Well, this is a weird one. Collective Soul parted ways with their longtime record label, Atlantic, following the release of the 2001 hits collection 7even Year Itch, and it took them three years to deliver a new album, which meant there was a gap of four years separating their last proper studio album, 2000's Blender, and its 2004 follow-up, Youth. Freed from the pressures of a big record label and the constraints of post-grunge modern rock radio, the band seized the opportunity to reinvent itself. While they still retain some of their essential DNA, especially when they delve into ballads like "How Do You Love," they restyle themselves in fuzzy, shiny glam threads, sounding like a weird cross between David Bowie and INXS (and on "Feels Like (It Feels Alright)," Roland recalls nothing less than Peter Murphy in his vocals). Since Collective Soul are natives of the American South, they favor big riffs ready for big arenas to slinky T. Rex grooves, and since they once had big hits on the radio, they still favor big, glossy productions, but Youth still comes across as a stylized, somewhat modernized spin on heavy glam rock. It sounds a little bit like a streamlined, stateside Spacehog, which means that it doesn't necessarily sound hip, or like something that the "youth" of the album's title would dig, and it's not necessarily something that fans of their big ballads like "December" and "The World I Know" would like, either. But that doesn't mean it's a bad record. Far from it, actually. While the ballads are still a little too saccharine, there aren't many of them, and the rest of the record is fizzy, outsized, hooky, trashy fun. Anybody who considered Stone Temple Pilots a guilty pleasure, or thought that "Gel" was far and away Collective Soul's best song, should check this out -- it doesn't sound much like anything that the band has done before, or like anything that's on modern rock radio, but it's easily one of band's best records. It's a Collective Soul album for people who don't like Collective Soul.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine