Babes Never Die is the sophomore LP from Scottish two-piece, Honeyblood, following on from their self-titled debut in 2014. Those intervening years have been busy for the band: founding member Shona McVicar left to focus on a dentistry degree, being replaced by Cat Myers in what may turn out to be a Pete Best move, since this new line-up went on to support some huge acts, most notably the Foo Fighters for their 2015 Edinburgh show.
Honeyblood’s brand of heavily 90’s influenced, lo-fi fuzzpop was made for a refreshing debut with a sound that was both nostalgic and contemporary, although despite being bolstered by instant earworm singles ‘Killer Bangs’ and ‘Super Rat’, it did feel a bit lethargic at times and seemed to indicate that the band would be afflicted with the curse that affects many a two-piece ensemble – stagnation.
Babes Never Die dispels any such fears. Honeyblood have returned with a more consistent and sonically diverse record, one that is more ambitious in terms of both lyrics and song structure. Cat Myers proves to be a better fit for the band than her predecessor. Her beats are the driving force that gives these songs a greater sense of purpose and immediacy than those found on Honeyblood’s debut.
The album kicks off with the title track and lead single, a familiar mix of fuzzy, high tempo riffs, killer choruses, and cathartic lyrics, with vocalist/guitarist Stina Tweedale continuing to drop thinly masked vitriol over the track. It is very much to this album what ‘Killer Bangs’ was to the last, and energetic, highly singable tune, but not one that necessarily sets a precedent.
The album is altogether more melancholy and introspective than their previous effort, especially towards the second half on songs such as ‘Walking at Midnight’, ‘Cruel’, and ‘Gangs’. These are also the standout tracks, the most lyrically and sonically ambitious, whereas some of the straight up rock songs – particularly ‘Ready for the Magic’ – do come off as a bit trite and uninspired.
Lyrically, the album continues to explore the darker sides of love. Stina Tweedale has less bile for unworthy exes, with more self-reflective lyrics; the song ‘Cruel’ seems to place her in the position of the emotional abuser. While she occasionally gives in to more bubblegum tendencies, like the slightly cringe inducing yelps of “Hey, hey, it’s just a little heartache” in the outro of ‘Sea Hearts’, for the most part standards are high.
She displays a poetic, evocative style on some of the aforementioned tracks, and an adeptness at tapping into relatable experiences and feelings then elevating them to romantic grandeur, such as one album closer ‘Gangs’ which tackles hometown hatred class divides through the framing of a school catchment area – “went to school with the catchment kids, from nicer areas than this”.
It is evident from the first guitar hit that other musicians have been co-opted onto the LP. The presence of bass guitars (played by Shina and Cat) can be felt on multiple tracks, as can synths which are frequently used to embellish songs, and on the track ‘Love is a Disease’ provide the main riff.
There is also a lot more evidence of multi-tracked guitars, and while this all contributes to the album having a more robust sound, as something of a two piece purist, it takes away from the earnest, strip-backed, DIY appeal that all the best musical duos have.
What makes that first Death From Above 1979 record, as well as many of the White Stripes early LP’s so captivating is that it is obvious there are only two musicians playing on every track. It’s all personal preference of course, but this to me is the magic of the two-piece, and once you start going down the The Black Keys route of bringing in sessions musicians, you lose claim to this. It’s a shame, because Stina is a talented guitarist, and her tone is so thick and all-encompassing that most of if not all of the songs on Babes Never Die could have stood on that alone.
Babes Never Die is a fairly ideal sophomore LP. It’s a more well-rounded experience than their debut and pushes their sound in a more interesting direction, even though I do wish that they had to confidence to let these songs stand on the merits of the two performers alone, with maybe only the slightest of embellishment from other instruments. None of these songs have quite the same level of instant appeal as ‘Killer Bangs’ and ‘Super Rat’, although they work together much better, to make an album that as a whole, is superior to their debut.
Stina Tweedale is also cementing herself as one of Scottish music’s powerhouse performers – she is a commanding singer and songwriter with one of the most instantly recognisable voices in contemporary rock music. Honeyblood are definitely a band to watch, and if you’re not doing that already, then Babes Never Die is the place to start.