The Rembrandts: Via Satellite

The Rembrandts
Via Satellite
(blue elan)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s encouraging to know that singer-songwriters Phil Solem and Danny Wilde are still “friends.” 

The duo, a.k.a. The Rembrandts, proved that success wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be when they, after scoring a monster 1995 hit with their impossibly catchy theme to the wildly popular TV sitcom Friends, threw in the towel for six years. The tune was on the band’s third release, a disc already complete when that song was quickly tacked on after the show took off. Early versions didn’t even list it on the cover.

But, like the show that may live forever in reruns, Solem and Wilde have returned, this time after a long (nine year) lapse from their previous 2011 platter. And like the sitcom, the twosome’s new music is as refreshingly youthful as when they were in their prime. Certainly the opening “How Far Would You Go” captures the jangly guitars and cascading harmonies that made The Rembrandts so appealing. 

Delving deeper into the lyrics shows a somewhat surprising dark underbelly to pop songs like “Broken Toy” when the narrator sings, “The way you threw me away made me more paranoid/ I guess it’s better for you to buy new than repair the cracks” over swirling strings and a pounding melody that splits the difference between power and pure pop. There’s a strong Tom Petty vibe running through “Count on You,” “You’d Think I’d Know” and especially the closing “On My Own” which seems like an obscure Petty cover. It’s predominantly with vocals that capture Petty’s ability to shift from introspective to soaring but also in the ringing Byrds-Brit Invasion guitars.

A few tracks such as “Come to Californ-I-Yay” take edgier turns with tougher music that verges on indie rock. Although all the selections are originals and co-credited, Solem contributes the darker material leaving Wilde as the more romantic of the two. It’s that yin/yang — somewhat comparable to Lennon/McCartney — that brings diversity to the material, even if “Travelling from Home” — an admonition that technology doesn’t improve life — is more Badfinger than Beatles. 

On initial listen the chiming guitars and vocal interplay start to feel repetitious as the album progresses. But repeated plays display subtleties — lyrical, production and instrumental — that come into clearer view. 

Perhaps only cult followers were clamoring for a Rembrandts reunion. But now that it’s here, hopefully they can crank out another batch of solid, melodic, occasionally oblique pop tunes on the order of these ten, without another near decade-long wait.