Collective Soul: Attention Must Be Paid

What if you gave a classic album and nobody came?

Collective Soul ought to be considered alongside Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins but instead are relegated to the ‘bands I pretended to like for boys’ bin. (Atlantic)

We celebrate obscurity when it is applied, like a saintly halo, to dead folkies, earnest college town rock bands, and troubled, unshaven (sometimes dead) geniuses. But what if the under-appreciated, overlooked artist in question was actually quite successful and existed quite happily within the mainstream?

Which is all to say, we have overlooked the stately, subtle, shimmering, shocking, rocking depth and achievement of Collective Soul.

Yes, Collective Soul.

It may be worth considering the idea that Collective Soul, despite some seriously mammon-generating chart success, are one of the most underrated artists of the 1990s – maybe even the most underrated.

Without any doubt, I prefer their 1990’s output to the work of Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, heck, I’ll even say they had a better decade than U2 (then again, considering that U2’s 1990s studio output comprised of three albums, two of which were Zooropa and Pop, that might not be saying that much). Collective Soul’s 1990’s releases are studied and patient, truly old school headphone-an’-hash multi-dimensional hard rock, like Agents and Fortune produced by Eno and Lillywhite; and they are in a whole ‘nother league from other ‘90s chart acts, like the loathsome, shit-breathing Creed, and the riff-robbing Green Day (who are merely a Wikipedia entry on “Punk” hopped up on cocaine and made all shiny by some horny and rich producer).

Which is all to say that Collective Soul made some of the very best albums of the 1990s, records that sound absolutely profound and impactful today.

I want to direct your attention to one specific album, an album that must be considered one of the very best deep rock albums of the decade: It’s called Collective Soul, and it was the band’s second album, released in March of 1995 (important note: this Collective Soul is not to be confused with a 2009 album that the band released, also called Collective Soul—you are looking for the Collective Soul with the light blue cover, not the one with the bunny on it. Got it?).

This record by Collective Soul, which is titled ‘Collective Soul,’ is approved for purchase.

This crunching, riffing, velvet and virile star-shine of an album seems to be the un-asked for cross between Bends-era Radiohead and stoner-metal pioneers Trouble.  To me, that sounds bloody great, but then again, I used to stick my head into the beer refrigerator at the local Koreans’ just to hear the drone.

Collective Soul is broad yet detailed, loud but silvery and subtle; it is an album’s album, full of delicate overdubs and precision mixing that underlines the power of the band without ever distracting from the delicacy and intensity of the arrangements and the deep, melancholy yet uplifting melodies of singer/guitarist Ed Roland. The multi-layered production (by Roland and Matt Serletic) is complex and artful, achieving maximum psychoacoustic and crunch effect – honestly, it’s as good sounding a rock album as anyone made that entire decade. The record moves from strength to strength, taking you through various moods, from proto-stoner riffers like “Where the River Flows” and “Gel “to flickering, yet muscular Post Punk-via-Southern Rock songs like “Untitled” and “Collection of Goods” (Collective Soul’s niche of arty/planetarium hard southern rock is virtually a genre they have entirely to themselves). There’s not a bad track on the album, not even close, and the mixture of variety yet consistency is, well, stunning.

Collective Soul is one of those records that’s very goddamn good when dipped into cursorily, and even better when absorbed with time and attention. It sounds like literally every bar of the album was given detailed consideration, as if the artist knew there was something special here that would merit being listened to again and again, far into the future. “The World I Know” features the best recorded acoustic guitars you’ll ever hear; “Where the River Flows” and “Gel” amongst the best riffs of the decade; “Bleed” sounds like Duritti Column chasing some serious old-school FM cred (or to reverse that, Def Leppard after inhaling a sea trunk full of high-grade opium). For it’s entire 46 minutes, Collective Soul stays big, deep, and strong, mixing the simple and the strange, U2-spatiality and Weedeater fats.  The whole thing is recorded with that Floydian/Radiohead luxury and precision.

This record by Collective Soul, which is also titled ‘Collective Soul’ … you’re on your own.

A number of songs are based around exquisite arpeggio figures (arpeggio: what the guitar does on “Dear Prudence” and the intro to “Don’t Fear the Reaper”), and this is a recurring motif on the album. “Reunion” evolves a nearly soulful Spector-meets-Allmans sadhappy anthem around a delicious arpeggio; “When the Water Falls” constructs a sweet, almost Association-like pop song around a terrific arpeggio; and more famously, the absolutely gorgeous, engaging, and effective “December” builds and builds upon an arpeggio to create one of the decades’ very best mainstream rock moments, drawing you in and on and on and in.

Released in March 1995, neither the world, much less the small minds at Atlantic Records, was looking for a classic album from Collective Soul. I believe the notoriously anti-career development Atlantic (who I worked for at the time) saw them as a workhorse AOR moneymaker with one foot in the ’80s and one foot in the ’90s, and certainly didn’t perceive them as the rather significant and substantial artists that they truly were. Seriously, man, Atlantic had its own damn Radiohead right under their noses, and didn’t even care.

