Pros:Nice guitar work; varied, interesting songwriting; musically straight-up
Cons:Some weak, cliche grunge tracks
The Bottom Line: It's a solid piece of post-grunge, very unabashedly rock 'n' roll, and it should please a lot of people who may never have heard it.
Turning on rock radio in 1999, as it is today, was often a risky venture. With grunge basically on the outs and nu-metal still in its formative days, fans of big, meaty guitar riffs were often left bored, confused, or generally neglected. But somewhere beneath all of the sap was at least one song to provide a glimpse of hope: a little track called "Why I'm Here" by some new band called Oleander. The track came from their Republic/Universal debut February Son, a solid piece of post-grunge that's even more exceptional given the time it was released.
The album blows open with "You'll Find Out," a piece firmly implanted between the rapid-fire influences of punk and the band's more immediate predecessors (Silverchair and Nirvana come to mind most quickly). The track provides a good preview of vocalist/guitarist Thomas Flowers' vocal stylings, which generally stay within the established rock dynamic, but prove adequate for both melodic and heavier moments. The track is extremely percussion-driven, with snappy snare beats from drummer Scott Devours blasting the album to a refreshing opening. The album highlights several other fast moments, such as "Lost Cause" with an excellent lead guitar piece and "Where Were You Then?" with a heavier main riff and a solid guitar solo to wrap itself up.
What makes this album solid, though, is that it successfully moves up and down in terms of speed without losing itself. In fact, the real cream of this album's crop comes in the form of "Why I'm Here," the well-chosen first hit single. The track begins with a slow-picked guitar piece, slowly incorporating a beautiful string section during its sensitive verses, which transitions powerfully into crashing choruses, with Flowers belting "I can't love you anymore / I'm scared of the sound of it / And woman, I just wanted more" for a perfect crescendo. The album's second single, "I Walk Alone," while a bit faster, is still on the more sensitive side of the album's spectrum, and still makes for one of its finer musical moments. "I'll wait until the day when those feelings fade away / Then I'll make my break," Flowers sings quietly before the track unfolds into its full instrumental section.
A few tracks on this CD do falter, not so much in terms of their own strength, but in terms of how obviously they display the band's affection for their influences. "Stupid" is a bit repetitive, and holds its heavy sections together less capably than the rest of the album proves capable of doing. "Down When I'm Loaded" goes through far too much effort in its attempt to be the album's heaviest track, and loses some effectiveness as a result. The cover of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry," while fun and fast-paced, is a bit contrived and lacks the flair of most of the band's own songwriting.
The album's end, interrupted slightly by the above cover, highlights some of the band's most quiet, sensitive material quite well. "How Could I?" grabs at the heartstrings from the first guitar picking and never lets go, capturing feelings of loss and regret very poignantly. The gentle incorporation of a string section also aids the track quite handily. The album closes with "Never Again," a track that's electric and ebbs into some heavy moments, but still holds an introspective edge to summarize the album expertly.
February Son has a lot to offer a good variety of listeners. Anyone missing the "good ol' days" of grunge will find an album that does it uncompromisingly. For the most part, this is straight-up rock 'n' roll from an era when it's no longer cliche to just come out and play 11 songs with standard instrumentation. But the album's variations from this formula only give it a more lasting impact, rather than making it feel sold out or wishy-washy. Softer moments let February Son flex some creative, artistic muscle, and the whole album comes out solidly as a result.