Music

The Rentals: Lost In Alphaville

Matt Sharp's side project-turned-band is back, and they sound just like most of you remember them. But is that really such a good thing?


The Rentals

Lost in Alphaville

Label: Polyvinyl
Canada Release Date: Import
US and UK Release Date: 2014-08-25
Amazon
iTunes

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. It could have been a chance for Sharp to pick up where he left off in 1999, but sadly, Lost in Alphaville finds the band more intent on recapturing the novelty of their early work rather than trying to move forward.

Right from the outset, it appears as if Sharp is searching for comfort on Lost in Alphaville. Opener "It’s Time to Come Home" repeats its title over and over, as if the mantra will have a Wizard of Oz-like effect. That search for comfort was always a part of what Sharp wrote with the Rentals, but Alphaville tries to create an environment of comfort for itself rather than strive for external calmness. The synthesizers on the album, which were used to evoke technologically-driven paranoia in the past, are enveloping and soothing here. Granted, Sharp’s obsession with technology has never exactly been forward-thinking, but it’s still surprising to see just how fully he commits to electronics as comfort fodder. What’s even more surprising, though, is that it mostly works.

Aesthetically, Lost in Alphaville is very pleasing. Sharp still has a clear idea about what works for the band and what doesn’t, and most of the album consists of the former. First single "1000 Seasons" is a clear outlier of what to expect here, and it boasts what is easily the album’s strongest hook. There’s also "Damaris", which presents a subtler take on the melodrama that opens the album. Taken in a vacuum, there’s plenty about Lost in Alphaville that’s worth hearing.

Unfortunately, this album wasn’t made in a vacuum, and after listening to it several times, I can’t help but think that Lost in Alphaville is an attempt by Sharp to rewrite his band’s history. Were this the band’s debut, it would be a very promising album, but Sharp’s been down this road before. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with him -- or anyone else, for that matter -- trying to make an album like Return of the Rentals, but it’s still something that’s been done before. What’s more, Alphaville seems to ignore the strides made on Seven More Minutes. If Sharp were serious about the Rentals being a functioning band again (and it seems like that’s the case), then he’s being a little unfair by ignoring a crucial part of the band’s history.

For all of its problems, though, Lost in Alphaville is still a welcome return for an under-appreciated songwriter. Sharp always seemed most at ease in a band setting -- the singer-songwriter look just didn’t suit him -- but he was always strong enough as a composer to move out of the long shadow that his tenure in Weezer has cast over the rest of his career. Any first-time listener will probably glean that there’s more to Sharp than the falsetto backing vocals on "Say It Ain’t So", but Rentals boosters probably won’t be able to shake off the fact that Lost in Alphaville is just way too familiar for its own good.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image