Haha ok I lied: I’m not done posting yet in this tumultuous midsummer period. Well anyway this is the last thing I expected to see: a new Collective Soul album, a full LP, dropped out of nowhere with no hype, no prior “singles” and very little social media promo (though there thankfully was some, which allowed me to get wind of this project). Wow, I didn’t know you could still put out a new album without pompously tooting your own horn and spouting endless “previews” and “premieres” for months and months beforehand.
Ok the obvious knock on Blood would be that it’s basically exactly like Collective Soul (1995) [which is to say a marked improvement on Disciplined Breakdown (1997)], which, ahem, happens to be a classic album, full of perennially playable singles and deceptively verbose sessions of guitar, uh, “shredding,” to use the parlance of our times. But by all means, if you don’t like that album, stop reading this review now. Go snort some coke and listen to Jeff Buckley, or read Thomas Pynchon, or some activity of equal or greater level of nauseating pretentiousness.
Though the moments of stylistic outlying within the general Collective Soul m.o. might not be exorbitantly plentiful, opener “Now’s the Time” does at least pump in within white alt-rock as something focused and tight, like the band has indeed been practicing their groove and listening to a lot of Green Day’s “Hitchin’ a Ride” and QOTSA’s “No One Knows.” “Over Me” and “Crushed” carry on the energy, sort of like the 1-2 punch on the self-titled album, before “Right as Rain” which slows things down just a tad and assumes a disposition of poignant arena rock. The power chord guitar work softens slightly from the intro to the verse baring lyrics like “Got a cross / I can bear / It’s a Jesus”, which can’t help but come across as tongue-in-cheek. In production, the drums are mixed and balanced perfectly and sound basically exactly like Nirvana’s Nevermind, which is to say just like this band’s old stuff and abiding perfectly the general alt-rock ethos.
“Them Blues” might be the album’s flagship standout, starting with some light piano drapery and snowballing into another rock song of incredible energy and purpose. “Good Place to Start,” then, doesn’t neglect to keep the energy rolling, with this highly creative hat/tom percussion intro bleeding into of a direct, spooky guitar riff. The vocal comes in then and is basically just crazy, a spoken-word bit of “There’s a guy with a gun / He says he’s the chosen one”, then he starts singing. To be honest, I know this speech/melody technique reminds me of someone, but I listen to so much music I can’t seem to think of it off the top of my head. Well, maybe this makes it all the more their own, a testament to how, even this late in his career, Ed Roland is still an uninhibited alt-rock fire starter capable of grafting out a distinct and memorable vibe, when he summons up the requisite inspiration. The chorus goes “Let’s get high… Let’s love where we are”, which seem to be two decidedly anti-Christian tenets.
And it’s not that the band seems to see its “Christian” stereotype as something it has to vociferously shred. Nothing seems ham-handed on Blood, in fact. It’s a music lover’s alt-rock album, full of crunchy, incising riffs and vocals that sound world-weary but strangely light. It’s been publicized that Ed Roland is the “son of a preacher man,” if I may use that clichéd expression, and grew up singing in a church choir. He’s also a lover of baseball and a general arbiter of the overall human condition, and almost even more so than Pearl Jam this decade, Collective Soul seem like a singular band not only willing to stand up and capture the ongoing zeitgeist of human struggle, but capable of said act, at once.