Prime Cuts: Happiness, Money and Fame, Testify
After 2014's "Rivers in the Wasteland," which was a more reflective and rootsy recess, NEEDTOREATHE are back in the saddle with open cylinders. Sounding rejuvenated and upbeat, "Hard Love" (stylized as "H A R D L O V E") finds the quartet back with their familiar grunge rock sounds with undercurrents of soul and EDM. The band is composed of Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Bo Rinehart (backing vocals, guitar), Seth Bolt (backing vocals, bass) and Josh Lovelace (backing vocals, keys). Prior to this release, they have released five studio albums: Daylight (2006), The Heat (2007), The Outsiders (2009), The Reckoning (2011) and Rivers in the Wasteland (2014).
Co-produced by NEEDTOBREATHE and recorded at their very own Plantation Studios in Charleston, SC, "H A R D L O V E" is the quartet's sixth studio album. In sync with the bulk of their own canon, these 12 songs pendulum swings between downright secular love and moralistic songs to thinly cloaked spiritual songs. Opening with the 0.56 minute prelude "Mountain Part One," we get a foretaste of the album with the song's electronic warbling and the distorted sounds. With its distance-sounding vocals that calls to mind those analog records of the 70s and with swirling fat electronic beats, the title cut "H A R D L O V E" is where nu folk meets EDM.
Featuring some Motown brass horns accompanying a tune that could have well been written by Marvin Gaye in his prime is "Money and Fame." This soul-pricking tune warns against the temptations that the two commodities bring told with some arresting lines: "I was sleeping with a loaded gun/I was scared of all the things I've done." "No Excuses" finds Bear utilizing his Prince-esque falsetto over an electric guitar-led rock tune. Though the song doesn't mention Jesus directly, the punchy and upbeat "Happiness" gets to the heart of our Lord's teaching: what constitutes contentment?
"When I Sing" and "Great Night" step away from the spiritual hefty terrain for more down time fun. Yet, for a band who has got on ruminating about life's meaning via "Happiness," to hear them singing:"Let's have a great night on the dance floor/I'll be the cowboy on the white horse" sounds incongruous. Much more substantial is the romantic folkish ballad "Let's Stay Home Tonight." "Testify," which is a modern worship anthem about surrendering to God, gets back into the CCM territory.
The same can be said about "Clear" which is essentially a love song to God. Though it is understandable that NEEDTOBREATHE is trying to reach beyond the CCM crowd, but when it's a blatant worship song, is it too much to ask if the name "Jesus" is mentioned perhaps once or twice?