Improbably, Rooney is a band that still exists outside the hallowed space of the Bait Shop on late-night reruns of The O.C. Even more improbably, they’ve put out a record in 2016 that is suffused with the sort of energy you’d expect from a debut or sophomore effort. More than a decade of mid-sized venues and living under the penumbral shadow of “I’m Shakin’”, a track which made it onto a host of mixed CDs in the mid Aughts and not much further, it is a shock — an impressive thing — that Washed Away carries with it as much cheer and honest-to-god fun as it does.
It’s notable that there’s only one member of Rooney left — frontman Robert Schwartzman is the lone stalwart in an entirely new lineup, and it’s possible this transfusion of new blood has reinvigorated Rooney and allowed them such a lighthearted venture into sun-laced pop.
Washed Away gets off to a bit of a rocky start for all its eventual easy groove: “All the Beautiful People” is ripe with the dialed-in sounds of current pop music. Those aesthetics are fine — they can be great, when they fit — but this first track sounds forced. The marriage of a Beach Boys-y throwback sound with a vocal line that apes Weezer’s Blue Album is what makes up most of Washed Away, and these stilted attempts at fitting in deadened drums and sacrificing melody are depressing when held up against the rest of the album. Lead single “My Heart Beats 4 U” picks up the slack, mercifully, and while “Don’t Be a Hero” falls victim to my least favorite current pop songwriting trope — listing a series of kinds of illicit substances — it’s got enough of a good hook to keep around for a party playlist.
The high points are the beachiest, the montage-ready summer fun soundtrack songs. “Why” is a standout track, with a balanced blend of vocal harmony between Schwartzman and French singer-songwriter Soko. It carries with it that same lovely nostalgia that threaded briefly through the mainstream when the Young Veins and the Like were more prominently on the pop culture radar. “Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow” is similarly positioned in that sepia-toned mood, but on a bedrock of crunchy guitars that elevate it that much further, and “I Miss You When You’re Gone” is a more concise statement of the same idea. The title track is darker in tone and has a riff that won’t quit — it’s simultaneously the most ambitious song on the album and the one that fits the least. It’s serious and moody and those are qualities that one rarely associates with Rooney’s back catalogue.
That indie rock/’60s vibe marriage is a fine line to straddle and Washed Away falters when it steers too far in either direction. “Do You Have to Go?” fails to tap into the addictive melodies that carry the better tracks, aligning itself instead with driving, staccato rock. On the flipside, “Come On, Baby” strays far enough into the retro to render itself insubstantial.
It’s easier to talk about Rooney with the vocabulary of what they remind you of, rather than what they are. Washed Away doesn’t present any songwriting innovation, kicks no holes in the current definition of pop music, but it’s a good record and it’s fun. And, improbably, it’s here. That’s plenty.