“What happened to the golden days? Was it just another teenage craze?” So asks Robert Schwartzman on Eureka, Rooney’s third record in seven years. Schwartzman and company first appeared in 2003, armed with a summery debut album whose songs bridged the gap between their parents’ record collections and their schoolmate’s iPods. The music referenced the past without ignoring the present, and the fact that Rooney’s members were all great looking -- Schwartzman and drummer Ned Brower even worked as part-time actors -- helped them stand out in L.A., a city crowded with retro-chic musicians and aspiring rock stars. Rooney never quite “made it” in the eyes of Geffen Records, though, and the label dropped them from its roster after 2007’s Calling the World. Released three years later, Eureka finds the guys stuck between pining for the golden days and looking toward the future, resulting in a track list that’s sometimes tuneful and often haphazard.
Somewhere along the way, Rooney seem to have gotten caught up in the technical aspect of making old-sounding albums. Both Calling the World and Eureka are expertly recorded, but neither can match the hooks found on Rooney’s debut, and vintage production only carries an album so far. If anything, Eureka is more about atmosphere, meaning songs like “Into the Blue” -- soft rock tunes that place as much emphasis on guitar effects and general ambience as the melodies themselves -- fare the best. The more straightforward pop numbers are the ones that take a bigger hit; “I Can’t Get Enough” trades style for substance and “You’re What I’m Looking For” cheapens its Heartbreakers-worthy guitar riff with a lackluster chorus, making genuinely strong material like “Holdin’ On” the exception rather than the rule. Rooney deserves some applause for taking their first steps as an independent band, but this is far from their best work.