Of Sound Mind | Weezer’s “OK Human”

Of Sound Mind is a biweekly blog about new albums, old albums, forgotten albums, overrated albums and any other type of listening experience from senior staff writer Lucas DiBlasi.

By Lucas DiBlasi, Senior Staff Writer

Weezer is a very polarizing band, and for good reason. Its first two albums, the poppy, self-titled debut and the abrasive “Pinkerton,” are incredible, but since then the band has bounced between styles rapidly and with varying levels of quality.

Its newest stylistic shift, however, has paid off completely.

Weezer’s newest album, “OK Human,” released on Jan. 29, is a wide-ranging effort, full of high-quality songwriting that mixes a 38-piece orchestra with a rock band in a highly successful, Beatles-reminiscent move.

The Weezer fanbase, like all fanbases, is complicated, but can be split into two broad camps (with some overlap, including yours truly). The first camp thinks that Weezer’s first two albums — especially “Pinkerton” — are two of the best albums ever written, and everything Weezer has made after that is utter trash. I’m hardly exaggerating.

The second camp is generally ambivalent about the first two albums, but probably jumped on the Weezer wagon a bit later, attracted by some of the great pop songs that have littered its more recent discography, which also features a few good albums.

I understand the nostalgia of the first camp, but I would argue that Weezer generally writes good songs and albums, and some recent ones have even been really good, specifically “Weezer (White Album),” which is a solid 7.3/10 album. “Weezer (Black Album)” is very, very bad though.

“OK Human” eclipses “White Album,” though.

Recorded with entirely analog equipment in addition to the 38-piece orchestra, “OK Human” sounds incredible — the orchestra is clear and blends with the rock band in some of the best production work I’ve ever heard.

The songwriting is stellar nearly all the way through “OK Human,” beginning with the catchy first song — which is also the first single off the album — “All My Favorite Songs.” Frontman Rivers Cuomo sings, “All my favorite songs are slow and sad / All my favorite people make me mad,” in the angsty beginning to the album.

Beginning on the first song but lasting throughout the album, the orchestra sits just below Cuomo’s vocals when he’s singing, and surrounds the songs beautifully when he’s not. “All My Favorite Songs” gives way to “Aloo Gobi,” in which Cuomo sings about doing the same things every day and getting sick of it.

The drumming on the album is some of my favorite rock drumming I’ve heard in a long time, and “Aloo Gobi” encapsulates the syncopated, perfectly fitting beats of drummer Patrick Wilson. It’s also got a classic Weezer-style, hit-the-high-notes chorus that really puts the song on another level.

Many of the songs on “OK Human” blend right into each other, with no audible break, and “Aloo Gobi” cascades into my favorite song on the album, “Grapes of Wrath.”

On “Grapes of Wrath,” Cuomo sings about being in a sort of meditative state while walking and listening to his favorite audiobooks. The chorus has been stuck in my head for days, and I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Weezer writes great songs, mostly, but I find that if a song is going to falter, it will be lyrically. Sometimes, Cuomo writes lines that are simply good, like, “She is my mirror image / Showing me who I am / Until the day that we shatter / She helps me understand.”

Other times, he straddles a line of West Coast strangeness in his lyrics that creates songs that only Weezer could have written, for better or for worse. 

In “Numbers,” he sings, “There’s always a number that’ll make you feel bad about yourself / You try to measure up … / numbers are out to get you.” In “Screens,” he sings, “Now the real world is dying / As everybody moves to the cloud / Can you tell me where we’re all going / Where will we be 21 years from now?”

Are these solid criticisms of modern-day culture, deftly woven into an orchestral rock song? Or are they the lame musings of a songwriter who felt the need to stay up to date on how to tune in and drop out?

For me, there’s a line of Weezer lyrical weirdness that it can’t pass to still have a good song. I can’t hear a line that’s just so painful that it interrupts the song and I remember it later. I don’t want to cringe while listening to music, and honestly, I don’t think there were many songs that crossed that line on “OK Human.” Its lyrical weirdness just makes it interesting.

Lyrics aside, the album is impeccably arranged. “Screens” falls from a lament about culture into a gorgeous song about being an older rock musician, “Bird With A Broken Wing.” “I’m just a bird with a broken wing / And I still have a song to sing / Don’t feel sad for me, I’m right where I want to be,” Cuomo sings.

Even the songs that don’t jump out at you on first listen, like “Dead Roses” and closer “La Brea Tar Pits,” are good songs, and they grow on you over time — especially the last one.

In addition to the songwriting acuity, orchestral perfection and great drumming, Cuomo’s voice shines throughout the album. His performances are polished without losing emotion, and it’s honestly a huge pleasure to listen to, so go give “OK Human” a shot. I give it a 8.7/10.

Lucas DiBlasi is a music composition and digital narrative and interactive design double major. You can write to him at [email protected]

 

Leave a comment.