The Rentals - Lost In Alphaville

The Rentals – Lost In Alphaville (Polyvinyl, 2014)

In Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 dystopian sci-fi riddle of a film, Alphaville, Lemmy Caution is a detective set out to stop a mad scientist. Machines, or rather A Machine–Alpha 60–has collectivized all individuality and trampled out emotion, romance, dreams and love. The poetry of the world is gone. The commodotization of the soul is eminent. Will poetry win out?

Cut to 2014. No longer black and white 1965 disjunctive Paris noir, commodity is king, the body is for transhuman sale, machines do–in their seemingly cute and innocuous Asimo way–rule. At least on the surface. Dig a little deeper and you can still find that same soul satisfying squelch you somnambulantly seek out. You thought The Rentals had something to do with TARP and Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and American Exceptionalism and the Right To Own A Home & Bear Arms & BBQ! America Fuck Yeah! Well, they (The Rentals) do, actually, I’m sure, in some way reference the subprime essence of the mortgaging of America for technological doodads that do nothing. You can feel that they have something to do with most everything on Lost In Alphaville, the surprisingly long awaited and highly anticipated follow-up to ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp’s Return of the Rentals and Seven More Minutes.

They are almost more vital now than before (the 90s), now that they have taken the offhand lo-fi moog fuzz sploosh that dominated an era of indie-rock (that turned out to influence most everything electro-cool you hear today) and unfolded it inside outside of itself and expanded the sound with insightful lyrics, subtle yet catchy guitar hooks, and stretched out poppy sweet melodies that made Weezer all that it never actually could have been (once Sharp left the band). Because–let’s be honest here–when the collaboration between Rivers Cuomo and Matt Sharp ended after Pinkerton, (and the lawyers took over) Weezer’s reign as a meaningful band ended as well. While Cuomo and Sharp had a millisecond of a chance to become the X Generation’s Lennon and McCartney, Weezer–and specifically Cuomo–then became the vomit-inducing new incarnation of KISS and Gene Simmons, respectively, albeit with an overwhelmingly WTF / Richard Linklater Slacker vibe. Rock Is Dead (Sigh). Long Live Rock (Sigh).

The Real Return of The Rentals

The-Rentals-002-by_Brantley-GutierrezThankfully Matt Sharp had cultivated some personality he somehow kept away from Cuomo’s Alpha 60-esque poetic vacuum of destruction of all things in good taste. He cultivated relationships with talented musicians (who didn’t just want to be rock stars). He became monkish and went underground. He studied. The word sabbatical comes to mind. Of course I have no idea if any of this is factually true, but in my world this is how I perceive it. Weezer became Ass Hats and Matt Sharp disappeared. Until earlier this year, when rumors flourished that a resurrection of The Rentals had resurfaced, in the shape of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius (vocals), Ryen Slegr of Ozma (guitar), Lauren Chipman of The Section Quartet (strings) with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney (drums) next to Sharp at the rhythm helm.

The result is particularly good. Not great, mind you, but enough of a stand alone effort to more than interest someone who has never heard of The Rentals, nor ever really gotten why–or how–Weezer kept going. The musicianship is loose, even expansive on opener “It’s Time To Come Home”, and shifts into sturdy and efficient electro-pop territory that Sharp is so attuned to, alternating time signatures with wave of the hand wafty ease, and adding well-placed strings on “1000 Seasons”. Over the course of Lost in Alphaville, one sniffs the recurring motif of technology tinged with sentimentality. Not in the maudlin and mushy sense of bad cable television, but more in the humanistic approach to the modern era of figuring out how to live in a world with smart phones, drones and Androstenedion. Like Godard’s film, Sharp’s cultural artifact is imperfect, and doesn’t always reach its potential, but it/he/we are cognizant of our imperfections, our failings and that all things along the path, for good or ill, make us who we are. In this realization, there is freedom from the hegemony of the invisible overlords, there is a path the NSA cannot perceive. We are all made of stardust. As he croons in “Seven Years”

It’s true you’re still with me /
You’re still with me but I don’t know why /
I know it’s too ambitious /
Too ambitious to even try

Yet here we are, still trying. Try to see them live:

    09/05 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre * ^
    09/07 – Pomona, CA @ The Glass House * ^
    09/08 – San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s ^
    09/25 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
    09/26 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Stone Pony
    09/27 – NY, NY @ Irving Plaza

* w/ We Are Scientists
^ w/ Ozma