Today, some guy came into my apartment and installed locked perspex boxes around the thermostats that control the central heating. Just prior to me running around breaking things, a friend suggested that I change it up, find an angry song and let my soon-to-be-cold fingers take it out on my keyboard. Collective Soul is my response. The weekend in New York City, and particularly a ridiculous Saturday night out in Brooklyn, inspired the choice, too. If anything, walking the entire lengths of avenues to save money on exorbitant subway costs, turning up to parties publicised as symposiums with free beer and cut-price pizza and buffering bagels with meals of dumplings and cheddar omelettes proved that there is no such thing as propriety when it comes to the city that never sleeps. The maxim, helped along by an hour lost to creeping daylight savings time, was played out in speakeasies, honkytonk taverns and dive bars. Collective Soul, otherwise a guilty pleasure in the form of an early-90s grunge hit single, is acceptable, laudable, brilliant in a city in which anything is possible, many things are probable and there are no poor choices.
Where my knowledge of grunge runs from Nirvana to Pearl Jam and promptly ends there, my understanding of post-grunge, a subset label unbeknownst to me until now, is surprisingly far more extensive. Post-grunge takes in most everything post-Nirvana (1993 or so), most notably that band’s drummer Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters, 90s stalwarts Third Eye Blind and less… critically acclaimed acts like Nickelback and Creed. One part of Seth McFarlane’s ‘Ted’, in which the eponymous teddy bear, singing karaoke, claims ‘you can do any 90s song with just vowels‘ is probably the easiest way to quickly define the genre. But as much as I loved that joke, and as much as vast swathes of the genre have become incredibly passe incredibly quickly, there is a reason songs like ‘Shine’ still cut through today and a reason why so many of those bands we love to hate – Nickelback and Matchbox 20 among them – continue to survive. While so much of the music sounds derivative, that might only be a function of the style’s immense popularity during that halcyon decade. We so saturated our airwaves with vowels that myriad similar bands thrived. None of which makes the output any less valuable.
‘Shine’ is a song that is instantly easy to write off. It sounds like so much else we’ve heard that it takes more than a double take to realise that the astounding riffs at its core aren’t borrowed but are actually, genuinely, incredibly original. It’s as if Collective Soul were a superband made up of the most impressive members of all those aforementioned groups and charged with writing the post-grunge standard. An intriguing mix of scepticism and awe thus surrounds every listen as you’re continually questioning whether a line or a chord was stolen and alternatively, doubting your cynicism and being bowled over by the whole thing. Having interrogated the song thoroughly, I have now moved past the incredulous phase to enter full-on admiration and embrace the track as my answer to New York’s arbitrariness and my thermostat invasion anger. Over 4’40”, ‘Shine’ is constantly prototypical but also impressively diverse. The heavy, stacatto riffs that usher in the chorus, punctuated by hilarious/effective ‘yeah’s are gall distilled. The pitch-modulated guitars and religious undertones of that chorus offer up a blissful release. The solo which comes on around 2’45” is a hint of serious rock to anchor the effort. It’s hot, early 90s rage served up New York style: evocative and addictive. ‘Shine’ is perfect for a cool night in.
Collective Soul – Shine