Atlanta quintet Collective Soul has proven to be one of the era's most durable and resilient bands, withstanding the fickle whims of popular musical taste to maintain a consistent level of musical growth and commercial success over the course of a seven-year recording career. The band's winning streak continues with its fifth album, Blender, which maintains the group's trademark blend of sonic aggression, melodic guitar hooks, and the articulate songwriting of frontman/songwriter Ed Roland.
The assemblage of Atlanta club-scene veterans - which also includes guitarists Dean Roland (Ed's brother) and Ross Childress, bassist Will Turpin and drummer Shane Evans - first caught the public's attention with its double platinum 1994 debut album, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, which spawned the ubiquitous hit "Shine." The triple platinum follow-up, Collective Soul, spawned such popular numbers as "Gel," "December," "Where the River Flows" and "The World I Know." 1997's Disciplined Breakdown featured the successful tracks "Listen" and "Precious Declaration," while 1998's Dosage yielded one of the band's biggest radio hits ever with "Heavy," underlining Collective Soul's impressive staying power.
"We were supposed to be the one-hit wonder of '94, and then the two-hit wonder of '95, but we never paid any attention to that stuff," Ed Roland says. "We always knew that we could do it as a band."
True to its title, Blender - whose first single, "Why Pt. 2," debuted as the most-added track on rock and alternative radio stations - finds Collective Soul expanding its sound via some adventurous rhythms and exotic sonic textures. But despite the album's introduction of new sonic frills, Roland insists, "We're a guitar band. That'll always be the cornerstone of what Collective Soul does. And you can expand from that."
Indeed, the recording sessions that spawned Blender were deliberately designed to take place in a laid-back, organic manner, with most of the material written and recorded during loose, laid-back jam sessions at the band's rehearsal space.
"We had an absolute blast making this one," says Roland. "It was the most enjoyable one to make, mostly because everyone was in a good mindspace; there was no real drama going on in anyone's life. Where we were recording was just a big room, so it kind of had an open vibe. We set up couches, people would come in and watch us... It was a real loose vibe, which was good, because with the last record, we spent a lot of time in the studio making sure everything was performed perfectly and arranged perfectly. This time we wanted to have a little more fun. We wanted to enjoy the process."
The sessions' loose, informal atmosphere resulted in some prominent local musical figures dropping by to lend their talents, including Atlanta resident and longtime band admirer Elton John, who contributes duet vocals and piano on "Perfect Day," singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins, and Marvelous 3 members Jayce Fincher and Bruce Walker. In keeping with the communal vibe, Blender was chosen as the album's title as the result of a local radio-station contest, which attracted over 12,000 entries.
While the less regimented birth cycle resulted in a looser, performance-oriented vibe, the 11-song Blender maintains the band's original appeal, with songs like "10 Years Later" and "Skin" offering the fivesome's trademark combo of hard-edged guitar riffs and supremely catchy melodies, while "After All" and "Turn Around" embrace an introspective bittersweetness. "Over Tokyo" takes a stab at synth-pop, and a cover of Morphine's "You Speak My Language" showcases a more playfully eclectic side.
As Roland recently commented to Billboard, "I think it shows maturity, and I think it's a little bit more of a fun record for it, maybe 'cause that was the attitude we had making it."