I want to make one thing clear, right up front.....I dig Collective Soul! They're one of the few rock acts (along with Sheryl Crow and, to a lesser degree, The Wallflowers) to emerge over the last fifteen years who's entire catalog I've purchased, who's new releases I'll pick up on the day they come out, and who I continually try to turn others on to. Needless to say, after the exceptionally strong piece of work that was 2004's YOUTH, their latest offering was one of my most eagerly anticipated new releases for 2007. Sadly, AFTERWORDS ultimately falls short of my expectations. It's not that it's a bad album.....it's just that we've heard most of this disc before on previous CS albums. In fact, during my first listen, I kept picking out earlier songs and albums that each track reminded me of! Things kick off with the blistering "New Vibration", a powerhouse tour de force that is anchored by new drummer Ryan Hoyle. While Shane Evans was no slouch, Hoyle has a style that is equal parts power and finesse, and he puts the former to excellent use here. Next up is the brilliantly textured "What I Can Give You." Amid layers of shimmering guitars, a pounding backbeat, muted keyboards and whip-smart percussion, Ed Roland lays down a lead vocal that is both smooth and sincere. Even though the intro to "Never Here Alone" veers dangerously close to ripping off the opening chords of "Dandy Life" from 1999's amazing DOSAGE, it still manages to be another high point on AFTERWORDS. Armed with a tight arrangement and a killer lead vocal, the strong lyrics ("Had a thought but it hurt/So I let it go/I let it go/See I don't need these verses/Laying down their blues on me today") slyly roll off Roland's tongue, resulting in a track that is seductive and spirited. Brilliant! Ditto "Bearing Witness." This hypnotic ballad has the same sort of romantic, sweeping grandeur as INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" or The Police's "Every Breath You Take." Everything is rather understated, but that's why it works so well; the song draws you in with it's magic, yet doesn't pummel you over the head with it. Aces! It's at this point that the disc hits a few rocky spots. "All That I Know" is nice enough, with some tasteful psuedo flamenco guitar riffs, but this is the sort of cut that's nothing new for Collective Soul. Ultimately a pleasant enough but rather forgettable track. "I Don't Need Anymore Friends" is a rarity....a lead vocal from someone other than Ed Roland. Lead guitarist Joel Kosche takes over on a track that just doesn't work for me....the vocal doesn't seem to fit and the song goes nowhere (I think it's a "to each their own" type of thing, though....this is one of my best friend's favorite cuts!).
"Good Morning After All" has a nice, classic Collective Soul vibe to it, what with it's layered guitars, steady rhythm section and thoughtful lyrics ("But you swear there's always hope/Always hope from above/Now everything starts to fall into place"). Once again, it's nothing we've never heard before, but sometimes the ratty, old bathrobe is the most comfortable one...! Not so comfy is "Hollywood." Ed Roland has been quoted as saying that the song is a tribute to The Cars, but a good tribute is fresh, fun and original...."Hollywood" is none of those. Instead, it's a piece of empty pop fluff that The Cars would have left on the studio floor 25 years ago. MAJOR misstep! Far better is the rumbling "Persuasion Of You." This track provided me with a new found appreciation of and for bassist Will Turpin. Like some of my other all-time favorite bassists (John McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Jean Millington of Fanny and INXS' Gary Garry Beers), Turpin anchors this cut - and pretty much every track on the disc - with chunky chords that are beefy and strong, yet never overpowering or obtrusive. Simply put, Will Turpin is the musical heart ~ and soul! ~ of Collective Soul. "Georgia Girl" has a cool, clean earthiness to it. Part ballad, part mid-tempo rocker, it's an easy, relaxed little number that just floats out of the speakers, settling comfortably in the listener's head. Sweet! The disc closes on a strong note with the sublime "Adored." Understated instrumentation + subtle lead vocals = perfection. Toss in some deep, but heartfelt, lyrics ("I can say this life is/Much better today/Everything turns right if/Wrong gets in the way") and you have a real winner. So....my final thoughts on AFTERWORDS? I don't love it, I don't hate it. I certainly still think that Collective Soul is one of the best bands to hit the scene in the last decade or so, and, hey, this just gives me something to look forward to.....seems I LOVE every other Collective Soul album! (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics).