Collective Soul just may be one of the only bands in pop history who not only revel in being middle-of-the-road, but quite frankly do their best there. In the early 90s, grunge was the flavor of the month in the rock world. Edgier, brooding bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden were gaining mainstream success,and on the other side of the spectrum in the pop world, things were getting much more R&B flavored with acts like Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. Rock music ceased to be fun with it’s songs of anger, disconnect, and bitterness, and the pop world became more focused on love making grooves instead of dancing and enjoying the simplicity of youth. Sure there may have been exceptions to that rule but for the most part, it was a pretty well divided world in the mainstream.
Then there was Collective Soul. They had the long hair and grinding guitars like their rock n roll brethren, but they also had the hooks and positivity of any good pop song. Take their first big hit “Shine” for example: the over distorted, drop-D guitar riff was killer enough to be played on mainstream rock stations right behind acts like Alice In Chains, but it had the infectious sing-along hook that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t at least recognize it, if not enjoy it. They used the same formula of combing rock and pop throughout the 90s and had over 20 top ten songs during the decade. In the early 2000s when the music landscape changed again, Collective Soul found themselves leaning more to the pop side of things, starting with their album Blender, which was such a solid pop record, the fans had no idea the band was in fact poking fun at the boy band movement, and instead thought the band was trying to appeal to that market. Some of their rock fans still haven’t forgiven them for it. Even though the mainstream hits were fewer, they still managed to hang on with a few releases and countless tours. They never did really go away.
After a few line-up changes and six year hiatus, Collective Soul are back with their ninth record See What You Started By Continuing and within the first minute of the opening track and lead single “This,” you are reminded of what exactly Collective Soul are all about. The tried and true formula of guitar riff, falsetto verses, sing-along hooks, and over sized guitar solos, is in full swing and it’s an album of a relentless onslaught of pop infused rock n roll anthems and few ballads than hearken back to the band’s most fruitful era, the late 90s.
When Collective Soul were churning out modern-classic rockers, they were presenting delicate, acoustic ballads such as “The World I Know” and “Run” and while See What You Started By Continued is thankfully a bit lean on the ballads, there are couple that seem like they are only half there for pacing purposes. “Confession” is equal parts John Lennon and T-Rex with it’s Imagine-esque verses and guitar heavy chorus that has all the crunch of a solid rock tune but easy enough to be seasoned with it’s beautiful harmonies. “AYTA” is about as easy as the album gets, and it’s southern not-exactly-country groove is an interesting direction that makes me wonder why they never tipped their toes in such a style earlier in their career. “Without Me” sounds like a love letter to Elton John, complete with a guitar solo backed by a stellar string arrangement, but sounding a bit too much like their own song “Perfect Day.”
With that said, just about every song seems to pay homage to another song or era from the band. There was quite a few times where I had a sort of déjà vu, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Collective Soul has never been a band to take themselves too seriously and they know exactly what works and what doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with playing to one’s strengths and even in the times where you have to remind yourself you are listening to something in 2015, not 2004, nothing sounds tired or desperate (ahem, Third Eye Blind come to mind but I digress). But the beauty of this album, the clichés are tributes instead of tropes. This is a band that has never been known for creating cutting edge revolutions that inspire other bands to reinvent the wheel, Collective Soul is a band that take pride in doing what they enjoy and doing it well. That aspect in turn causes them to make songs that are just as fun to listen to as it probably was for them to create.
If you never cared for Collective Soul, there isn’t much here for you, but if you have followed them over the years, even casually, See What You Started By Continuing is a solid, easy digestible album of catchy rock songs and ballads that will keep you entertained for the duration and may even inspire you to revisit some of their earlier works. It’s actually somewhat of a breath of fresh air to hear a band with two decades behind them, put out an energetic albums worth of songs that doesn’t need controversies or cash-grab gimmicks to be enjoyed on it’s own. Collective Soul doesn’t need to emulate Maroon 5 to stay relevant, they know that just being themselves is the best bet, and no matter how safe and middle-of-the-road it may be, it’s at least reliable and consistent, as good old fashioned pop rock should be.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.