Hearing Babes Never Die for the first time paints a pretty vivid picture of the band’s message; the title track itself for instance kicks the album off with some gusto after a slightly inconsequential Intro, and there’s no mistaking the immediate appeal of the chorus: “You can watch my fire burn bright / ’cause babes never die”. The instrumentals too feel a little punchier than the band’s debut. Here the same fuzzy guitars entwine themselves with crashing drums, courtesy of powerhouse Cat Myers who replaced Shona McVicar in late 2014, and the whole thing stays together with James Dring’s (Jamie T, Loyle Carner) crisp production. First single Ready For The Magic bristles with energy and features another big chorus playing on the loud/soft Nirvana-thing to great effect; it’s undoubtedly a strong opening.
Following on we have Sea Hearts, another single and almost certainly the best track on offer here. It’s the embodiment of the kind of friendship and sisterhood that Honeyblood are built on; and an anthem for their fans to scream hand in hand with their best friends at gigs- there’s more than a little Kathleen Hanna in Stina’s shouts of “hey, hey! It’s just a little heartbreak!” in the bridge. It might be the best track the band have ever written and together with the previous singles it marks a core the rest of the album centres around but sadly can’t quite match up to.
After the Wombats-esque Love Is A Disease, complete with grumbling synth lines and some catchy hooks, Walking At Midnight feels like little more than a filler, while Justine, Misery Queen rages against a dishonest friend with its bubble gum guitar and synth stabs. Sister Wolf picks up the pace again, with a pinch of B-movie horror about a female werewolf and a scary house (probably something to do with the derelict mill the pair recorded much of the album in) and Tweeddale’s breathy coos in chorus mark the track as future single material for sure. Then there’s Hey, Stellar; a good old fashioned bitter goodbye to that person in your life. Universal for obvious reasons but it’s the vocals again that lift the track, Tweeddale reaching up into her higher range and it feels like there’s some skeletons leaving the closet as a result; the whole record feels cathartic but the band really shake it out here.
Closing the affair with two slower burning numbers recalls the rawness of the debut slightly, the lyrics come to the fore with more subdued instrumentation like on Cruel Kids, where self-doubt and not being let down easy ring through in the lyrics; “When I tell you I’m through / I wanna feel your heart breaking.” It feels just as heavy hitting as the bangers from the first half. Equally the closing track Gangs, a semi-autobiographic ode to small town living and its many horrors puts the full stop on Babes Never Die’s manifesto, echoing Braid Burn Valley from its predecessor. I should probably say this isn’t actually the last track, that would be the instrumental Outro but, like the Intro that opens the record, it feels inconsequential and serves only to pad out the album when it really isn’t necessary..
Babes Never Die does as a good sophomore record should: it’s more of the same with a small shot of experimentation thrown in. Fans will be back for the same catchy hooks, grunge-y riffs and frankly great choruses and I’m sure there’ll be some initiates drawn in by the singles who might find themselves enraptured but the duo will need something special to pull out of the bag next time around. Come for the singles, stay for the poignant finish but hang around for the after party because that’s what this record really is; it’s all the “babes” you never want to leave, and here they’re alive and kicking.