Release Date: Aug 26, 2014
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
“Moving through the atmosphere / we search the years” Music blogs have identified Weezer’s first two years in the spotlight (i.e. Blue Album and Pinkerton) as “the Matt Sharp era,” which refers the founding member and original bassist of the seminal indie power-pop outfit, unceremoniously booted out of the band in 1996. Wondering where a lot of that ol’ Weezer magic went? Just listen to any song by The Rentals.
Review Summary: Brimming with melody and bursting with energy.For those who don’t know, The Rentals are headed by former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp. That’s also about where the similarities between the two bands end. Described as new wave, power pop, indie, or alternative rock, The Rentals seem to cover a wide range of genres – but I’d simply describe them as refreshing.
The Rentals' third official album isn't as ambitious as the project that occupied Matt Sharp's life in 2009. That year was spent on the Songs About Time box set of films, photos, and music, including three EPs of songs about the passage of time and the mixed feelings that come along with it. For the band's 2014 album on Polyvinyl, Lost in Alphaville, Sharp cherry-picked ten songs from Time and re-recorded them in much more fleshed-out and powerful fashion, with contributions from longtime collaborator Lauren Chipman, Ozma guitarist Ryen Slegr, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, and, as Sharp's all-important vocal foils, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the group Lucius.
Shockingly, The Rentals' first LP in 15 years may also be their best. Lost in Alphaville finds a happy medium between the heavy fuzz and Moog synths of the group's 1995 debut, Return of The Rentals, and 1999's over-stuffed and too-ambitious left-turn Seven More Minutes..
Ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp has played silly buggers with his inspired alt-synth solo project The Rentals ever since roping in Damon Albarn, Tim Wheeler and Miki Berenyi from Lush to guest on their majestic second album ‘Seven More Minutes’ in 1999. Lengthy splits, a solo album and a year-long audiovisual art project called ‘Songs About Time’ have delayed the LP, but it’s a worthy comeback. With sumptuous synths and space-siren backing vocals, Sharpe brings his mighty melodies to bear on songs of nostalgia (‘Song Of Remembering’, ‘Irrational Things’), the ennui of aging (‘Traces Of Our Tears’, ‘Seven Years’) and dystopian visions of abandoned subterranean cities (‘The Future’).
Rock bands inevitably get old and start to suck, but Weezer are an exceptional case of this. It’s not as if, since resurfacing from their post-Pinkerton hiatus back in 2001, they gradually turned into a less interesting, more pedestrian version of their younger selves (a la the Rolling Stones). They’ve intentionally become a total, aggressive affront to them, as if their entire post-millennial career has been one extended, James Franco-worthy performance-art stunt in baiting anyone whoever took them seriously.
It’s hard being a Weezer fan. No, that’s not quite right…it’s hard being a mindless Weezer fan - the kind who still compulsively buys every new album they make. And then tries desperately to find something of merit in it, with a view to explaining to other, more jaded Weezer fans that “THEY’VE STILL GOT IT!” I am one of those people. I stand by The Red Album, I stand by Hurley.
Cult favourites The Rentals have a heavy weight on their shoulders with ‘Lost in Alphaville’. Sure, it’s their first new material in fifteen years, but main man Matt Sharp also played bass on the two best Weezer records, and so he is expected - no, demanded - to have some clairvoyant ability and moral obligation to produce material that’s obviously never going to live up to ‘Pinkerton’ and the ‘Blue’ album fans’ standards. The truth is, on the band’s third full-length effort and their first for Polyvinyl, Sharp couldn’t give less of a shit about Weezer fans - and for the rest of us this is mostly a good thing.
When most of us first heard of the Rentals, they were regarded as little more than a pleasant distraction, a stopgap for Weezer fans wondering when Rivers Cuomo would finish up at Harvard and get to making a new album. What many people missed was that Matt Sharp was a crack songwriter who managed to craft a distinct sound for himself on Return of the Rentals, and after Weezer’s second hiatus following the commercial failure of Pinkerton, Sharp showed that his project was more than a mere novelty with the excellent Seven More Minutes. Unfortunately, Seven More Minutes didn’t get the respect it deserved (it still hasn’t), and Sharp spent his post-Weezer years wandering in the musical wilderness, releasing a mopey singer-songwriter record before reconvening the Rentals for an EP and this new album, Lost In Alphaville.
The Rentals first full-length in 15 years features tracks from the Songs about Time EPs (2009). Lost In Alphaville is more radio-friendly and subdued, largely due to D. Sardy's (LCD Soundsystem, Jay Z) production, as evidenced by the commercial pop quality of "Seven Years."Sharp can't be accused of repeating himself, nor diverging entirely from his past.
Lost in Alphaville is The Rentals’ new album, but it is not a new-new album. Let me explain with a bit of backstory that the rest of the media (and the band) is either ignorant of or neglecting to share with you. In 2009, The Rentals returned with their first material in a decade. The songs came out of the band’s Songs About Time project, a year-long endeavor that included photography, videos, and, of course, songs.
It’s been 15 years since the Rentals last released a proper full-length (the severely underrated, heavily Blur-influenced Seven More Minutes), but Lost In Alphaville isn’t exactly “new”—every one of these 10 songs started off as a part of the band’s ambitious Songs About Time series in 2009. Reheated leftovers they aren’t, though: The essence of each track has been rescued from short-run-release oblivion and grown into fully fleshed-out, atmospheric synth-rock thanks to the help of a few ringers (members of the Black Keys, Ozma and Lucius). The Rentals’ sole constant is former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, but Alphaville feels like more of a group effort than expected.
New is generally easier to promote than old. Perhaps that’s why Lost In Alphaville is being marketed as The Rentals’ return from a 14-year hiatus, even though its only consistent member, ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, has remained busy in the interim. After solo recordings in 2003 and 2004, Sharp resurrected The Rentals moniker for a 2007 EP, and, in 2009, a yearlong multimedia project called Songs About Time, comprising daily photographs, weekly films, and three EPs.