On the Radio (Flashback): Second Acts, The Rentals, “Friends of P”

“There are no second acts in American Lives…” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Back in the 1990s when I was tooling around southern Maine in a rapidly deteriorating Ford LTD Stationwagon, I relished the pure joy of a few months of low-advertising and risk-taking on the local alternative rock station. One of the few things I remember about this period is the overwhelming airplay bestowed upon Weezer’s first album. Despite the overwhelming success of this debut, the band couldn’t stay together.  The bassist, Matt Sharp, departed and formed his own band, The Rentals.

For a brief period, it seemed like Sharp made the right decision. I remember cold winter nights, frost on the wind shield and touring around the back roads listening to the enigmatic and beautiful “Friends of P”:

The Rentals’ sound is best characterized by the sharp contrast and harmonies of the male and female vocals, the background MOOG that makes it all sweet and throwback at the same time, and the short but quirky songs as appropriate to Weezer as to more fringe geek rock bands like Moxy Fruvous and TMBG. But the fascinating thing is that the single “Friends of P” wasn’t the best song on the album. Several tracks achieve similar combinations of catchy melodies, surprising harmonies, and simple stories about love and separation. The lyrics are not profound, but they aren’t terrible either:

I’m a good guy for a gal,
So won’t you look my palm over?
I’ve got time for a chat,
So won’t you tell me my future?

I’m gonna break down at fifty,
And I’m not quite a stallion.
I’m a good guy for a gal,
And I’m mentally slipping.

The first track “Love I’m Searching For”, sounds briefly like a B-side from a Weezer album; yet, the tone is both less serious and more self-effacing.The second track “Waiting” is compelling for its melody, its fiercely memorable harmonies and its light/fun feel. Check out the range of sounds acquired by some simple background noise and a playful use of the MOOG synthesizer. This song should have been a hit:

The surprising thing about this album is that at least half the songs are really catchy and fun. The other half are either merely benign or anodynely forgettable. I don’t know if there is anyone crazy enough to claim that Sharp is a better musician than Rivers Cuomo or that the Rentals was the better band, but I am willing to claim that the genius of the Blue Album had a lot to do with the Sharp/Cuomo combination. If you listen carefully to the first Rentals’ release Return of the Rentals you can hear harmonies that recall some of the open fifths and thirds that characterize the Blue Album (and may have been learned from some classic Beach Boys’ works).

Years later (2004) as I struggled in graduate school, I bought a used copy of Return of the Rentals and listened to it for a month straight. I liked be transported back to 1995; I liked thinking about the interior of that Ford LTD stationwagon, but I also liked the simplicity of the songs. Sometimes you don’t need to do too much to let a song be good. Sharp and the Rentals had a sense for melody and directness that really complemented their sound.

Why weren’t they more popular?

(As a postscript, the follow-up album Seven More Minutes was really underwhelming. The band re-united and released some more music but none of it really matched the same blend of content and tone).

4 comments on “On the Radio (Flashback): Second Acts, The Rentals, “Friends of P”

  1. Another J says:

    I agree with essentially every point in this post. I saw the Rentals at the Middle East downstairs maybe 4 or 5 years ago. It was one of the most fun concerts I’ve been to.

    • theelderj says:

      See, that is something I would have predicted but not bet on…The music seems so fun and light (well, the first album at least) and, from an abstract perspective, the sound appears to possess everything Weezer’s post-Sharp work lacks.

      Now, I know correlation doesn’t always signify causation, but…

  2. The combinaation would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.

    >>>>>>If you agree, pass this on. We have had other pets since Maggie and faced
    the same end-of-life decision years later wikth our two springer spaniels.

  3. […] alt-rock station. The song “Lump” played almost every hour (and it is a great driving song). Matt Sharp, of Weezer, released the underrated and exceptionally fun “Friends of P” (which has the magic combination of male and female vocals with a […]

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