In today’s infinitely diverse musical landscape, one may wonder where good ‘ol arena rock fits in. Oleander’s sophomore release, Unwind (Republic/Universal), is evidence that this genre of music is still very much alive, and an important part of the musical scene. Soon after grunge became nothing more than a moment in music history, progressive rock, like that created by Matchbox 20 and Creed, skyrocketed in popularity. With this album, Oleander has demonstrated that they not only have the talent to play with these big boys, but may also have what it takes to be the leader of the pack.
Unwind was impressively produced by Rick Mouser and mixed by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against The Machine). It features a collection of songs that are very pleasing to the ears from the first spin, but like a fine wine get even better with age. The first single off of the album, called “Are You There?,” strikes out at the listener with ominous sounding guitar riffs, which give way to a bouncy chorus. “Yours If You Like,” one of my favorite tunes on the disc, is a super-catchy and melodic number that has lead singer Thomas Flowers whipping out Billy Corgan-esque vocal feats. That is, by the way, a compliment. “Halo” is a song that was written years ago but was never released. The band finally felt ready to share it with the world, and it’s a good thing they did. It is a very peaceful and introspective offering that is sure to please any fan of the acoustic guitar. Another song that I quickly fell in love with was “Back Home Years Ago.” With lyrics like “We were young and unafraid/ So alive in every way,” this is a classic tearjerker of a song about reminiscing on old times (in the grand tradition of “Summer of ’69”). Yet another standout track is the radio-friendly “Good Bye,” which features some of Flowers’ best vocal work.
Perhaps what I like best about Oleander is their pliability as musicians. They are able to flaunt their heavier side on window-rattling tunes such as “Unwind” and “She’s Up, She’s Down,” while not being afraid of exposing their soft underbelly on songs like “Tight Rope” and “Champion.” And while this CD lacks any great degree of creativity, it definitely possesses a timeless charm and air about it. The groovy, guitar-laden track “Benign” encompasses elements of the 70’s, 90’s, and modern times. All of these qualities make Unwind the kind of CD you can listen to with your parents and/or children, and hear no complaints.
With their major label debut, 1999’s February Son, Oleander enjoyed heavy airplay on influential L.A. radio station 106.7 KROQ. That album has since been certified gold. While Unwind may not receive such backing from mainstream radio, it is sure to keep the band’s success going on its own merits. For while their name comes from that of a poisonous flower, Oleander’s music proves to be much more palatable.