ALBUM: Lost in Alphaville
ARTIST: The Rentals
Despite their vast differences, time apart and foggy views of the world, it’s still hard to mention Matt Sharp without at least a subtle nod to his former Weezer bandmate, Rivers Cuomo. So let’s get this out of the way, shall we? Rivers and Matt were once the best of buds, crafting the cleanest of heart-wrenching pop songs for the disgruntled youth of the mid 1990’s. They harmonized, rolled their twelve-sided dice and made two phenomenal records: Blue Album and Pinkerton. Sharp’s contributions to these two staples are what many still consider the spark that kept Weezer a notch above what they’ve gradually devolved into.
Between these albums, Sharp also formed a little synth pop ensemble called The Rentals. Their debut, ironically titled Return of the Rentals, was a moderate success backed by the single “Friends of P.” If you haven’t heard this record, I suggest you dive deep into its ten tracks and see if you’re still that grumpy garage-ridden nerd almost twenty years after the fact. The Rentals, although considerably more new wave, still shared vast similarities with Cuomo and co., from pop hooks to atmospheric, albeit a bit esoteric, lyrics. Lest we forget, Pinkerton was originally intended as a space-rock opera entitled Songs from the Black Hole. Break-ups, falling-outs, lawsuits and inevitable reunions followed, and Sharp released one more album with The Rentals (1999’s considerably underrated Seven More Minutes) before going solo for a time. Most of us know what happened to Weezer, but if you don’t, just ask the kid that used to beat you up in high school. He loves their last few albums.
Lost in Alphaville is Sharp’s considerable return to form, ten tracks of interstellar magnitude backed by a brand new bunch of astronauts. “So now we have all this technology/to send apologies/that just swim inside out heads,” he sings on “1000 Seasons,” one of the album’s more down-to-earth contributions. The blending of time and technological advancements has affected even those with their heads in the clouds, Sharp being no exception. Since 2005, he’s toyed with The Rentals in various forms, touring and releasing The Last Little Life EP. They’ve been pigeonholed as one of many 90’s bands bouncing back from the shadows of solo obscurity for a little taste of sweet nostalgia.
Whereas many of these Clinton-era acts haven’t bothered writing new material, or done so with little concern for their fans or critics, Sharp has hit the rarest of middle grounds on Alphaville. The residual spaciness from past Rentals’ efforts remain, and yet structurally, these songs branch out a bit, employing cavernous synths and a plethora of healthy noise bursts that often catch the listener off-guard. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good bit of filler here as well, some of the tracks hinging too much on the starry-eyed dream worlds of yesteryear. At times, it’s hard to distinguish between them; Sharp employing surreal harmonics from his female compatriots, Lauren Chipman, Jess Wolfe, and Holly Laessig.
The gals and band are what really shine on Alphaville, taking Sharp’s every cue to concisely layer the necessary gravitas for his songs. The Rentals have always been a hodgepodge of different musicians, chiming in and changing when necessary. Past albums have featured the likes of sisters, Petra and Rachel Haden, not to mention SNL-alum Maya Rudolph and Weezer drummer, Patrick Wilson. Patrick Carney of the Black Keys does an admirable job, filling in this time around; his clangy contributions to the overall aesthetic a real treat when given the opportunity to shine. The same can be said of Ozma’s Ryen Slegr, matching Sharp’s guitar work, but never leading the entire ensemble overboard.
Past the gigantic swells of Moogs and vocoder crackles, Lost in Alphaville stands firm as Sharp’s latest manifesto. Lyrically, he treads similar water, but never makes the listener feel as if they’re being forced into it. These upbeat numbers are tragically authentic, catching minor glimpses of the past, but offering just the right dash of what’s to come. Back in the saddle, bruised, but not broken, Sharp rockets forward towards another unforeseen plateau. There are inklings of all the transitions in-between, and while we’d all enjoy the right jab at his former contemporaries, this isn’t a Lennon Vs. McCartney kind of situation. It’s already quite clear who landed on the moon first, while the runner-up can’t help but occasionally stare past his thick-frames into the telescope lens and shrug. Maybe there’s just a bit too much smog in Beverley Hills this time of year.
"Now we have all this technology to send apologies."