Old School Reviews: The Rentals – The Return of the Rentals

9 08 2007

by mr. travis

rentals-return of the rentals

Artist: The Rentals
Album: The Return of the Rentals
Label: Maverick
Release Date: October 1995

If Weezer’s Blue Album sounded odd with its power pop and arena ready sound in the middle of the dying grunge movement, then bassist Matt Sharp’s debut album under the Rentals moniker was an even further move off the beaten path sound.  Taking the foundation of Weezer as a starting point, Sharp, along with co-vocalist and bassist Rachel Haden (from the indie band That Dog) assembled a team of musicians and singers (including drummer Patrick Wilson from Weezer and future Saturday Night Live cast member Maya Rudolph), to create a quirky, novelty new wave side project that unintentionally became a major inspiration to the numerous indie bands that appeared in its wake with new wave elements and moog synthesizers.  But, inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean greatness and while bands such as The Get Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack, and Ozma may have taken the new wave meets indie sounds to new heights while nodding in the direction of the Rentals, it doesn’t mean that their debut, The Return of the Rentals was anything more than the novelty it was written off as in 1995.

For starters, where Weezer’s debut crackled with energy, Return of the Rentals feels apathetic at best, boring at worst.  Only two songs, the quick “Waiting” and the Weezer throwaway “Please Let That Be You” allow for any kind of energy to be felt.  Not that this should be exactly like The Blue Album from which Sharp last appeared, this is his project, and it feels that way, but there should be some sort of forward motion, or at least some sort of indication that these are more than spit-shined demos.  Unfortunately,  his songwriting chops are nowhere near as great as those of Rivers Cuomo, while the production techniques give the album a same old quality, with every song sounding vaguely similar to the previous one, making the album experience a lackluster one.

Co-vocalist Rachel Haden nearly singlehandedly saves the proceedings, bringing the emotion needed in contrast to Sharp’s cold and detached monotone voice.  Haden comes from a musical family, her father Charlie Haden was a prominent jazz musician, while her sisters have been in numerous other ventures (Sister Petra Haden plays violin on this album).  While there is no doubting Matt Sharp’s ambitions and talent, it is Haden who ultimately steals the show, though even this blueprint for male/female vocals in an indie band sounds primitive compared to today’s bands which have expanded on this sound.

Though the album is cold and detached, the reason for its ultimate success was the novelty single “Friends of P.”  Time hasn’t been too kind to it, the novelty factor is still there, the slightness of the lyrics becoming even more apparent, the detachment standing out in a larger manner when presented outside of the albums context.  But, at the time, there was nothing else like it on the radio, allowing for it to seep into mainstream music’s consciousness if only for a moment, while leaving its fingerprints all over the future of independent music.

Following this album, Sharp would return to Weezer for one last hurrah, the beloved Pinkerton, where there would be hints of his love for new wave scattered about (especially in the b-side “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”).  His stay in Weezer would be short lived however, and he would return to the Rentals to expand their sound, pushing it even further while at the same time adding elements of both Brit Pop and, amazingly, emotion.

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