Collective Soul was (and still is) a guilty pleasure at times for me. Maybe it’s because “Shine” was such a monster hit, or maybe it’s because for every hit single, there were always one or two songs that slipped under the radar. I always considered “In a Moment” from the band’s 1994 debut Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid (purchased eagerly on cassette I might add!) worthy of huge amounts of airplay. And over the years, while the labels turned their noses up at Collective Soul’s catchy radio-friendly gems, the group stayed true to its strengths irrespective of what the critics said. It should come as maybe a slight surprise that this release, which falls in “too long to be an EP, too short to be an album” territory, is an acoustic affair. It’s a solid effort, but when you think of Collective Soul you think of the hard rock hooks and sugar-coated melodies.
Clocking in at just a hair over a half hour, the record begins with lead singer Ed Roland opening with “Compliment” which basically emaciated the original sound of the tune. It’s reduced to a campfire jingle but damn it’s a pretty good one. The song builds gradually instead of walloping you over the head with the beefy riffs like a ton of the sonic bricks. Light and still having some bite to it, the track recalls a bit of yesteryear and nostalgia, as if Roland is looking at the past in order to move forward. “And there it goes, my innocence,” he sings as the guitar is slowly strummed and Shane Evans lends some percussion. Perhaps it ends too abruptly, but it’s a decent album starter. “Youth” ensues and seems a bit forced in the way some bands attempt to get an audience to hold cigarette lighters high overhead when the obligatory ballad slows the gig down. Again Roland and guitar are front and center, but there is little special here. Strong and well performed, but nothing that really grips you from the onset.
What is possibly the most puzzling or head scratching moment are the opening notes to “December” (which comes off like something Glenn Frey and Don Henley might be considering covering). Thankfully, the percussion adds something to the proceedings, but it’s an ambling stroll through a great rock tune that has been reduced to a “don’t shoot the piano player” saloon ditty. “Baby just spit me out,” Roland croons in a way that could lead listeners to think the band is doing somewhat the same with their own tune.
Fortunately, pay dirt is struck with “Perfect to Stay”, a track that has some intensity and gravitas embedded in it. It’s also one of the first times on the album you get the full band feel from start to finish. And the band does no wrong here, making it possibly the highlight of the EP, er, no, album, er, no, er, release.
After a sappy, melancholic and reflective serenade effort that is “Under Heaven’s Skies”, Collective Soul then offers up a very pleasing “She Said”, the closest to the original as any of this release. Although the track sounds like it was nailed in the first or second take, the song is able to survive thanks to the honesty of the lyrics. Unfortunately, when done acoustically some of the refrains and fade-outs tend to die a bit earlier than they should. Also unfortunate, “Counting the Days” is a murky, blues number that pushes the musical envelope into the musical shredder. It’s a noble attempt, but one that should have been passed on. “Satellite” atones for it with a version that is much more suited to the album’s overall theme.
Collective Soul will still keep the rock songs going, but at the heart of From the Ground Up, you can still see several jewels in the acoustic versions.