Ever heard of Collective Soul? I hadn't. Knowing pretty much nothing about the group, I sought basic opinions from my more musically astute friends before attempting to review the band's newest album release, 7even Year Itch. Most could only ask me "Who's that?" - a surprising response to a group that has already released five other albums.
So who are Collective Soul? A modicum of research revealed that the four-man band, based out of Atlanta, is a mix of modern rock and borderline Christian rock, though a review of their lyrics reveals only a loose religious affiliation, with the exception of one number, "Precious Declaration." Singer and lyricist Ed Roland leads the group and serves as executive producer for 7even. Instrumentalists Dean Roland (guitars), Ross Childress (lead guitars) and Shane Evans (drums) round out the band that has been producing albums frequently since Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, their 1994 debut release.
7even is Collective Soul's "Greatest Hits" compilation; it features all eight of their No. 1 rock hits, which span their entire career, in addition to three other older numbers and two new additions to their musical repertoire. Released on Sept. 18, it is currently ranked No. 50 on the Billboard 200 (http://www.billboard.com) - not bad, but certainly not impressive.
After listening to the album only once, I immediately realized why nobody was familiar with Collective Soul. The band might as well change its name to REM or Creed or any other band with that brand of sound. There is nothing unique and distinguishing about this group's music that leaves any sort of lasting impression on the listener.
Furthermore, even after repeated listenings, I had a hard time coming up with my most favorite or least favorite songs. Trying to identify a particular Collective Soul "hit" is much akin to differentiating between identical twins or the behemoth clones of red brick buildings that dominate our campus - they are all the same. Same whiny lead singer, same meaningless lyrics, same conventional guitar riffs.
This homogeneity makes for a boring but palatable album. There is nothing particularly disagreeable about any of their songs; in fact, I occasionally found myself humming along to the music as it played. The problem is that the songs are not the least bit memorable - they are immediately forgotten after the last pounding drum beat. It makes me wonder how the collection earned the superlative "great" in reference to its monotonous parade of cookie-cutter billboard hits.
I should note that any fan of Collective Soul would probably love this album. It combines all of their best work with a few new formulaic additions. Old radio hits like "Shine" and "December" are moderately better than the rest of the album, as is "Why Pt. 2," a variation on their fifth album's "Perfect Day," which featured a duet with the legendary Sir Elton John. One of the new songs, "Energy," also shows a bit more originality, though it does not seem to be a blessing in this case.
I did find one friend who was familiar with Collective Soul. She described the group as "good enough to sway a lighter to." To me, that seems an apt description: the band is good enough to be moderately enjoyable, but nonetheless impeded from true greatness by its own mediocrity.