Making artful stadium rock is not an easy task (recent bands that dabbled in it, like Radiohead and Arcade Fire, fell off the wagon fast; recently, only Opeth seems up to the challenge). It takes a sonic diversity, a shmear of emotions and palettes, something that brings the listener in like a confidant, a pal, even a lover, something made for headphones, something that sighs and then pounces. On Collective Soul, the group achieve the rather difficult task of blending the whispers and the screams, the creamy acoustics and the howling riffs, the churchly intensity and the muddy-field fist-up, the Floydian and the Sabbathian, the art touched by the profane and the profane dressed up in silk.

It’s certainly far better than anything Pearl Jam ever did, and boy, do people take them seriously. Pearl Jam virtually insist on majesty, but then fall flat, because they are basically an over-educated fart, one of those slightly smart girls you meet in a Los Angeles coffee shop who you sense is probably just a little too smart for Scientology but not smart enough not to go on and on about Healing With Crystals. Uh-huh. But at least Pearl Jam are better than Smashing Pumpkins, who are virtually a … (author is stopping right now due to frothing mouth making it difficult to type, and/or irrelevancy to the primary subject, and/or recognition of the fact that his impending use of the words “Hydrocephalic” and “Over-educated Mongoloid” to describe Billy Corgan could be considered offensive to hydrocephalics, over-educated mongoloids, and their families). Where were we?

We were here: Anyone who appreciates intense, evolving, album-length voyages, anyone who likes to be whacked about the face and skull with cricket-bat riffs and balmed by equally impactful moments of tranquility and dignity, needs to spend some time listening to Collective Soul (the one with the blue cover!) and re-appraising this overlooked band.

By the way, 1999’s Dosage is very nearly as good – and perhaps better, if you’re into OK Computer or the hazed subtlety of Zeppelin’s complex, sighing In Through The Out Door. Personally, I rate it slightly below Collective Soul because it definitely shows a Radiohead influence that distracts from the bands’ own extraordinary gifts.

And they’ve kept it up, too. Collective Soul, that is. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied their 21st century output nearly as closely as I examined their work in the 1990s, but every time I dip into one of their post-millennial albums, I’m like, huh, they’re still doing it, they’ve still got it.

All of which is to say: Collective Soul was – is – a serious and seriously goddamn good rock band – kind of the band everyone thought Kings of Leon were, or a more subtle and artful Queens of the Stone Age — and they produced some of the very best albums of the 1990s.

Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYO DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Follow him on Twitter @Timmysommer.

22 thoughts on “Collective Soul: Attention Must Be Paid

  • May 13, 2018 at 6:11 pm
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    Yo yo!! Here here!! There’s even more great shit – there there!!!

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  • May 15, 2018 at 3:13 pm
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    Thank you so much for this article. Collective soul has been my favorite band for a decade and I truly agree they are far too underrated.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 3:19 pm
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    I agree they are underrated and should get more airplay than the other bands you spoke of. We have seen them live 4 times and would see them again. Don,t they have a new CD coming soon??

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  • May 15, 2018 at 3:35 pm
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    Great review, they are an inspiring and creative rock band! I have every CD and love them all, also have seen them live 3 times. Most people I meet don’t know who they are until I mention ‘Shine’, but they have so many other great songs and Discipline Breakdown is my favorite album! They are currently on tour with 3 Doors Down. Can’t wait to see them again!! Thanks!!

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  • May 15, 2018 at 3:40 pm
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    Great article about a fantastic album. Interestingly enough, I’ve been digging back through Collective Soul’s entire catalog. I created a playlist with every song publicly available and have been listening to it on shuffle for weeks now. What I find interesting is how well well their newer material fits in with the older, more popular 90’s material. I think the reason for this is Ed’s songwriting, which was always the thing that made Collective Soul as good as they were. Sure there were fantastic guitar riffs, but they were and continue to be accompanied (and one could argue reigned in) by fantastic songwriting. I think the reason you can listen to their post 90’s output and thing “they still got it, they’re still doing it” is that songwriting.

    All that being said, if you want a good starting point for their post 90’s output, I highly recommend the album “Youth.” While not as riff heavy as earlier material, the songs on it are fantastic in their own right. Also, I think it’s the most cohesive of the later albums, even if it’s now the oldest of the post-Ross albums.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 3:44 pm
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    Been listening to this band since the 90’s and have seen them in concert countless times (most recently in February). They are soooo good and sooo under-rated. Thanks for this article…

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  • May 15, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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    You’re really missing out on Collective Soul 2009. Probably their second or third best offering. About on par with Disciplined Breakdown, but with more of the Dosage sensibilities.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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    Thank you! This album and band are so underrated. They are the Kinks of the 90s. And this is their best album easily.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 5:03 pm
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    My favorite band of all time!! There is so much talent in them!!

