Sunday, November 15, 2009

Collective Soul - Collective Soul [music review]

* Released in August
Georgia's Collective Soul self titled their second release in 1995, so going the same route for their latest album is curious, if not downright confusing. In a recent interview with Sun Media, frontman Ed Roland justified it with the proverbial "we wanted to go back to our roots" (to paraphrase) explanation. Fans have taken to simply calling the album Rabbit, for clarity's sake. When the subject is brought up, Roland responds with the oddest quote from the interview: "People just started calling it Rabbit. But we never would have called it Rabbit; I'd like to think we're a little more creative than that." Uh, you mean more creative than self-titling an album of yours twice, Ed? Surprisingly, the idea has been employed more than you'd think in the music here for further examples.
Listening to Rabbit brought to mind observances that were brought up in my recent Bon Jovi review...namely, that the end result is solid, but feels like simply more of the same. As with the Bon Jovi album, most of the material here is completely interchangeable with most of what's appeared on Collective Soul's previous seven studio albums. And is that enough? Should we expect a little more creative growth from our musical artists or is maintaining the status quo enough?
Collective Soul is good at what they do, although a look back at their body of work reveals an almost odd consistency of just that - simply "good to very good" studio albums, never really achieving individual greatness and also never dropping the ball and delivering a turd. The closest they've come to really shining was on 2005's live Home, a stellar CD/DVD release that paired the band with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.
First track "Welcome All Again" sounds like it was specifically written to open Rabbit, constructed with a heavily processed intro that amps up the mood for a minute before kicking the door in with Roland yelling the song's title, followed by an in-your-face guitar riff. The chorus is classic Collective Soul, who never met one they didn't want to lodge in your brain like an icepick. A nice breakdown section near the end of the song works well. "Fuzzy" lives up to its title, with fat, thick guitars that are complemented during the chorus with some tasteful clean, ringing guitar sounds. The song has a David Bowie feel to it, minus the questionable use of whistling that Roland uses. I can think of few songs where whistling is a wise creative decision..."Walk Like An Egyptian", "Dock Of The Bay" and a couple (!) of Guns N' Roses songs, "Patience" and "Civil War", made it work, but even Bruce Springsteen couldn't pull it off on the title track to his latest album, Working On A Dream. "Dig" finds the band getting about as heavy as they have to date during the chorus section, propelled by some rude metal guitar riffing from guitarist Dean Roland (Ed's brother) and an aggressive bass drum kick from new drummer Cheney Brandon.
So yes, Rabbit rocks pretty good in places, but it wouldn't be a Collective Soul release without the more mainstream songs, which can be found in "Dig", "Staring Down", "She Does" and "Understanding", although the latter actually straddles both sides of a commercial/rawer-sounding line, with gentle verses jarred by punk-style choruses that feel almost schizophrenic in their placement within the song. "Hymn For My Father" follows the recent pattern of Collective Soul albums, closing with a ballad. This one is a spare arrangement, with just a solo piano accompanying Roland's vocals for a song he (duh) wrote for his father, a Southern Baptist minister, and the song truly has a hymn-type feel to it.
Collective Soul have been labelled many things over the years: alternative, modern rock, adult alternative and adult contemporary have all been attached to the band. Whatever category you wish to put them in, they are always reliable in producing feel-good, unabashedly mainstream music, which Rabbit demonstrates one more time.
Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