Upon making their major label debut back in 2003, Rooney, much like Phantom Planet, was considered by most tastemakers to be far too mannered and far too connected within the entertainment industry to be taken seriously alongside other retro-minded pop bands. Whether or not that assessment was fair, the band struggled to gain much traction either with mainstream pop audiences or with the then-emerging indie set, so their fourth album, Eureka, finds them without major label backing for the first time. Unfortunately for Rooney, instead of using their independence as an opportunity to prove naysayers wrong, Eureka leans so heavily on its vintage recording process that it forgets to include many memorable pop hooks.
To the band’s credit, Eureka sounds fantastic. In producing and engineering the record in-house, Rooney have perfected their skills in recording songs that truly sound like they’ve just been unearthed from studio vaults that had been sealed decades ago. Every instrument on tracks like “Into the Blue” and “I Can’t Get Enough” rings clearly in the mixes, and the recordings keep plenty of cracks and other in-studio debris left in the final mastered tracks. Given the band’s reliance on full-bodied horn sections and heavy electric guitar riffs, Rooney really should be credited for understanding how to match their recording process to their chosen aesthetic. (Hanson’s Shout It Out, released on the same day, provides a perfect counter-example to that point, blunting the impact of a similar style by spit-shining their mastered tracks.)
Where Rooney struggles, then, is with songwriting. On previous albums, the band has demonstrated an underrated facility with a pop hook. Minor hit “Blueside” provides perhaps the best example of their ability to construct a standout hook, but even the album tracks on their self-titled debut were consistently catchy and engaging. That isn’t the case with the songs on Eureka. “I Can’t Get Enough” and “Only Friend” are both featherweight songs, while “You’re What I’m Looking For” has the opposite problem, offering a leaden chorus that keeps the song from getting off the ground. At best, songs like “Holdin’ On” and “Go On” are serviceable, but they lack any semblance of spark or inspiration. If the band were as serious about writing great pop songs as they were about the recording process behind great pop songs, Eureka might have made for an effective career relaunch for Rooney instead of another underwhelming effort.