Collective Soul makes big changes with latest release
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By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- There's nothing wrong with a little musical formula, especially if it is actually energized and somewhat inspired. Collective Soul's catchy brand of melodic hard rock is pretty much pure formula, but through a string of number-one hits and platinum albums, the group has more than proven that its own musical recipe is very easy to swallow.
On their latest release, "Dosage," the quintet -- Ed Roland on vocals and keyboards and brother Dean on rhythm guitars, Ross Childress on lead and rhythm guitars, Will Turpin on bass and percussion, and Shane Evans on drums -- presents a smorgasbord of tunes that satisfy all rock fans: Slick yet scrappy melodies edgy enough to pack some bite, perceptive lyrics that straddle the fine line between vapid and overbearing, and a groove that nags at you to drum your steering wheel, improvise at air guitar and rock out.
"This album is the same balance we've always had with melodic, riff-based rock songs, but we brought in the programming aspect on this one. We worked with a string quartet on two different songs," says Dean Roland, taking a few minutes before a soundcheck at the band's in-store appearance at an Atlanta Blockbuster Music store to mark the release of the album. "We always approach each song individually, try to make the most of each song and bring it to life as much as possible."
With its chunky guitar sounds, churning rhythms, gigantic choruses and the requisite arena power ballads, the album, which hit stores on February 9, retains Collective Soul's brand of dense, tuneful and very polished rock that's easy on the ears and very palatable to radio -- their single "Run," which was featured on the soundtrack to the hit movie "Varsity Blues," is on heavy rotation on modern rock radio stations nationwide.
Collective Soul is about to kick off a world tour in early March, tapping fellow Georgians the Marvelous 3 to open for them in Canada.
Demo becomes debut
Collective Soul hails from the inauspicious Mayberry-esque Georgia town of Stockbridge, where all five members have known each other since childhood. In high school, Childress, Evans and Turpin were constantly in and out of bands with each other. Meanwhile, Ed and Dean Roland, who had grown up in a stern household where the music they listened to was strictly monitored, pursued songwriting and guitar, respectively.
They came together in their current formation in 1993, after Dean joined the band, put together a demo of their work and sent it to labels. Atlantic Records bit, and that demo kickstarted Collective Soul's rather charmed musical life -- it ended up serving as the band's debut "Hints, Allegations & Things Left Unsaid," which catapulted the Georgia natives into the national modern-rock radio spotlight.
The album sold like crazy -- in fact, it went platinum. Yet Collective Soul received their fair share of critical bashing.
"In the beginning, critics saw it as Ed Roland's songwriting demo, like he had done the whole thing by himself. Critics saw us as a put-together band -- Ed got a record deal and had to put together a band. That wasn't the case at all. We had been playing for nine years," says Roland.
Yet the unanticipated success of the debut was a very mixed blessing for the band. Yes, they loved the acclaim, but weren't happy with the product.
"The one major thing we had to overcome in the beginning was that the first album was a demo. It was a collection of songs over a two- to three-year period, just band demos. It wasn't a studio album," says Childress, who, along with Turpin and Evans, still lives in Stockbridge. "People perceived on that first album and that was not exactly the representation we wanted."
"We just did it all backwards," says Roland. "That was not the album we wanted out. After eight months of that record being out, we went back to the studio and released a record a year later."
Their 1995 self-titled follow-up album spent 76 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts, ultimately going double-platinum. Two years later, "Disciplined Breakdown" did its predecessors proud, earning RIAA gold while demonstrating Collective Soul's expanding songcraft and evolving range of expression. The album generated two No. 1 hits: "Precious Declaration" and "Listen."
At long last, critical praise
Now, from the dense, reverberant dance grind of "Heavy" to the gentle "Dandy Life" and the acoustically brooding "Needs," the band's fourth album sustains the band's commitment to rock and electric guitars. And for the first time, on the Childress-penned and recorded "Dandy Life," someone other than Ed Roland sang lead vocals, something that Roland calls "a big change for us."
"I see elements from each album that stand out. The last album, 'Disciplined Breakdown,' I see that as a lyrical album. It was very open and honest. The second album had a live feel and a broadness to it," says Roland.
And though Collective Soul have often been lumped together with such faceless post-grunge bands as Seven Mary Three, Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20, the reviews for "Dosage" have been largely positive.
"We've always had, for what it's worth, middle-of-the-road reviews. It seems now that critics that didn't like us in the past are starting to," says Roland. "It's us proving that like it or not, we make decent music."
"I think it's because we've been around. It's the longevity," says Childress. "We have a catalog now."
"We were given the opportunity to develop as a band," says Roland. "We've stayed together and had great fan support."
During the course of their marathon recording, started in Miami and completed at Tree Studios in Atlanta, the band experimented freely, even collaborating with the Atlanta Symphony on the album. They say it's all part of their efforts to continue maturing with each album.
"We want to show a growth from album to album, as a band, as songwriters, as musicians," says Childress.
WorldBeat Fresh Cuts' 'Dosage' mini-review
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