Babes Never Die

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Between their self-titled debut and Babes Never Die, Honeyblood went through some big changes. Most notably, founding drummer Shona McVicar left shortly after Honeyblood's release, with Cat Myers replacing her on the throne. For her first album with the band, she and Stina Tweeddale recruited producer James Dring, who has also worked with Gorillaz, Jamie T., and Lana Del Rey -- artists who aren't exactly similar to the fizzy yet wistful sound Honeyblood crafted on their debut. Indeed, Babes Never Die finds Tweeddale and Myers doubling down on spiky, '90s-tinged rockers like "Killer Bangs" and "Choker," and leaving their graceful indie pop by the wayside, revealing a much louder and bolder band. The loping rhythm of "Justine, Misery Queen" is a great showcase for Myers, while the synths on "Love Is a Disease" reflect how much the duo challenged expectations this time around. The album's first three songs are some of the finest examples of Honeyblood 2.0: "Ready for the Magic" is razor-edged pop, full of hand-clapping verses and stinging riffs; "Sea Hearts" is as packed with heavy guitars and trippy twists and turns as University-era Throwing Muses, and the title track evokes the joyously grungy defiance of Bettie Serveert. Like that band's frontwoman, Carol van Dijk, Tweeddale is often an emotional lightning rod, but even on Babes Never Die's quieter songs she feels somewhat distant. The album's big, shiny sound doesn't leave much room for wry soul-bearing, and songs such as "Gangs" and "Walking at Midnight" don't make as much of an impact as they could. Meanwhile, the dreamy choruses on "Hey, Stellar" and "Cruel"'s sugar-coated manipulation underscore how good Tweeddale is at writing and singing confessional songs -- and what a shame it is that there aren't more of them on the album. "You and me/We're cut from the same cloth/A little rough, a little soft," she sings at one point, and it was the mix of rough and soft that made Honeyblood so compelling on their debut. Though they rock convincingly, there's something missing on Babes Never Die; they've become a more focused, accomplished band, but it's at a price.

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