It’s honestly comical how unsubtle Weezer has become when thinking about their conceptual and stylistic reference points. Their career over the past three years has consisted of a surprisingly great Toto cover, an ode to Jay-Z scripture, an entire album dedicated to covering classic rock hits, and now a project set to be released in the spring with the title, Van Weezer.
There is, of course, the tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy set to (maybe) begin this July. Ultimately, Weezer has been busy paying homage to their idols without releasing much music that fully establishes their own unique style.
Then again, what is Weezer’s style? Ever since news came out about their data-driven approach to songwriting, one has to wonder if they even care about finding their own voice, or does something like this even matter? They are a Grammy-nominated band with a bevy of iconic hits, but also a band with a greater number of shitty ones.
Their new album OK Human—again, another ode to what seems to be Radiohead’s OK Computer—developed during a time when Rivers Cuomo and the rest of the group battled the pandemic’s ongoing grasp on society. “Everyone’s looking in a different direction at a different device, and that’s the way things are going,” said Cuomo in an Apple Music interview. “Nothing I can do about it, but I just can’t help but feel a sense of loss and anxiety about it.” It’s an interesting observation coming from someone who has allowed the worldwide web to dictate almost his entire career.
It’s also worth noting that, while anxiety and depression are two feelings worth dissecting, Weezer only seems to present them through a surface-level lens. You don’t need the internet to draw up these passages on the intro “All My Favorite Songs”: “All my favorite songs are slow and sad/All my favorite people make me mad.”
OK Human follows a clear theme of escapism through different forms of art, whether they be music, books or Indian cuisine. I’ve always felt that, with Weezer’s affinity for a wide range of entertainment, they could—at the very least—explain why certain art means so much to them. We almost get that with “Grapes of Wrath,” which features a novelistic palette filled with classical taste. Cuomo’s idea of escapism, however, never finds an intriguing pulse outside of “I don’t care.”
The orchestral percussion courtesy of frequent Panic! At the Disco collaborators Jake Sinclair and Rob Mathes at the very least graces the ears with a shimmering grandiosity. Oftentimes though, the operatic nature of the production is bogged down by Weezer’s abortive attempt at lyrical congeniality, a trait that leaves many of their concoctions sounding like the soundtrack to the next Disney musical. Based on the serious connotations surrounding the album, it’s pretty obvious Weezer wanted to add an introspective touch to their quarantine grievances. Their attempts, however, are either mundane or borderline embarrassing. “Kim Jong-Un could blow up my city, I’d never know” on “Playing My Piano” is an especially egregious attempt at showing how much Cuomo can get lost in his music. Then again, cringe is oftentimes the Weezer way.
But if you know Weezer, you know that every once in a while they’ll surprise you with a pretty great tune. The more worthwhile tracks, like “Aloo Gobi” and “Numbers” are simple, yet effective compositions on life occurrences. The former is a witty commentary on Cuomo’s own mid-life crisis (“They said that life gets sweet as years go by/But mine has lost its flavor like this chai”), while the latter is an oddly emotional ballad about the power of statistical mandates. It’s awesome when Weezer crafts a quirky, yet memorable tune.
When they’re bad, they’re bad though, and unfortunately, OK Human consistently misses the mark with persistent mediocrity, and humdrum quarantine monotony that never offers anything outside of watered-down proclamations. Weezer continues to experiment with different genres, but I truly hope that with Van Weezer, they just decide to shred.