Gavin Rossdale

Wanderlust

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Scared that his celebrity couldn't sell Institute, his post-Bush post-grunge back to basics band, Gavin Rossdale retreated to his own name for his 2008 solo debut, WANDERlust its very important capitalization unwittingly bringing to mind the spelling of DAUGHTRY, the band -- or perhaps it wasn't so unwitting, as on his own Rossdale pursues a buffed and bland soft grunge designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. It's the first time that Rossdale has so blatantly run for the traditional definition of the middle of the road (never mind that his Langer/Winstanley productions were the textbook definitions of crossover grunge), so the collective shrug that greeted Institute must have terrified him, as he's happily embracing his role as Gwen Stefani's husband, writing songs about his contentedness as a family man as part of a campaign to make this an aural "Celebrities: They're Just Like Us!" Rossdale does dredge up a bit of the old angst on occasion but there is no hunger here, no desire to ramble, which is slightly ironic for an album called WANDERlust. Really, this record has no business bearing this title as this is a remarkably settled music, desperate to be embraced as a soundtrack to the lives of US Weekly readers who recognize Rossdale as the hunk married to Gwen Stefani. Now, whether he can get this audience is debatable: Bush had only two songs in the American Top 30 ("Comedown" and "Glycerine," both a good 12, 13 years prior to this record) and the thirtysomething audience he's gunning for either has contempt for Bush and rather would hear Feist, or has moved onto country (or has stopped listening to music altogether). Plus, there's the unavoidable fact that this is the first desperate run at the middle by a musician who has spent his career as a star attempting to prove how hard he is, working with underground guru Steve Albini on Bush's second record and turning to Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton for Institute. All that sturm und drang and clatter and clang is forgotten here, as Rossdale restyles himself as a post-grunge Peter Cetera, crooning slick, smooth ballads, only dipping into his angry side toward the close of the album as he rants against L.A. and government in equal measure, duetting with Shirley Manson. It is no small irony that Gavin Rossdale sounds better in this setting than he does in his harder rock -- he's a better vocalist and more charismatic than most of the dullards who followed in his wake -- but this is still deliberately tepid music, more concerned about appearances than hooks or drama.

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