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)
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.