Cult favourites The Rentals have a heavy weight on their shoulders with ‘Lost in Alphaville’. Sure, it’s their first new material in fifteen years, but main man Matt Sharp also played bass on the two best Weezer records, and so he is expected - no, demanded - to have some clairvoyant ability and moral obligation to produce material that’s obviously never going to live up to ‘Pinkerton’ and the ‘Blue’ album fans’ standards. The truth is, on the band’s third full-length effort and their first for Polyvinyl, Sharp couldn’t give less of a shit about Weezer fans - and for the rest of us this is mostly a good thing.
So let the diehards turn to him for solace when Cuomo and co’s tenth studio record inevitably garners mixed reactions left right and centre. They won’t find what they’re looking for - ‘Lost in Alphaville’ is a power-pop record filtered through the synth-pop sensations of The Postal Service, or in other words, about as far away from ‘Pinkerton’ as they come. It’s a bit weird, very off-kilter and ever-so-slightly cheesy. There are more often than not sickly sweet harmonies pummelled by fuzzy riffs and crunchy basslines (see the admittedly super catchy ‘1000 Seasons’) and choruses that emerge from verses that are swamped in some sort of technological breakdown. ‘Lost in Alphaville’ is exactly that - really bloody lost in direction - but there are several soaring, special moments that make it worth at least a couple of spins or three.
The combination of crystal clear, almost disgustingly twinkly electronics and deeply discordant guitar lines is tough to get your ears around at first (no idea what’s going on in ‘Damaris’, honestly), but when taken as simply great easygoing, foot-tapping pop music, actually works pretty well. ‘Stardust’ is a lovely low-key ballad with the aesthetic of a blown-out dystopian future, and the album’s highlight ‘Thought of Sound’ takes the radio-friendly rock song to new levels of genuine excitement, crashing and swirling and repeating itself over and over until you just give in to its crunchy delights. A bit like a pack of unopened digestive biscuits on the kitchen side then, really.
Those new to the world of The Rentals aren’t going to be overly convinced by the bits-and-bobs of brilliance on display here, but then again that isn’t really the point of the record. It’s lighthearted and radio-ready and fun while being marginally original about it, and that’s okay.