Matt Sharp is the guy who walked away from Weezer after cofounding the band and playing bass on their first two albums, both masterpieces. Okay, so it took a while before folks caught up with the genius that is Pinkerton. Regardless, after contributing to two now-legendary nineties records, Matt left Weezer to concentrate on his side project full time. That project was The Rentals, a group that had a minor surprise hit in 1995 with a quirky pop tune titled “Friends of P”. Between then and now, the band released two other LPs and a handful of EPs.
The Rentals’ latest album is Q36, and it’s a big one in both size and scope, as it should be. After all, this is only the band’s second full-length release in the last twenty years, they’ve got a lot of catching up to do. At just over an hour in length, Q36 delivers sixteen songs about science, girls, space, conspiracy theories, and … Elon Musk? Yes, Elon Musk. Really, though, given the other subject matter Matt covers lyrically on this record, it would seem weird if Elon wasn’t included.
The song title and chorus of Q36’s opener, “Shake Your Diamonds”, may owe a debt to John Lennon’s 1963 pre-“Twist and Shout” stage banter when, while The Beatles performed in front of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, he famously quipped, “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry,” but Sharp’s assumed borrowed witticism for his song’s title is as close to The Beatles as the song comes. Instead, “Shake Your Diamonds” rolls through with rhythmic, grinding distortion punctuated with theremin-esque analog synths. “Break down the palace gates and dance tonight,” Sharp sings as bombastic percussion pounds relentlessly around him. It’s an epic moment that manages to reintroduce The Rentals, reminding longtime fans why they fell in love with the band a quarter of a century ago.
“Nowhere Girl” follows “Shake Your Diamonds” and pulls things back slightly production-wise, the track’s chorus offering a style subtly reminiscent of Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas”. “Teen Beat Cosmonaut” marches merrily in with a whimsical, Moogy synth lead just before the record takes a slightly somber turn with the thoughtful “Above This Broken World”. The upbeat, humorous “Conspiracy” arrives just before Q36’s halfway point and winds up being a standout moment that manages to cram in just about every popular conspiracy theory of the last half century. The amusing track lightens things and smartly pulls any flagging listener focus back before diving into Q36’s second half.
The first of two curveballs on Q36 is delivered with “Information (And The Island In The Sky)”, a not so subtle indictment of society’s obsession with social media. It’s oddly accusatory lyrically considering The Rentals’ pridefully geeky audience. Given the song’s obvious message, “Information” comes off more as patronizing than clever. The second idiosyncratic moment on Q36 occurs at the beginning of the record’s final third with “Goodbye, Steve”, a two-and-a-half-minute instrumental eulogy, assumedly to Steve Jobs, that’s mostly made up of Matt whispering “Q34, Q35, Q36 …” before the whole band begins sporadically repeating the words “goodbye, Steve” over a jaunty, reverb-soaked instrumental piece.
The seven-minute “Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad” concludes Q36. Here, Sharp imagines himself a rival to Musk, singing through a year-by-year timeline of events that have Musk and himself competing for scientific dominance. Matt even goes so far as to mention his own prominence in Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” music video. The song is a decent ender that manages to tie the whole package together rather nicely, the last minute-and-a-half tagging on an outro that’s part Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” and part Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”. Q36 may have been a more streamlined listen with the omission of the aforementioned curveballs and a few of the record’s more same-sounding songs, but otherwise this is a solid collection that acts as a welcome return, positioning The Rentals well for whatever they do next.