MATT SHARP USED TO PLAY bass in one of the best bands of the 1990s. Maybe you remember them: They were called Weezer, and they used to be awesome. After their last truly good album, Pinkerton, Sharp left the band to concentrate on the Rentals, a side project that got called "neo-new wave" a lot, which is a fancy way of saying they used lots of synthesizers. The Rentals, who were Sharp and whoever else was around at the time, made two beautiful, catchy, underrated albums and then disappeared with little fanfare. This year, Sharp announced that he was reforming the Rentals.
The first Rentals record, Return of the Rentals, had that "Friends of P" song ("ooh woo hoo hoo!"), and the second, Seven More Minutes, was simply gorgeous—huge, sprawling, messy, full of love and harmonies and big fat Moog riffs. But after he made it, Sharp freaked out and disappeared, and when he resurfaced, it wasn't with epic pop. He'd gotten quiet and serious, playing interminable acoustic songs and rasping breathy vocals to crowds whom he encouraged to bring pillows to shows. It wasn't bad, but it sure as hell wasn't exciting. Sharp had developed distaste for rock music—a "phobia of drums," he says.
"I was just sort of starting my life over... learning the very simple things," Sharp said of his solo career. "Learning how to be a better listener, what it is to be a better person, in conjunction with figuring out where I was musically."
Sharp is full of this kind of pop-psychology talk now, but he delivers it with utter sincerity. Ask him about what the new Rentals sound like, and he'll tell you how much he loves his bandmates, how they're like a family, and how proud he is of them.
None of the current Rentals had worked with Sharp before, with the exception of Rachel Haden, who contributed some vocals to the first Rentals album, whom Sharp says he's "wanted to be in a band with since [he] was 22 years old."
In the absence of the Rentals, a few other bands—Canada's Stars, California's Ozma—have carried the orchestral, synth-enhanced power-pop mantle admirably. But now feels like a pretty good time for the return of the Rentals, who plan to release an album in 2007.
Sharp described their first show in over six years like a breathless teenager who's just discovered rock 'n' roll. "It was great," he said. "I can't even explain the feelings. It was a new level of anticipation for everybody in the group. There was just this overwhelming joy and release and just massive adrenaline... I was so overwhelmed with all this joy and this love for everybody in the group."
On Seven More Minutes, Sharp sang, "Optimistic, right now maybe I am/and I know how so many people hate that." The breathless joy you hear on those songs is in Sharp's voice when he talks about this new band. There has always been an ineffable quality to the music the Rentals made, a weirdly transcendent thing that happened somewhere between the layers of harmony, synths, and violas: the sound of love. Love! Is it so hard to admit that's what pop music is really about?