While it is easy to remember Stockbridge, Georgia rockers Collective Soul just for their three ubiquitous hits, “Shine,” “December” and “The World I Know” (and you could probably put the Varsity Bluescontribution “Run” in the same neighborhood as well), one finds on further investigation that the band has had 20 different singles scratch on one Billboard chart or another from their first five albums. After a while, that degree of chart success adds up to a comely cache of royalties and valuable experience, which affords the band a rare opportunity. Guaranteed hitmakers like Matchbox Twenty, amidst their runaway success, don’t want to leave the clarion comfort of the major label establishment that keeps them knee-deep in basketball arena concert dates, and countless indie bands only wish that they had the resources to subsist on their own and maintain a steady living.
Collective Soul, as a result of their atypically steady success, find themselves in the unique position of having those resources, the music industry savvy and the initiative to break out on their own, which affords them the chance to do what every band wishes for: To record an album on their own terms, to market it as they see fit, and to release it on their own to a well-cultivated fan base. While Youth isn’t the grand, renegade departure that you might expect from a band recently set free of major label bottom lines, it becomes apparent very quickly that this album’s conception took place under a vastly different set of circumstances. As the title insinuates, the band sounds rejuvenated, ready to take on the world. Granted, there’s very few mainstream radio listeners they have yet to win over (they’ve been just as successful in the pop world as they have in the rock world), but after a four year hiatus, the bottled energy shows its face in the band’s melodic guitar blasts and vintage anthemic choruses, which are just as good if not better than they’ve ever been.
Ed Roland has never gone out of his way as a songwriter to be particularly abstract or aloof, but his lyrics have always possessed a broad, universal appeal, evading the base angst that plagues the large majority of current rock bands who are still mining their Nirvana records. The opening rocker “Better Now,” spiked with some saucy saxophone fills, serves as the band’s emancipation proclamation, with Roland invoking the line “The world’s done shaking me down” as the lyrical centerpiece in its bridge. “Home” nods to Roland’s glancing sense of spirituality and purpose, and “Under Heaven’s Skies” employs a majestic metaphor to describe a new love. “How Do You Love” is Youth’s “The World I Know” ballad, and album closer “Satellite” follows much the same pace. New guitarist Joel Kosche ably fills in the void left by the departed Ross Childress, procuring a solid foundation for guitar-heavy jams like “There’s A Way,” “General Attitude” and their current hit “Counting The Days.”
Youth as a whole is playful more often than not, and it’s very representative of Roland’s ability as a producer and arranger to find a palatable middle ground between commercial viability and artistic vision. Collective Soul’s brand of guitar-intensive pop-rock isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it stands out on its own because they do it better than most, and it’s not difficult for even the most hard-bitten rock snob to partake in their earnest, genuine songs. While second generation post-grungers like Nickelback and Hoobastank might be flying high in an era of radio consolidation where their deep-fried angst is gobbled up like so much Thanksgiving turkey, leave it up to the old vets in Collective Soul to show the latecomers how it should be done. Youth is a lean, low-carb rock record that spares the guilt and doesn’t sacrifice any flavor.
(El Music Group)