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Weezer | Weezer (The Black Album)

Rivers Cuomo and co. are too clever for their own good once again.

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Sometimes it’s hard not to feel just a little sorry for Weezer. After all, fans claim to love them. But every time they make an album, they seem to get the short end of the stick. If they write songs that sound too much like their old hits, people say they’re repeating themselves. If they write songs that sound too different from their old hits, people say they’ve lost their way. If they have too much fun, people complain. If they get too serious, people complain. If they put out an album of classic covers — after being goaded into recording a classic cover by their own fans — people complain. Honestly, you have to wonder why Rivers Cuomo still cares as much as he does. And works as hard as he does. The band’s latest self-titled offering — semi-officially known as The Black Album — is their 13th full-length in 25 years and their fourth disc in under three years (counting the aforementioned covers set The Teal Album, which arrived barely a month ago). And he just revealed the band is working on not one but two more albums: One heavy and riff-based and one supposedly inspired by Harry Nilsson’s ’70s classic Nilsson Sings Newman (whatever that means). By any measure, that’s an impressive body of work. And The Black Album makes a fairly distinctive contribution to it. Sure, the 10-song set remains rooted in the hooky, wry pop-rock that has always been Weezer’s comfort zone. But it also pushes at the boundaries by toning down the guitar-crunch to make room for keyboards and electronics, putting more emphasis on grooves and even punching up the vocals with the occasional bit of profanity. Zooming in from that big picture, Cuomo’s batting average seems a bit higher this timet: Can’t Knock the Hustle gets down while skewering the gig economy; the slow-rolling Zombie Bastards bites back at people who play it safe; Living in L.A. channels The Police’s So Lonely in its refrain; I’m Just Being Honest suffers the consequences of truth; The Prince Who Wanted Everything stomps to a glammy slam; and the disc is laced with plenty of punchlines and clever pop-culture references. Trouble is, people generally like clever in small doses — especially when it comes to music. But Cuomo and Weezer don’t do small doses or half-measures. They go all in. Maybe that’s why people seem to love Weezer in theory more than in reality. And why Cuomo might want to consider releasing singles instead of albums going forward — at least until people start complaining.