From their break-out, if overplayed, single “Shine” to “December”, “Gel”, “The World I Know”, and “Run”, Collective Soul has turned out hit after hit of standard rock numbers, from the power-chord driven to the ballad. In fact, their consistency seems to be the one thing that critics of the band latch onto as a point of failure. It seems that some don’t like their music to be semi-predictable and non-experimental.
But if Collective Soul doesn’t seem to take many risks, it’s because the formula the band has hit on works so well for them. Ed Roland has one of the more distinctive voices in contemporary rock, and it’s a pretty versatile voice to boot, as evidenced by the different sounds of the above-mentioned singles. As musicians, Collective Soul make no bones about being anything more than a guitar band, so it’s hard to hold their reliance on riffs and crunchy noises against them. And, well, they’re good at what they do. The string of platinum albums and number one singles speaks for itself that there are people that this formula appeals to.
Blender isn’t a departure from their standard, and as such it seems to be fairly destined to offer up a few major radio hits that keep the band chugging into the new decade. The singles leap out at you, almost as if you’ve heard them already. In point of fact, you almost have. The lead single from the album is “Why Pt. 2”, a song that resurrects the spare power chord format of “Shine” and “December”, and even if you heard the song in passing on the radio, you’d immediately say, “Oh, that’s a Collective Soul song”. Although Blender sports some electronic tinkerings and the odd scratching effects to give it a contemporary feel, there’s nothing but rock-pop here.
Individually, the songs aren’t bad. Blender opens with three songs (“Skin”, “Vent” and “Why Pt. 2”) that might dissuade the discerning listener from sticking things out since they are definitely the most formulaic of the pack. But then they switch into “10 Years Later”, which harkens back to the breathy ballad days of “The World I Know” sans orchestral overtones, showing that Collective Soul are equally adept at slowing things down as they are at churning out three minute rockers. The one moment of sheer, unadulterated pop on Blender, the anthemic “Perfect Day”, which features guest vocals and piano from none other than Sir Elton John himself, is particularly striking by its directness. No feints or dodges here, the hooks fall into all the right places and the compliment of John’s voice to Roland’s is surprisingly sweet.
And what is it about Japan? I mean, the joke that Alphaville played up on in the ‘80s (“Big in Japan”) has always had a large kernel of truth to it, but is it truly the last bastion on Earth for feeling like a rock god? The cover of Blender features a few Japanese pictograms (possibly spelling out “Collective Soul”, but I don’t read Japanese, so…) and the album itself features another anthemic song called “Over Tokyo”. The song is actually a sad, mournful tale of trying to escape the pain of the present, and where does Roland decide to take us? Tokyo. Because, as he states, “There’s no memories over Tokyo / And there’s no hurting over Tokyo”. I have no real idea what this means, but it sounds good. Perhaps the Japanese government should put together a travelogue for tourists that it entirely comprised of foreign rock and pop stars singing about Japan. But I digress….
The one song that stands out on Blender is a cover. This isn’t to disparage the rest of the originals, but “You Speak My Language”, a fairly obscure track from the late Morphine. First of all, I love Morphine, and I’ll miss Mark Sandman, but a cover of any of their songs runs the risk of sounding either bombastic or just terrible considering
Morphine’s unique line-up of two-string bass, bari sax, and drums. Fortunately Collective Soul avoid these traps by recording it entirely in their own vein. Or perhaps just slightly out of their vein. It’s one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and the rumbling bass and deep guitar crunch sound like the most contemporary hard rock bands (okay, so they’re no Twiztid, but that ain’t such a bad thing), and as a result it doesn’t leave a ghostly impression of a Morphine song, but becomes something unto itself.
The title of the album, chosen by fans in a radio contest, is an apt way to describe this disc. The production doesn’t seem to have any cohesive sense of order, but is instead just a collection of songs thrown together. The heavy atmospherics of “You Speak My Language” lead straight into the pop sweetness of “Perfect Day”. It’s almost jarring at times. But, on the other hand, the whole thing is…yes…consistent. And as a blender whips its ingredients into a single consistency, so does Blender give each of its songs the room to have an individual, yet indivisible, life of its own.
But this is not a bad thing. I’ll forgive Collective Soul for one thing I see as silly: the headshots that adorn the album cover seem like an attempt to turn the band into the boy-band of rock. Otherwise, consistency can work in your favor. People spend big bucks on what they like, and they’ve liked Collective Soul’s music in the past. And like the old adage says, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
// Notes from the Road
"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.READ the article