Album Review: Collective Soul – 7even Year Itch

Atlanta-based rock band Collective Soul rose to prominence in the early ‘90s with the breakout success of their debut album, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. Against the backdrop of the music scene of that era, the band’s post-grunge approach fit in seamlessly with the alternative rock and late-period college rock movement. Cheaply made as a demo recording, the album featured “Shine,” a representative track that caught the attention of WRAS-FM. That non-commercial station was part of Georgia State University, and with a 50,000-watt signal, it broadcast (in those pre-internet days) to millions of potential listeners in the metro Atlanta area. In short, WRAS had a platform that many of its college radio brethren lacked.

And when “Shine” was picked up and put into “power rotation” by deejays at my alma mater (I studied at the “concrete campus” 1981-86), the fuse was lit. “Shine” took off, the band landed a major label deal, and Hints Allegations was picked up and re-released by Atlantic Records. The band led by Ed Roland had wished to re-record the record, but the label said no.

So it was that 1995’s Collective Soul would be regarded by the group as its proper debut. For listeners, that’s all a matter of semantics, if it matters at all. The album deftly avoided the mythical “sophomore slump” curse, scoring enthusiastic reviews, solid chart action and eventual triple-Platinum sales (3 million units in the U.S. alone). That Collective Soul went on tour as the opening act for a band called Van Halen didn’t hurt things a bit.

Management woes precipitated a nearly two-year wait for a followup. But when Disciplined Breakdown appeared, critics were every bit as enthusiastic as they had been about previous releases. Critics and listeners alike praised the album. Heavy touring followed, and when the band’s third-or-fourth (you decide) album came out in ‘99, the music did show signs of burnout. But it, too sold well (Platinum in the U.S.) and earned positive critical notices.

Only a year later, Collective Soul returned with 2000’s Blender. It charted respectably, but sales figures were more modest, and it would be the group’s final release for Atlantic. Record labels being what they are, though, a mere 11 months later Atlantic scooped up 11 tracks from across the band’s catalog (plus two previously unheard songs) and released them on CD as 7even Year Itch. Once again, critics and listeners responded positively.

Collective Soul would soldier on, self-releasing albums that – while not commercial barnburners – continued to find favor with music critics. While the group’s lineup remained constant through the Atlantic era, in later years they’d go through two more lead guitarists and three more drummers. The lineup has been unchanged since 2014, nearly a decade now; the current band has made three albums and an EP of all new material. A highlight of the band’s post-Atlantic career is a 2006 live album made in collaboration with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. Happily, today they’re still at it; 2022’s Vibrating was as warmly received by critics as anything from Collective Soul’s Atlantic era.

But for listeners who know of the group only via their most high-profile work (i.e. the major label releases), the tidy collection that is 7even Year Itch (subtitled Greatest Hits 1994-2001) is a strong reminder of Collective Soul’s appeal.

Collective Soul’s high-profile period coincided with the peak of the CD era, and an especially low time for the vinyl LP record. So it was that most of the band’s albums would be unavailable in the twelve-inch format. 7even Year Itch certainly wasn’t. But now in 2023, Craft Recordings has arranged the first-ever vinyl release of the greatest hits collection. And sailing against convention, this new vinyl release actually has more music than did its CD counterpart. In addition to all 13 tracks from the CD, the new release adds a catchy duet with fellow Atlanta resident Elton John, “Perfect Day” (an Ed Roland original, not the Lou Reed song of the same name).

That track had appeared on international releases of the CD back in 2000. (Not included on the set is the video edit of the song, in which Elton’s voice has been excised from the track. No big loss; Elton’s contribution is most welcome.) Then as now, the label seems to have spent as little as possible on packaging; the black-and-white cover is as simple as can be. But you came for the music, right?

The track sequencing on 7even Year Itch jumbles the songs into non-chronological order, and that approach works. Rather than presenting the songs in a way that suggests some sort of purported band-development progression, it simply offers them up as a collection of very good, hooky and memorable tunes. For Collective Soul fans who own a turntable, this new release of 7even Year Itch (offsetting the uninspired cover art with an inner sleeve lyrics-and-photos sheet and beautiful yellow splatter vinyl) will be a fine addition to their catalog. For those (again, with a turntable) who are less familiar with the work of this very good band, the vinyl reissue is a fine place to begin.