Collective Soul sound refreshed and reinvigorated with a set that stays true to who they are.
See what you started by continuing? No, but really. See what you started by continuing?
Collective Soul have always been admirably self-aware. Read most any interview with band leader Ed Roland through the years, and you'll understand that they don't take themselves too seriously (which is just a tiny bit oxymoronic, considering how relentlessly serious some of their music can sound). When the group's best album, 2000's Blender, was released, they experienced an unwarranted amount of vitriol from their fan base because nobody got the joke that they were actually spoofing the boy-band era with narcissistic cover art and not merely adhering to it. It's a special kind of special when a group tricks their fans into lashing out at them. You have to have an acute sense of humor and a pretty grounded perception of self to pull that off successfully.
That's why, more than two decades into a career now, you can't help but root for Collective Soul. They get it, whatever that all-elusive it is of which we all aspire to be cognizant. Maybe that's why each time you listen to See What You Started By Continuing, it becomes harder to poke holes in it. At a crisp 11 tracks, these songs hit you over the head without apology. At first glance, it may seem like just another Collective Soul record, but look a little further and you'll find a hunger that hasn't been prominent on the band's more recent work.
Even the softer moments are used as little more than set-ups for the rawk (with a "w") that's about to sweep through like a tropical storm. "Exposed" eases in with 25 seconds of "Stairway To Heaven"ish acoustic guitar before giving way to that signature crunch these guys have perfected over the years. Better yet is when Roland races out of the gate with a lyric like this: "You say you want some comedy / Well, I'm not laughin' no more" before winding up at a pre-chorus of, "You took all of my money / You took all of my clothes / You took a little of everything / But it's you who's now exposed". It's the most angst the singer has shown in years.
That same structure -- soft to loud -- works even better on "Confession", a song that begins like a tender B-side for something on Dosage before giving way to a pretty great radio-rock chorus. Bridging the gap between the two sections is a hell of a guitar riff on par with anything from the days of "Where The River Flows" or "Gel". Cap it with a classic Collective Soul bridge; Roland's unmistakable falsetto and a unique repetition that will stick in your head longer than you want it to - and what you have is perhaps the most complete track on the album.
As for the singles, "This" and "AYTA", they hold their own in what has become a lake-deep catalogue of hits. The former blends Rob Thomas-esque production values (or, for that matter, North-era Matchbox Twenty production values) that lean heavily on processed drum sounds and consistently huge guitars. And dammit if that "How'm I gonna leave you when I love you like this" speaking-refrain payoff isn't quintessential Collective Soul, 2015, 2005 or 1995. The latter, meanwhile, pulls out an acoustic guitar previously heard on tracks like "Run" or "She Said" years ago, and it works in a sort of call-to-arms kind of way. It sounds, refreshingly, like a band who left The World They Knew far behind, long ago.
Speaking of leaving things behind, "Memories of 2005" is fun and anthemic, especially with such a grandiose piano line that gets the track rolling. Exploding into a fit of Coldplay arena-rock before pulling back to remind everyone exactly who they're listening to, it's the sound of a band modernizing its formula just the right amount to stay credible. As Roland repeats "Why can't I have you tonight?" through the hook, you can almost see the lighters being replaced by cellphones at their concerts. It's a worthwhile step for a band who has consistently embraced walking.
Or, to paraphrase one of their own songs, running. Thing is, these days, Collective Soul doesn't have nearly as much of a long way to do it as they once did. Such is why a title like See What You Started By Continuing means as much as it does: They probably always knew that the best way to never break up was to … well … never break up. Through it all -- the record labels, the successes, the failures, the lineup changes -- they stayed the course, and this is an album that enjoys the fruits of that labor.
So, really, guys. Keep continuing.