Needtobreathe – ‘Hard Love’ [Review]
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When you have five albums, a Grammy nomination, and sellout arena shows behind you, where do you go from there? How do you propel yourself over those final few hurdles and hit that next level? Needtobreathe now face that problem – a quality problem, sure, but a problem nonetheless.
Hard Love is their answer, the title referencing the multiplicity of issues Needtobreathe have had to overcome in order to get where they currently are. Musically, it’s a bold departure from where they’ve been before, adding liberal swathes of synths to an established mix of gospel, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and soul. It’s also likely to divide existing fans, while hopefully attracting still more fresh followers to the Needtobreathe cause.
Hard Love is a gamble, ambitious in scope and utterly immersive in its execution. This music would sound out of place in small venues, if the walls of such venues were capable of bearing its onslaught in the first place. On this album, Needtobreathe are an unstoppable sonic force.
The shift in focus is clear from the first moments of short opener Mountain Pt. 1 and solidified by title track Hard Love, beat-heavy synth pop with a powerful and punchy rock foundation, guitars and electronics merging seamlessly. Money And Fame follows, hot brass and languid grooves touching on a Maroon 5 vibe spiced up with gorgeous gospel and soul. No Excuses delves into delicate acoustic territory, a slow burning ballad about being hurt by a high school sweetheart which also homes a twisted, fuzzy guitar solo.
Beyond that point, Needtobreathe quickly hit a comfortable groove; although Hard Love clearly required a shit-ton of creative energy in order to exist, the end result feels impressively effortless. If there’s a criticism to be levelled at this album, it’s that while Needtobreathe themselves have been stretched in its making, listeners won’t be – unless they’re die hard fans accustomed to what came before. This is, at its core, modern pop through and through – and the remainder of Hard Love frequently feels more like a triumph of style over substance.
Happiness, Great Night, and Don’t Bring That Trouble are all quality songs, executed with great feel and slickly produced without being drained of their vital essence. The same goes for Be Here Long, Let’s Stay Home Tonight, and Clear, a trio of variously tinted love songs, bittersweet, warm, and lucid – and Testify, which references Needtobreathe’s Christian beliefs while merging them with what feels like a fourth form of love song. In a live setting, whether in theatres, halls, arenas or festival fields, these songs will make thousands of fans’ nights and prove worth the price of admission – but on record, the end result feels a bit like eating a bucket of candy floss. It’s a great experience, but by the time it’s gone you look back and realise that you’re still hungry for something more filling.
Ultimately, we’re back to the start again. Hard Love is ambitious, but listeners are going to be divided as to the reasons behind it. For some, it will be a cool, refreshing relief – for others, it will represent a career move more than an artistic statement, an attempt to taste still rarer air at the expense of depth and meaning. Personally, I recommend checking it out and deciding for yourself – as a listening experience, Hard Love is truly awesome in scope regardless of the thoughts thrown up in its wake.
TMMP RATING: 92%
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