by Nick Papanicholas
It should be obvious to anyone that Rivers Cuomo is well aware of Radiohead, and more specifically, their 3rd record OK Computer. He’s so aware of it that he decided to put out an album with his band, Weezer, titled OK Human, which was released on January 29th. At first listen, there’s an abrupt shift in instrumentation and feeling to this particular Weezer record. Cuomo has traded in his guitar for chamber pop style orchestral instruments and decided to sing with a more open heart than on past albums. The entire album evokes bittersweet emotions about the current state of affairs in the world, and now that I’ve had time to let it set in, I can safely say this was a welcome surprise from Cuomo and the gang. There’s something entirely different with this record and it brings back the same feelings I had listening to the White album a few years back.
To be honest, my love for Weezer had been starting to dwindle after the White album. It was their fourth self-titled album, released in 2016, that had me begging for more. Thinking back, it was the defining album of that summer for me. But after that record, I can’t say their efforts met the same acclaim they’d reached previously. The Black album was filled with lots of opposing ideas and progressions that I couldn’t exactly get down with. Fans felt the same way, and I’d even begun to realize that Weezer’s best albums were all colors, save for Black and Red: their debut (Blue), Green, and White. Of course, there were some exceptions, and I felt their other studio efforts had appreciated moments within them, but the social awkwardness and mathy vibes I’d always loved Weezer for felt like they were wearing off.
Cue an abruptly emotional Thom Yorke. The first time I listened to Radiohead, I was at a major crossroads in my musical journey in high school. I remember being in two bands at the time, marching band, and a less serious gig where I was playing drums. I didn’t know how to play them exactly, but I was just happy to be sharing musical interests with a group of guys who wanted to start a band. We all came from different places musically. The lead singer really dug Radiohead, the lead guitarist was really into Smashing Pumpkins, and the bassist was into lots of hip-hop. I remember introducing him to Primus and I think he liked it a lot. I was really into almost everything alternative and grunge. I remember thinking that all these influences could create a unique sound for us, so I was really trying my best to learn how to play so I could impress the guys. Unfortunately, we disbanded a few days after the lead singer mentioned a gig in town we could play. We weren’t ready at all, and if we had gotten up on that stage, we would have bombed hard. However, I’m grateful to have met the lead singer because he was solely responsible for introducing me to OK Computer.
From the moment the first song started, I was transfixed. “Airbag” is like a salad of sound. Thom Yorke, the lead singer, maneuvers his voice around the wailing guitars and punchy drums in an effortlessly melodic way. I couldn’t stop here; I had to keep going. The journey had only just begun, and this felt like an album with a singular idea or concept in which I could really immerse myself. Each song flowed with its own instrumental grace, and the album provided many soft lows and unfaltering highs that give the listener something new to focus on with each listen. Each movement was accompanied by Yorke’s voice, which could successfully navigate any song with appropriate intensity or utilizing a more soft and gentle approach. The album is very deserving of the critical acclaim and praise it’s received over the years. Its subject matter is technology and the grasp it has on humanity, real or imagined.
The big question is which album will ultimately come out on top. Given that I’m just one person with an opinion, there are plenty of ways to look at this. OK Human has more of an introspective look at humanity in the here and the now, whereas OK Computer tangos with over-reliance on technology and its presence in the modern world. Both albums serve as a mirror to look at where we are as a collective, and I think both offer some type of musical escape. Ultimately, there really is no better album here. OK Human serves as more of an homage to the ideas and concepts that OK Computer tries to tackle. The records are stark differences of each other, but come packaged in the same genre. I don’t think I can tell you which one is better because in my opinion, both hold up and are excellent in their own ways.