The Rentals - Return of The Rentals (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Rentals

Return of The Rentals (1995)

Maverick / Warner Bros.

The Rentals are one of my favorite bands of all time, retaining the title despite only putting out four full lengths in their now 20-year tenure. Bassist Matt Sharp, who most consider that magic element on the first two Weezer albums, released his side project’s first album between the ”Blue Album” and Pinkerton. The cheekily-titled Return of the Rentals hit in 1995 and showed that Sharp would use the project as a way to heavily incorporate his love for analog synths. Though it contained some Weezerish elements (fuzzy guitars, Pat Wilson’s drumming), it had plenty to separate it from his popular main band. The biggest part is Petra and Rachel Hayden of the band That Dog who provided tons of great girl/girl harmonies as well as violin arrangements, which worked surprisingly well among the distortion and oscillating synth lines.

After swishing synth wind and a hushed vocal intro by Sharp, “The Love I’m Searching” bombarded the listener with all those key elements at once, the Hayden sister’s “ooo”-ed along with the strings, a higher synth and bass synths, and pounding drum beat. The one-handed lead synth line of “Waiting” stood as a template for the myriad of synth-rock bands to come half a decade later--Motion City Soundtrack owe The Rentals big. This album started my synth obsession, and after I procured my Roland Juno 60 (I couldn’t afford one of the heralded Moogs that Sharp loves so much), I spent hours in my college dorm room tweaking sliders to try and match these tones, and learning every single line on the record. Hell, this record was so important to me that my wedding band played the key album track “Please Let That Be You.” Granted, the band was comprised of my friends, but nevertheless it was awesome.

Single “Friends of P.” and its classic black and white Russian-subtitled music video were many people’s introduction to the band. In 1995, grunge still reigned supreme in the video rotation, and this stood in stark contrast: Their thick glasses with suits and dresses against ripped jeans and flannel, their mechanical movements against teenage angst, and all this is not to mention the keyboards, a sin in a time when the guitar solo reigned supreme.

Return had some fantastic ballads too. “Move On,” lovingly referred to as “Moog On” by my roommate (never mind he was mispronouncing the brand’s name), had that great slow build Sharp’s main band did so well, adding volume and layers as the song progresses. A feature track would be the closer, “Sweetness and Tenderness,” a song they would reprise on 2007’s The Last Little Life EP. The song showcased the interplay between Sharp’s low whispy tone and the Hayden’s sugary harmonies, with its undeniable chorus hooks.

Return of the Rentals was a huge record for me and so many others as a trailblazer in reintroducing synthesizers back into the rock and roll world. Free of Weezer and full of Euro-swagger, Sharp returned with another Rentals record in 1999 with Seven More Minutes before disappearing and not delivering another record until the overwrought Songs About Time project in 2009. The band redeemed themselves last year with Lost in Alphaville, but for my money, when I want the Rentals I go with the original.