by Rachel Brame –
It’s been a decade or so, but this album never gets old. In my formative years as a young sponge developing a curious taste in music Return of the Rentals entered my hemisphere. I first heard “Friends of P” over WHFS’s airwaves (the infamous and now defunct radio station of Washington D.C.). It took a few years after its initial release in 1995 to reach my ears, but when it did, it made a deep impression. I immediately and incessantly rocked it out on my Walkman. It’s always particular ‘peeps’ in high school who have a way of being influential catalysts when it comes to exploring new stuff, you know? I had no idea then how generationally impactful this record would become.
As a debut side project by Weezer’s bassist Matt Sharp, Return of the Rentals landed at the height of the alternative scene and juxtaposed with the norm of the day invoking a solid half hour of quirky nerd rock melodies. Even its packaging was offbeat from its computerized font to the grainy black and white portrait on the front cover. The Rentals made wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses cool again and resonated with Weezer fans far and wide. Squeezed in between the Blue Album and Pinkerton, Return of the Rentals features a unique mixture of moog synthesizers, bass guitar fuzz, violins, and pop vocals. Elements of Weezer’s sound are detectable throughout the record despite its quite different instrumentation, but with Pat Wilson’s drumming on this one it’s no wonder!
In a way, this album reminds me of The Heartworms Space Escapade (one of their smaller label contemporaries of the mid 90’s). Matt’s sonic genius maintains a cohesiveness through all ten songs and 37 minutes of Return. Letdowns and general disillusionment infect Sharp’s lyrics while he reflects an earnest longing for something better. His words are in direct contrast to the upbeat melodies they are paired with, but the combination happy/sad works marvellously. Also joined by Rachel and Petra Hayden of the band That Dog, their string arrangements and vocal harmonies elevate this album to a level I can only deem as eloquently sublime. This synthesized machine themed rocker ultimately earned a reputation for being the little album that could, and carved itself a niche in cult history. It’s part new wave, part indie space rock. If you haven’t already, give it a spin. It’ll lift your spirits every time.