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  • May 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm
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    Thier new stuff harkens back to thoer older sound. Its like they grew up and found themselves. Discaplined breakdown was my fave. But lwysbc is my new fave.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm
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    I totally agree with your blog!!
    Collective Soul is totally underated! They had me hooked from the very first album Hints, Allegations and things left unsaid.
    Both Collective Soul’s “Blue cover” album and Dosage are still two of my favourite albums!
    I saw them in South Africa at Sun City many moons ago before I returned to the UK! With the possible exception of 3 Doors Down there is no track on any of the Collective Soul albums to date that I do not like and that is a feat not achieved by any other band

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  • May 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm
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    Great article! Have loved CS since the beginning. One of the best live bands you’ll ever see too. But I’m ok with them staying somewhat “unknown” It keeps them playing the smaller, more intimate venues.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 6:13 pm
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    I discovered CS via the blue and they are shreddy, crunchy goodness. I love them.

    I saw them live that tour in Seattle at the Moore. It was quite possibly the loudest thing I ever heard. I felt it in my bones.

    Live six times, they still rock my socks off.

    Great review. #simpatico

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  • May 15, 2018 at 7:45 pm
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    LOVE COLLECTIVE SOUL ❤❤❤ My husband and I are big fans.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 10:27 pm
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    See What You Started by Continuing is a return to those 90’s sensibilities.

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    • April 1, 2019 at 12:24 am
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      I so agree! I have loved all their abums, but see what..by continuing is such a great album because they got back toxwhat makes them so good…rocking out. I have seen them abou 15 times and met them and these guys are the real deal. Ed said they have a behind the music type documentary coming out next year super excited abou that.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 10:43 pm
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    Definitely one of my most favorite albums of all time (up there with Nothing’s Shocking). Every song on the album is nothing less than phenomenal. Bleed is my personal favorite. When they came out in the 90’s I thought they were good. As their time on the radio and in the spotlight lessened and I actually would sit and listen closely to all their albums from start to finish I began to realize how truly awesome Ed and the entire band are. Like the author of this article, I have not heard more than two or three songs from the albums Blender onwards but what I have heard have been just as great, like Georgia Girl, Under Heavens Skies, Adored. I am so disappointed at myself for never going to see them live. They are coming soon but as an opening band (???) for Three Doors Down so I am assuming with a shorter set which doesn’t help me want to go but I am thinking I will to make sure I don’t take a chance and totally miss out on seeing this great band live.

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  • May 16, 2018 at 8:45 am
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    I loved Collective Soul from the very first moment! Surely, not everything was that good, esp. after 2000. But in the 90’s they were brilliant, for me! I’ve got all of their 90’s albums. (I’m 63 years old 🙂

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  • May 16, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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    One of the best consistent bands of all time. They have stayed steady, strong lyrically, and stayed true to their sound while changing it if that makes any sense. I agree. Pearl Jam has a few great songs, but the majority sounds garage brandish to. Collective soul is cutting with music clarity and and lyrical poetry painting a good picture when 1990s lyrics were so hard to follow. Like random lyrics being thrown together to hide poor writing ability.

    Collective soul should be considered and indicted to rock and roll HOF. Only negative I have is they come from Atlanta and my Astros could never beat that 90s pitching staff the Braves had!!

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  • May 17, 2018 at 4:59 pm
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    “Youth” and “Afterwords” should not be overlooked either. I think “Afterwords” may be my favorite of all.

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  • January 3, 2019 at 10:29 am
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    CS is probably my favorite band. Agreed with all Paul Frias had to say.

    Tim, you should definitely hear their most recent album, 2015’s See What You Started by Continuing. It’s a mix between Collective Soul (1995), Dosage (1999), and the overlooked Blender (2000). I don’t get why so many fans hate on Blender; from the sound, production, and release date one could easily see most if not all of those songs come from the Dosage era studio songs.

    But back to SWYSBC. The first 8 songs are heavy on riffs and could easily be mistaken for 90s songs. Contagious is almost like the twin brother of Heavy. AYTA is very similar to Turn Around. Life is reminiscent of Where the River Flows. Am I Getting Through sounds just like Gel, but with horns added to it. The trio of Hurricane, Exposed (probably my favorite), and Confession rivals the trio of She Gathers Rain, When the Water Falls, and Collection of Goods.

    Then come three laid-back songs. Memoirs of 2005, Tradition, and Without Me, with Tradition being my favorite because it also has a 90s sound to it, but the other two are very good on their own.

    I can say without any doubt that SWYSBC is their third best album, behind Collective Soul (1995) and Dosage. Or maybe fourth, just below Discipline Breakdown.

    PS. Youth (2004), Afterwords (2007), and specially Collective Soul/Rabbit (2009) are excellent albums. I remember before Rabbit was released that Ed and the guys wanted to go back to that true 90s sound, but they fell short. With SWYSBC they delivered it. And judging by the sound of it, Blood (2019) will continue that trend.

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  • April 1, 2019 at 8:05 pm
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    I have seen CS 8 times and own all their albums. The live DVD with the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra is excellent as well. This band deserves much respect and is as good or better than any band out there today. Can’t wait for “Blood” to come out and I encourage everyone to see them live if you have the chance. Top notch!

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