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Needtobreathe: Hard Love *

Track List

>Mountain, Pt. 1
>Hard Love
>Money & Fame
>No Excuses
>When I Sing
>Great Night - (featuring Shovels & Rope)
>Be Here Long
>Don't Bring That Trouble
>Let's Stay Home Tonight

Album Notes

Needtobreathe's sixth studio album, Hard Love, is a concerted pop effort, an arrow aimed at the mainstream bullseye. Since their debut in 2006, the Carolina quartet's journey from wide-eyed CCM-lite rock band into full-fledged powerhouse has seen them -- at different points -- tread the paths worn by Coldplay, U2, John Mayer, and Mumford and Sons. On Hard Love, they fully grasp the Kings of Leon influence that has always bubbled beneath the surface and splice it with Ryan Tedder's songcraft, making their best record since 2011's The Reckoning. For the old-school CCM fans, there are still hints of devotion subtly woven into the lyrics, but overall, this is a 12-song collection to please everyone. The sheen and polish of their evolved sound is immediately evident on album-opener "Mountain, Pt.1," a haunting Auto-Tuned intro that recalls Bon Iver's work with Kanye West. The guys don't hold back from there, pounding away on the title track, which bleeds with urgency and deft production. Much of this album is a holy union of Kings of Leon's southern grit (frontman Bear Rinehart's vocal similarity to Kings' vocalist Caleb Followill is uncanny) and OneRepublic-sized pop/rock anthems. It's their poppiest offering to date and the most radio accessible. "Money & Fame" struts with funky backing vocals and horn blasts, like Gavin Degraw leading a church choir. "Happiness" is an aptly titled blazer, combining barn-stomping Lumineers energy with an explosive Nathaniel Rateliff-delivery that lifts the listener into the heavens. "Great Night" is the most rousing track on the album, employing a Gary Glitter heartbeat in a song about feeding the urge to just dance. Lyrically, faithful diehards may find some issue with the secular focus, but Needtobreathe have been slowly creeping away from overt CCM themes for a few albums, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise. For those who desire a little worship band reverence, "Be Here Long," "No Excuses," "Testify," and stunning closer "Clear" could just as easily be performed during a church service as on-stage at a rock concert. Aside from the tender ode to an obvious lover on "Let's Stay Home Tonight," the lyrical object of devotion could be God or a loved one; the difference lies in each listener. Like any cleverly crafted praise music, Hard Love balances both sides of their fan base, pleasing the faithful without alienating the mainstream. Whether they lift spirits with their music or their message, Needtobreathe's brand of riveting heartland spirituality reaches a peak on Hard Love. ~ Neil Z. Yeung


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