ALBUM REVIEWS / POP

** The Rentals, "The Return of the Rentals," Maverick/Reprise. This collaboration between members of Weezer and That Dog is an oddball concoction. There are lots of friendly pop elements--silky sweet femme harmonies and nifty sonic embellishments like swells of strings and vintage '70s synthesizer strains. Yet there are also lots of coarse, deliberately oafish undertones plus hooks that embrace you with a tenacity that's almost smothering.

Sometimes the mixture achieves a kind of fun, clunky charm. The group's current hit, "Friends of P.," has the same chunky catchy quality as Weezer's "Sweater Song" while "Please Let That Be You" layers a more fine-grade Cars-like synthetic blanket of sound over a standard pop song construct.

There isn't much substance (musically or lyrically) to the relentlessly perky tunes, but they succeed in a peppy, commercial jingle way. It's when the Rentals mellow out and get serious that things really go awry. "Move On" plods along, the alienation theme of the lyrics coming across as insincere as the people Matt Sharp sings about. The album has its moments, but they are best consumed in single servings.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).

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