Ah, to be young and gifted. Some might balk at the fact that Rooney seem well connected and are making their debut on a major label with a fairly large following right from the get-go, but listen up: without talent and hard work those things would never have come to pass. Rooney is the real deal, and this self-titled debut is perfect summer pop fun that aims to bring a little sophistication to the tried-and-true mainstream boredom, referencing the past and updating it for the present.
The quintet was founded by talented singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Carmine, while still in high school (way back in 1999), and is comprised of Taylor Locke on guitar, Matt Winter on bass, Louie Stephens on keyboards and Ned Brower on drums. Brower is the senior member at 24, but the average age of a Rooney is only 19. Originally known as Ed Rooney (named for Jeffrey Jones’ frantic principal character in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), the band already has opened for the likes of Weezer, The Strokes, The Donnas, OK Go, Pete Yorn, Phantom Planet and others and is about to head to Europe as part of the Lollapalooza tour.
So let me get all the connections and hype out of the way, so I can tell you about the music. Robert Carmine (formerly Robert Coppola Schwartzman) has already acted in two movies The Princess Diaries and The Virgin Suicides (the latter directed by his cousin Sofia Coppola), but like his older brother Jason (actor/drummer for Phantom Planet), the music comes first. His mom is actress Talia Shire, which means relations to Nicolas Cage and Francis Ford Coppola too. But let’s get back to the music
Imagine Ric Ocasek and Rivers Cuomo having an illicit love child . . . no, but seriously, the music of Robert Carmine leans heavily on The Cars and Weezer (who are not unrelated). Throw in a few other classic Britpop references here and there and you’ve got the fun sound of Rooney.
The single “Blueside” opens the CD, stylistically recalling The Beach Boys in an obvious way, the shuffling chorus and sweeping background harmonies hiding the darkness of the song itself, a veiled metaphor about suicide. “Stay Away” is more traditional lyric fare. He loves her, she doesn’t know, he wants her to make the first move, he wants his friends to leave them alone. The Weezer vibe is most pronounced on “If It Were Up to Me”, a traditional love song arranged in the manner of a “Buddy Holly”.
The Cars is the most dominant influence here, though there are hints of Phantom Planet and others at times. “I’m Shakin’” is a very Cars-like tune, examining fears and nightmares in a light musical manner that belies the weight of the lyrics. “Simply Because” is another Cars-like tune, a clever rejection song, featuring fine organ from Louie Stephens and a great guitar lead from Taylor Locke. “I’m a Terrible Person” is very infectious (and check out that melody counterpoint at song’s end), and Carmine’s vocals really shine here.
Perhaps my favorite here is the acid indictment of “Popstars”, wherein Carmine and company take on Britney and Justin and N’Sync, etc. as “unsophisticated money machines for the killers of rock and roll” in an affecting emotional manner.
“Daisy Duke” again uses The Cars’ musical vernacular to get across a quite wonderful song that explores the romance behind a dominant/submissive relationship: “Bow down Daisy Duke, I’m much too rough with the way I phrase things / I’m sorry for cuffing you to my bathtub.” “Sorry Sorry” is just good summer fun, any way you slice it. It’s the tale of modern young romance (she’s sitting all alone on a Saturday night with a Shirley Temple and a cellular phone) where he apologizes for making her life a living hell, right from the start. Love songs are what this season is about, and “That Girl Has Love” is a memorial for a very special girl and their real love prior to her taking her own life, awash in Cars/Weezer-type harmonies. “Losing All Control” is a little more sophisticated and lengthier ballad that closes out the CD, featuring nice rhythm section work from Matthew Winter on bass and Ned Brower on drums.
On the strength of Robert Carmine’s vocals and songwriting abilities alone, things look auspicious for Rooney. The L.A. band (whose cover art is a rendition of the California State Flag) is already known for its hard work and entertaining live shows. With this impressive eponymous CD rife with sunshine and retro-rock feel and ripe for the hot beach days ahead, they should have a long career ahead of them.