Coming from modest and humble beginnings before gracing the stage with the likes of Taylor Swift, the now internationally praised and acclaimed band NEEDTOBREATHE have released ‘H A R D L O V E’ to the familiar encores of approval and satisfaction from their legionnaire of supporters.
Fresh off the road from their North American headline tour, NEEDTOBREATHE went straight back to the studio to record the highly anticipated sixth album, collaborating with long time friends Shovels & Rope, as well as a plethora of talented writers (Ido Zmishlany, Luke Laird, Dave Tozer). The resulting record brings an interesting twist on an 80’s pop vibe combined with the bands distinct heavy blues. The only question; is this polished pop gloss off-putting for long time fans?
Opening immediately with an in your face echoed and oscillating vocal track ‘Mountain Pt. 1’, the album’s narrative throws the listener off focus, before emerging from the delays and walls of reverbs with the album titled track ‘HARD LOVE’. The transition from echoe to synthesizer is seamless as an 80s drum machine backs up tremlo synths and “Bear’s” familiar vocal tone. The song commands attention and does well to lead the album. Although simplistically the song’s aesthetic revolves around never giving up, the narrative of the bands songs have been pigeon holed into Christian Rock genres, with any self redemption or leadership tropes being automatically linked to an omniscient power. But this critical reception hasn’t deterred the band yet, as ‘Money & Fame’ opens into a classic 80s soul beat. The new direction in lyrical tone and circa era style, represents the bands ease to break expectations and sing in a multitude of styles and topics.
Once again NTB lead into the raw and intimate ukulele lead ‘No Excuses’; a lead single that builds on each chorus into a marching anthem, before climaxing into a Nashville inspired fuzz solo. Remarkably one of their more gospel inspired songs, the mix up of influences adds a new and desperately needed twist on the tired trope. The blues and Nashville rock narrative continues into ‘Great Night’, a foot stomping, guitar-scratching theme. One of their simpler arrangements, if not thanks to the repetitive bass line this is definitely a song dedicated to their die-hard fan base, as the song is decorated with Jack White ordants and the featured guitar solo from ‘Shovels & Rope’. It makes up for the drop in quality with the fun and likeability of the track.
Nearing the end of the album, each song has been overcome with self-indulgent guitar solos, while highly virtuosic are still imprisoned by the constructs of pop. ‘Bo’ Rinehart has already proved his worth, but his effect is lost as he opens tracks ‘Don’t Bring That Trouble’ with the determination of Maggotbrain, but lacks the conviction to standout with his talents. He is instead panned to the background, with the song taking a disappointing turn towards a more conservative sound, only slightly redeeming itself with a welcomed break beat.
All in all, the album is fun and worthy of its opening spot at No. 1 on the Billboards. The switch between hard riff rock and intimacy can at times be awkward, but NTB follow through with their consistent good tracks. Despite the divide of honest raw rock, and a glossier safe pop feel, the album runs well and brings highs and lows with an immersive effect on the listener. Honest and moving in a new and welcomed direction, this is a band that even after a decade and a half of repertoire show no signs of slowing down.