On its second major label album, Oleander takes a nostalgic look back at generic '80s corporate rock. The Sacramento-based quartet may wrap some of its chunky, clunky songs in post-Nirvana angst, and singer Thomas Flowers may claim to strive for a state of eternal slackerdom, but the band really misses the days when Night Ranger mattered. Produced by Rich Mouser (whose biggest client so far has been Green Jelly), Unwind
comes with a sheen as slick as it is fake. Andy Wallace mixed the album with stylish crunch; yet the generic riffs and stale observations such as "evolution's overrated" can't overcome their simplicity. And the band itself, well-versed in such '80s rock-radio staples like repeated verses and big-ass openings, relies on head-pounding choruses to drive each and every song. There's nothing subtle about Oleander -- in the power chord it trusts.
Two years ago, the group had a big rock-radio hit in "Why I'm Here," which is virtually impossible to remember. You'll feel the same way about Unwind minutes after it's over. It's that forgettable. Flowers's voice has none of the gritty austerity necessary to fuel these riff-heavy songs. Oleander even ends the album with a sentimental bit of glop called "Champion" that's pretty much "Wind Beneath My Wings" for the baseball-cap-wearing generation. On the somewhat-tougher-than-usual "Are You There," Flowers acutely observes, "Criticism comes in waves, numbering our days." You gotta wonder if the guys in Oleander are smart enough to know that even Night Ranger had a longer shelf life.