Much like fellow L.A. indie boy band Phantom Planet, Rooney is a young quintet who has the right mix of looks, chops, and properly fashionable influences to make waves in a pop music world where retro is once again chic. The similarity doesn't stop there. Rooney ringleader Robert Carmine's real last name is "Schwartzman," which makes his brother, PP, drummer Jason Schwartzman. But famous family mumbo jumbo aside, Carmine and his band are poised with this, their self-titled debut, to prove to both audiences and the music industry that E.L.O. and the Psychedelic Furs aren't just names to drop in interviews, but valid musical reference points that give their giddy, harmony-laden pop its freshly scrubbed sound.
Fortunately for Rooney, Carmine and mates Taylor Locke, Ned Brower, Matthew Winter, and Louis Stephens have that shaggy, "aw, this old thing?" fashion sense that has contributed to the success of stylized throwbacks such as Pete Yorn and the Strokes. Fortunately for the listener, the combo backs up its pedigree and grooming with some solid pop songs. "Terrible Person" is a Pretty in Pink-era update with its organ rolls and bopping beat, while the unabashed romanticism of "Blueside" and "Stay Away" is refreshingly un-ironic. The majority of the album is upbeat, sounding at times like a late-1970s version of Hot Hot Heat. This means that Rooney has the ability to channel the brashness of early punk rock while still sounding like a band that came out before that genre truly arrived. The healthy piano-tie vibe that bursts out of tracks like "Sorry Sorry" is emboldened with a shoutable chorus, sure. But while many punk revival acts cut their 1960s, '70s (and '80s) pop influences off at the knees, or pare them down to the quick, Rooney leaves them un-trimmed.
Can busy, naïvely romantic verse make an album plod along and become a bit of a nuisance? Yes, and this is where Rooney starts to fail, since the majority of their debut's 11 songs are dominated by Carmine's wordy verses. However, the band largely avoids this pratfall by working with producers Keith Forsey (Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs -- hey, wait...), Brian Reeves (Pet Shop Boys? Really?), and Geffen/Interscope kingpin Jimmy Iovine (Alright, now you're just being ridiculous). These older, wiser heavyweights have livened up the combo's songs with layer upon fuzzy layer of vintage-sounding guitars. Of course, it's unclear whether they're actually vintage, but if a software program or microchip'd pedal can flawlessly reproduce the sound of a Vox AC30, isn't there some sort of "digital tribute to analog pop" argument that can be made? If there is, it won't be made here. It will be said that Rooney's debut is a solid pop record, digitized vintage feel or not. It gleefully pulls from the 1970s AOR catalog while donning a skinny piano tie, and makes reference to the vaunted influences of punk and garage only in the band's youthful energy.