Album Review: Collective Soul – Collective Soul (Rabbit)

To say Georgia band Collective Soul’s eighth studio LP sounds not that different than their previous efforts won’t surprise many people. If anything, the most shocking aspect of that statement is that the band has released seven previous albums, not to mention a greatest hits collection and live disc. It’s also not a sharp criticism of the band, either. If the songwriting ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The band undoubtedly made its name in 1995 with the release of its eponymous sophomore disc. Nary a moment went by without hearing “December” or “Gel” on the radio. Frontman Ed Roland’s gruff (but not alienating) vocals were the epitome of mid-90’s mainstream alternative rock: Low, pained and even a little sexy. Partner them with memorable choruses and enjoyable riffs, and it’s not hard to see why they were such hits. Perhaps I’m nostalgic for the era, but I think the band’s biggest hits have aged pretty well. “December” isn’t exactly “Paranoid Android”, but I enjoy it when I hear it.

So then where does that leave Collective Soul’s newest release, another self-titled affair parenthetically anointed Rabbit? Well, if you like what the band has done up to this point and aren’t looking for any sort of mold-breaking, you’re good. A track like “Staring Down” isn’t specifically a rehash of any moment in the band’s past work as much as it’s suitable for any album they’ve made before. The simple piano work, acoustic guitar, soft percussion and “oooh oooh” backing vocals give you the sense that maybe you’ve heard this song before. Maybe it was on 2007’s Afterwords, or maybe it was three tracks earlier on “You”. Collective Soul doesn’t seem intent on remaking the same exact song over and over again, because nothing on here sounds like a pure ripoff. Instead, I suspect Roland and the group are so comfortable they’re not sure how to break out of the mold.

That’s not to say they’re not trying, as “You” and “Understand” are the first tracks the entire group has ever written together. Still, I dare you to say they sound radically different than any other track Rolland has penned solo. That said, there are moments where the music works, even if it doesn’t deliver the song you were hoping for. The lead track “Welcome All Again” opens with promising distorted vocals and fuzzy instrumentation that suggest we might be in for an unconventionally structured song. Unfortunately, the verse/chorus routine comes in and breaks up the fun. The closer, “Hymn For My Father”, is exactly as you’d expect. It’s not the strongest lyrical effort they’ve put forth, but it’s nice to hear them strip away all the excess noise and deliver a piano-vocals tune. In fact, I suspect “She Does” would be a stronger track if the band’s four-part arrangements weren’t forced on it. Roland reigns in his voice and delivers a performance that admirably conveys a smitten rocker, which isn’t easy to do. But it’s those damned guitars that overshadow him and his words.

I don’t know that the band is looking to garner new fans with this release, as it’s not going to win over anyone who wasn’t already pleased with their work. I can see a few tracks being hit singles, considering the success of “Hollywood” back in 2007. Still, Collective Soul (Rabbit) is an OK album by a band that can probably deliver more… if only it wanted to.

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