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Reviewed by David Medsker
Rossdale, meanwhile, has other problems to deal with. The first is the fact that, to quote the opening track on WANDERlust, his first solo album, he’s been gone too long. More accurately, he’s been out of the spotlight too long. He has released an album as recently as late 2005 – the lone Institute album Distort Yourself – but the four-year layoff since the last Bush album plus a new band name equaled zero brand recognition, and the album was dead on arrival. Rossdale’s other problem is that his career has been dwarfed by that of his spouse, No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani. Throw in a son (and another baby on the way), and Rossdale has gone from post-grunge megastar to the dreaded title of Rocker Daddy, a Mr. Mom for the music set. Rossdale is surely thrilled for his wife’s success, but don’t think for a minute that he is content to be a stay-at-home dad.
That seems to be the driving force behind WANDERlust, to prove that he is still a viable commodity in today’s ever-fractured market. One thing is for sure; he didn’t take any chances from a sonic standpoint, bringing in Bob Rock (Metallica, Our Lady Peace, Veruca Salt) to make his songs sound as large – and accessible – as possible. It’s a smart, safe choice, and yields some truly unique, non-Rossdale moments. Unfortunately, most of Rossdale’s songs are also nice and safe, and the end result is an album not far removed from the ones Rock made for Tal Bachman and Nina Gordon. It’s perfectly efficient pop rock, but a tad too disposable.
Take “Drive,” for example. This would have fit right in with Tal Bachman’s debut. The moody verses, the widescreen chorus, the splash cymbals that go on forever. It’s pretty, but slight. The soldier’s poem “Frontline” is like Rock producing Editors, with the thundering drums. This one’s big, but not exactly visceral. Then there is his collaboration with Linda Perry, “Forever May You Run.” It’s not embarrassing – it’s amazing to think that she began her career writing one of the worst songs of all time (that would be “What’s Up,” for her former band Four Non Blondes), then turned into an A-list songwriting doctor – but there is nothing Perry can do for Rossdale, and vice versa. What works for Golden Goose Gwen does not work for the gander.
What would have been more interesting – though less commercially viable, and therefore seemingly not an option – is if Rossdale had followed his muse more once it took him to places like “Future World,” a jerky reggae tune that feels like Radiohead covering the Police’s “The Bed’s Too Big Without You.” “This Is Happiness” is another standout moment (Bush fans will love this), thanks to the female singers repeating the title like a battle cry, plus one very quotable line in “You make me so much better / I hope I don’t make you worse.” The most interesting moment, though, is the hidden track “This Place Is on Fire,” which is 63 seconds of Vocoder-rama. It’s more Pink Floyd’s “A New Machine” than Cher’s “Believe,” and it is so delightfully out of place with everything before it that it’s actually rather maddening. It’s one of the rare moments where he lets it all hang out. The album could have used more of them.
WANDERlust is a fitting but misleading title. (And enough with the unnecessary capitalization in band names and album titles. Please.) While the album is unlike Rossdale’s other work, it is too much like a lot of other people’s work. For someone who has done pretty much whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, it’s odd to see him be so conservative. Perhaps he is more of a Rocker Daddy than he would like to admit.