Collective Soul is a band that I’ve always respected, even when they weren’t making music that was for me. The band is still alive and well, and they just released a new album called Vibrating on August 12th. For me, it is their best album since 2007’s Afterwords. The current lineup is Ed Roland on vocals, guitars, and keys; Dean Roland on guitar; Will Turpin on bass; Johnny Rabb on drums; and Jesse Triplett on lead guitar.
I have plenty of Collective Soul in my past. I remember them chiefly as my older brother’s favorite band—they may even still be, I’m not sure. I, of course, know the wildly popular “Shine”, and had that album along with Collective Soul and Disciplined Breakdown, two of their popular 90s releases. My favorite, and the one I still listen to regularly, is 1999’s Dosage. Every single song on that album is perfect, in my opinion, and it includes my favorite CS song, the emotional “Crown”, though my favorite version is on the live release Home from 2005.
I remember being obsessed with Collective Soul for a couple years in high school. I had their 7-Year Itch compilation, and played it all the time. After 2000’s Blender, I actually thought the band was done, but they reemerged as an independent band under their very own label in 2004 with the excellent Youth. About that time, and I assume because of their new indie status, the band was playing quite a few shows, some of them free. I saw them at a Rib Burn Off in Canton, Ohio in August 2005, and the show was completely free. It also happened to be on the evening of my sister’s wedding, so thank goodness she had an early wedding and I was able to take off that afternoon. Anyways, the show was fantastic as the band balanced their hits with some of their deeper tracks, and it felt like it went on for hours. As the child of very strict and religious parents, I wasn’t allowed to listen to much music (none, basically), and certainly wasn’t allowed to go to shows. So, this Collective Soul show was my very first concert experience.
I lost track of the band from there, probably because I discovered progressive music and didn’t look back for a few years. In that time, they released Afterwords, which I didn’t hear until some time later, and three other albums. While I really liked Afterwords, the other three albums just didn’t connect with me, mainly because I felt a classic rock style emerge in their sound, and it didn’t work. I felt like those albums lacked the enigmatic personality and expressive guitars of everything that had come before. The choruses, too, felt uninspired to me.
Enter 2022’s Vibrating, an album that the band finished some time ago, but was delayed due to the pandemic. I wasn’t going to listen to it at first, but pulled the trigger after seeing some positive press. And you know what? This is a great album. I like every single song to some extent, and it feels both fresh (for the band) and also like a mature and veteran sort of affair. The band has been around for basically thirty years now, and this feels like a tribute to that fact.
Okay, I have a couple opinions to share. First, as the band aged, frontman Ed Roland seemed to get more spiritual and more eccentric, at least in how he dressed and performed. Both are fine with me, but I do feel like it was, at first, an attempt to compensate for the music becoming a little stale. If you have no soul in the music any more, why not wear the color and soul on the outside, right? Second, when original guitarist Ross Childress left the band in 2001, the remaining members struggled to find their sound again. Joel Kosche did a decent job until he left in 2014, and I honestly don’t like Jesse Triplett’s signature twangy classic rock style since then. I think his style is the key reason why Collective Soul seemed to lose color and melody in the last decade.
Vibrating is a different beast, though. It doesn’t try to do that heavy thing anymore, and it certainly doesn’t try to lean desperately on same old guitar licks. No, the soul comes straight from the source: Ed Roland. Being completely honest, Collective Soul has always been about Ed and also his brother, Dean. This is especially true since some of the other original members left. So, for the band to thrive, I think we need more Ed. He is a fantastic performer and conveys emotion both live and in studio so well. Watch the aforementioned live release Home to see what I mean. So, while he dresses up like an aging, eccentric rockstar, when the music is centered upon him, it is far more meaningful and tender than you might expect.
And that is basically how I feel about this album. It is a collection of good to great songs, and Ed is front and center. The opener, “Cut the Cord”, is probably my least favorite as it tries to do the rocker thing a little bit, though the song is growing on me. In fact, the first three songs (the other two being “Reason” and “All Our Pieces”) are in that mold somewhat, and they are fun, yet not overly memorable.
However, songs like “Take”, “Just Looking Around”, and “Where Do I Go” do the opposite. They rely on melody and grace, and the cautious, pondering tunes that made me fall in love with the band in the first place. This is exemplified in “Back Again”, a conversational track that is almost six minutes of Ed’s vocal musings with a little grit in the honey, so to speak. I love it. “Undone” and “A Conversation With” hit me this way, too.
My favorite is “Rule No. 1”. I honestly can’t get enough of this song. It’s possible that it simply reminds me of their saucier days rhythmically, and I love the lyrics. The final few minutes feature a rising orchestration that is truly beautiful, and it just feels like one of the most complete and layered songs they have ever made. I want to hear more Collective Soul songs like this one.
Overall, this is a solid release. I could gripe about this or that, but each song has its place and is at least good, if not better. Ed still sounds fantastic, and the band seems to have energy yet. There are a few highlight tracks, too, that I certainly will be adding to playlists for years to come. I’m glad this band, a band with an important piece in my musical personality, are still alive and kicking.
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