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Record Review

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Musical craftsmanship can be a wicked, double-edged sword. Too little attention to detail makes even superior bands sound sloppy and haphazard, while too much results in a sound so sterile as to be devoid of emotion. To their credit, Atlanta's Collective Soul aim for the middle ground, but can't seem to leave well enough alone. Their fifth release is a perfectly competent, occasionally moving, contemporary rock radio album that feels forced, stiff and strained.

Head Soul-ster Ed Roland writes superior songs with snappy hooks, monster riffs and hummable melodies, all justifiable qualities for a working arena band aiming for the lighter-in-the-air crowd. But his tendency to over-think creates a faceless piece of product whose best moments are the few where the hint of subtlety, let alone band interaction, is allowed to peek through. Roland's propensity to play to the back rows leaves his gorgeous ballads sounding bloated, and his rockers as listless as last night's TV dinner.

The appropriately named Blender (chosen by a fan in a highly publicized 99X contest) throws big drums, big guitars and big loops into the mixmaster and the generic effect booms like 45 minutes on typical alternative rock radio. It's disappointing because Roland's tunes consistently stack up as well above average. When the elements click, as on the elegiac Bowie-ish "After All" and the Elton John-assisted "Perfect Day," Collective Soul lets their light shine down and shows their pop smarts. But too often they succumb to the musical craftsmanship that runs rampant through their veins, leaving Blender utterly professional, wholly radio-ready and, contrary to the band's name, sadly soul-less.

Collective Soul plays the Tabernacle on Nov. 5 and 6.

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