Needtobreathe seems to have pulled nearly every page out of The Boss’s book to create The Reckoning, an album that, even in title, tries to operate every bit like a Springsteen record with a distinctly dutiful authority. Throw in a little Kings of Leon, complete with the brother act but sans the devil’s tonic, and you’ve got it down.
The band from Seneca, South Carolina, has factored heavily on Christian music charts and is now opening for Taylor Swift on the North American leg of her Speak Now tour. The band features Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Bo Rinehart (guitar, vocals), Seth Bolt (bass, vocals), and Joe Stillwell (drums).
There really is no questioning the appeal Needtobreathe will have for some Christian fans. The songs sound like revival music, completely with familiar breaks and backing choirs. In the right hands, this approach can be resounding and engaging. In the hands of these guys, the results are predictable, flat and slightly aggravating.
Maybe it’s because my tolerance for predictable rock has flown out the box long ago or maybe it’s because I’m setting the bar too high, but The Reckoning doesn’t cut it. It sounds the part, it really does, and the songs are built well enough. I don’t even mind Bear’s vocals, but something about the way everything comes together had me spotting the chord changes and “spur-of-the-moment” barks from miles away.
“Oohs and Ahhs” opens up with a White Stripes caress and lays into it with some pretty hefty substance. The riffs are good and groove kicks in well. It’s the best song on the album.
By the time “White Fences” arrives, though, the paint-by-numbers approach is in full swing like a jaded housewife at a key party. The hands-raised chorus, complete with anticipated piano plonks and call-and-response backing vocals, is probably great stuff for getting the kids in the mood to see, say, Taylor Swift, but the track lacks drive and innovation.
The dullness continues with ditties like the Springsteen-ripped “Drive All Night” and the gospel choir behind the title track. There’s also the raw obviousness of “Maybe They’re On to Us” to work with.
Needtobreathe isn’t a bad band, but it isn’t an exciting one either. It’s hard to extricate any individual qualities with The Reckoning because effectively every song is disconcertingly comparable to other songs by better artists. Absence of ingenuity alone doesn’t make for a lost cause, but it does make for a monotonous and obscenely anticipated record.