing. "You think I care, I just don't care/I'm barely there," he snips with a brash detachment that clashes poorly with the considered symphonies he's sharing the mix with.
It's worth remembering that Weezer have always been a supremely corny band. Their most well-regarded album includes songs about taking a surfboard to work and singing alone in a garage full of comic books and Kiss posters. Even their brooding, misunderstood cult-favorite contains the lyric, "I'll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon" — and many other egregiously horny lines that don't bear repeating. The problem with OK Human isn't that Cuomo makes a facepalm-inducing Kim Jong-un reference and rhymes sad with bad, it's that there's not enough genuine pathos to outweigh the places where he can't help himself.
Instead, the fleeting moments of authenticity are hidden beneath a pile of hokey one-liners, spotty vocal performances, and awkward arrangements that rely on the accompanying orchestra to provide all of the emotional depth. After 25 years of burying his inner demons with stacks of California anthems and odes to girls who got hot, Cuomo is seemingly unable to produce the raw melancholia that once spilled from him in a way that was messy but compelling. OK Human is mostly just messy. C–