New Music Tuesday: The Rentals – The Last Little Life

14 08 2007

by mr. travis

rentals - last little life

Artist: The Rentals
Album: The Last Little Life E.P.
Label: Boompa
Release Date: August 14, 2007

One of the fallouts from the return of Weezer in 2001 was the amount of bands, (the ones that had been written off as one hit wonders in the 90’s), who tried to duplicate the groups’ successful reincarnation. From Nada Surf to Superdrag to Better Than Ezra, these various groups tried for that success, but were missing one key ingredient: a sleeper hit. Even in their absence, Weezer was still a hit, gaining an obsessive cult following after Pinkerton, which is why the band is allowed to pass off crap as gold and still sell records; their cult eats everything up in the expectation that it may just be the second coming of Pinkerton. This kind of following is something that none of the returning bands had, with the exception of the Weezer offshoot, the Rentals. Which, in a way, is what makes their return such a surprise, one would’ve thought that leader Matt Sharp would have jumped on the chance to capitalize on the wave of success brought by his former band years ago. But, Sharp isn’t really in it for the money or the fame, otherwise he wouldn’t have spent most of the decade harboring away at his new country persona, releasing respectable records on obscure labels, touring small clubs and colleges, all the while hoping to get back into the fold with Rivers Cuomo and company.

Through it all, one could almost sense the frustration, not only had his old band become an international phenomenon (and arguably, the most important mainstream rock band since Nirvana), but that nerdy indie look that only he had in his tenure in the band (i.e. the coke bottled glasses look) was soon claimed by Cuomo as his own, something that he would wear in numerous on air performances and music videos (and if you look back at Weezer’s appearances in the 90’s, Cuomo never adopted that persona. It was all Sharp). Even his former Rentals mates had found success in other ventures, specifically Maya Rudolph as an SNL cast member and Rachel Haden as a studio musician extraordinaire and an honorary member of Jimmy Eat World. Meanwhile, the sound of the Rentals, which has been something of an anomaly in the mid-90’s, was suddenly quite fashionable, with bands such as Ozma or the Canadian “super group” The New Pornographers adopting the boy/girl new wave sound to excellent results.

So, it comes as something of a pleasant surprise that the new Rentals E.P., The Last Little Life, is not only the best thing that the Rentals have done, but it’s also far and away better than anything released by Weezer since their return. That’s not to say that the Rentals are in the same league as Weezer, this is, after all, only a 17 and a half minutes E..P (which is actually more than half the length of The Green Album), but what is here shows extreme growth for the band, mostly due to Sharp having figured out how to bring his country melodies in line with the Rentals’ extreme pop sensibilities. His voice still lacks the range that some of his contemporaries have, but he’s learned to emote a little more, something that was lacking in the sterile Return of the Rentals.

Opening with the excellent “Last Romantic Day”, the Rentals put together a wall of sound, that builds upon every listen, bringing layers to their music which had been missing before. The follow up, “Little Bit of You in Everything” is even better, a nice pop tune that shimmies along with a stuttering beat, with gorgeous harmonies from Rachel Haden. Once again, it’s Haden that really keeps the proceedings afloat, her voice is an excellent contrast to Sharp’s, bringing color to the otherwise dull vocals. Sharp sounds just fine against the country backdrop that he was producing earlier in the decade, but on a lush recording such as this, where everything is quite colorful, his voice would be lost amidst the wall of sound without Haden.

While the new E.P. probably won’t garner the same accolades as Weezer’s eponymous return (such a thing occurs when you don’t have the Geffen hype machine behind you), it is by far the better record, which says a lot about the lack of quality control in the Weezer camp. Not only is it the better record, but it also points to a bright future for the Rentals, who under the direction of Matt Sharp could very well be the next big thing, twelve years after they were only just another novelty one hit wonder.

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One response

4 03 2008
country musician

I used to never listen to country, but it’s changed a lot over the last ten years or so. And the cowgirls are hot!

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