Moving On

Blur's Damon Albarn contributes vocals.

The Rentals used to be a one-schtick pony; now they're more like a

stableful of show horses.

Several years ago the band (chiefly composed of Matt Sharp) seemed stuck

in a monotonous rut. Back then the Rentals -- much like Sharp's former

group, Weezer -- had a new-wavey, keyboard-rock sound, hyper-ironic lyrics

and a penchant for cranking out radio-friendly pop songs. Their debut,

Return of the Rentals (1995), was a (extremely popular)

one-size-fits-all album.

Flash forward to 1999. Sharp has spent a good portion of the past few

years traveling and recording in England and Spain and, he says, learning

to love life again. As is evident on the new album, Seven More Minutes,

he has also learned that he prefers earnestness to irony.

More striking, though, than the irony-free "everything's gonna be all

right" vibe on the new album is how far the band's songcraft has advanced.

Although still centered around Sharp, the band now includes a loose

confederation of L.A. studio musicians who help create the greatly

expanded sound of the "new" Rentals.

There is the Devoesque "The Cruise"

(RealAudio excerpt), which surfs along atop a wave of vintage keyboards,

group choruses and treated vocals mixed with cheap electronic effects.

Elsewhere, Sharp fills out the sound with lushly orchestrated rock ballads

("Say Goodbye Forever," "Must Be Wrong") and a wistful acoustic ballad

co-written by former Weezer bandmate Rivers Cuomo ("My Head Is In The Sun").

Even the tracks that lean heavily on Sharp's vintage keyboard boogie

have enough rich backing vocals and traditional rock instrumentation to

rise above Return of the Rentals' purposefully (according to

Sharp) one-note feel.

Sharp's lyrics have also taken a leap from the abstract, mostly nonsense

lyrics of his debut. "She Says It's Alright," a bittersweet, jangly

acoustic track about a perfect love ("she says it's all right with you/

it's all right without you/ either way it's just fine/ she says it's all

right that I don't expect to hear from you/ but you're welcome back

anytime") is a sweetly naive acoustic rock ballad about a love that's

way beyond too good to be true.

The bandleader gets help goosing his arrangements from a veritable Who's

Who of British indie pop. Artists who appear include: Ash guitarist/

singer Tim Wheeler on "Hello, Hello," Lush singer Miki Berenyi on "The

Cruise" and former Elastica singer/ guitarist Donna Matthews on "Say

Goodbye Forever" (RealAudio excerpt). Sounding a bit less

convincing than his cohorts is Blur singer Damon Albarn, who reverts to

a snotty Brit-pop-via-New-Yawk whine on the trudging, mock-rap-cum-space-pop

song "Big Daddy C" (RealAudio excerpt).

Sharp and guests have crafted an album that celebrates diversity,

spontaneity and simple joy. Even as he's harmonizing with former That

Dog singer Petra Haden on "Hello, Hello"'s denouement ("the century is

closing down"), Sharp sounds as though he couldn't be happier.