To listen to Rooney's latest CD, Eureka, you'd think they were genetically engineered for pop success. The production is slick, the songs are reasonably catchy and they've got a smooth, radio friendly sound that should appeal to everyone from pop-hungry teens to indie hipsters.
Frontman Robert Schwartzman is Jason Schwartzman's younger brother and an actor himself (The Princess Diaries). Rooney has worked with names like Ric Ocasek and Jimmy Iovine in the past, not to mention successful tours with Ok Go, the Jonas Brothers, and playing Lalapalooza (2003).
But true pop stardom has proven elusive. Perhaps Eureka and their summer tour dates with Hanson will take them to the next level. The songs sound incredible and they've got good power pop appeal. There's a retro sensibility, back to a kind of smooth '70s pop, that recalls Harry Nilsson. This is particularly strong on Only Friend and Don't Look At Me.
Still, it's the perfect flow of Into the Blue that clicks for me. A reflective start with a stripped down, descending piano tune gradually builds. Each detail is tastefully pulled in, from the gloss accent of the slide guitar to the chorused backup vocals. "Out of my head and into the blue, my Baby Blue". This transcends the Nilsson influences to be the gem of a great pop album.
Expanding the retro feel, Stars and Stripes starts with a Stevie Wonder piano chord change. This moves into a '70s radio lite R&B groove. All the supporting elements -- the harmonies, the bass and piano work, the instrument mix -- hearken back to a time where it wasn't about attitudes and posing. The unity politics message of the lyrics echo old Sly and the Family Stone. The tagged-on reprise even copies the times when the "album" version had the same kind of artistic extension of the radio edit version.
Rooney has had a lot of support and attention to get to this point. Whether Eureka proves to be their breakout move or not, it's a fine pop album. Open a Pyramid Wheat Ale and tap your feet.