Blue in the Face signals Doubledrive's re-emergence after three tumultuous years of label chaos. While 1999's 1000 Yard Stare was as solid a post-grunge offering as any of its contemporaries, MCA dragged its feet on promotion and Doubledrive watched with anger as it quickly faded from view. Trying to appease the label's wishes, the Atlanta quartet recorded another album, hoping to release it quickly and generate more interest. But MCA wasn't happy with the results, and the two parties soon parted ways. But after hearing the sessions (which were recorded by Creed producer John Kurzweg), Roadrunner/Island expressed interest. The label was thriving on the success of Canuck rockers Nickelback, and was looking to expand its roster of metal-tinged acts. In mid-2002, Doubledrive signed with Roadrunner and re-entered the studio with the songs it had intended for the MCA follow-up. This time around, the band worked with Michael Barbiero, best-known for his production work with Guns n' Roses. With Barbiero, Doubledrive recorded four new songs and revised two songs from the original sessions. Additionally, Barbiero remixed five of Kurzweg's holdovers. The result, Blue in the Face, was released in April 2003.
Blue in the Face isn't a significant departure from 1000 Yard Stare. Doubledrive is still rooted in metal and continues to draw comparisons to the hard-edged grandiosity of Queensrÿche. However, it does sacrifice some of the debut's grit in favor of Creed-style polish. This is disappointing, because it was the unabashed streak of hesher in Doubledrive that separated the quartet from the post-grunge sound-alikes clogging active rock radio. While "Inside Out" is driven by a fiery Troy McLawhorn guitar line and the pure abandon in Donnie Hamby's chorus vocals, the plodding "Freightrain" features the glowering, faux-Vedder singing style encouraged by post-grunge producers who haven't realized that Vedder himself doesn't even sing like that anymore. Elsewhere, the band is further buried behind effect and stylized bombast. While it has potential with its stop-start dynamics, seething chorus, and hyperactive outro, "Hollowbody" fires blanks when it begins to cop the sugar-metal of Collective Soul. Besides "The Hand," which takes its time building but finally hits its stride (thanks to some solid shredding and a cool volume knob solo from McLawhorn), Blue in the Face's best track might be the largely acoustic "Million People," which begins with the lyrics: "How could I be so happy/And still feel so messed up inside/I've broken all the records/For the unhappiest man alive." While Hamby seems to be singing to an old flame, the lyrics can also sum up the album's general content, which is one of frustration and catharsis, after the setbacks of Doubledrive's burgeoning career. While Doubledrive might deserve some success, they shouldn't shave off any more of their refreshing metal underpinnings, for fear of sounding like just another bunch of post-grunge shouters.