Listening to Raleigh-based Nick and the Babes’ sophomore album, Blue, is like taking a soul-searching drive along the back country roads between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Outer Banks — windows down, music up and heart in shambles.
Blue offers listeners a more varied musical landscape than the band’s first album, including stripped-down acoustic ballads, face-melting electric guitar jams and even a twang-heavy country duet. With production completely in-house, NATB were able to showcase songs that reflect their diverse musical backgrounds, while staying true to their trademark sound.
Upon first full listen, Blue feels innocent and even playful, yet further lyrical investigation reveals a lurking darkness. Throughout the nine-track album, NATB downshift from reckless romantics to heartbroken dreamers, tackling themes of lost love, infidelity, one night stands, regret and loneliness.
“Moving From the Bedroom” opens the album as a light and airy acoustic lover’s plea with melancholy undertones. “Magnetic Heart,” a relatable story of a love so wrong you can’t run away, shifts into a full-band arrangement with electric guitar riff teasers — the album’s first of many.
“Squeeze,” which proves to be one of the album’s best songs, has an old crooning country feel sweetened by the honey harmonies of ECU grad Anna Vaughn Creech. Though lyrics like, “I wish that I could leave my hand for you to hold at night. When you feel the tears come on, squeeze real tight” initially lend themselves to a morbid visual, the song’s powerful sentiment is delivered beautifully by lead singer Nick Bailey and Creech.
“Stalker” is a fast-paced, upbeat song that will have listeners drumming along well before they realize they are jamming out to a song about a peeping Tom. “Stalker” succeeds in the same way their first album’s hit, “Punch You in the Face,” did, showing NATB have certainly perfected this tricky style of songwriting.
After “Runaround,” the album picks up speed and the electric guitar pulls back into the lead. “Girl I Know,” which was featured in Our State magazine’s Carolina Song Contest, delivers the funk with a down-and-dirty piano and guitar duel, making it the clear frontrunner on Blue. Here, NATB successfully translate their live show energy into a studio recording, a difficult feat for any band that draws fans from live shows.
“My Love” is a spacious and dreamy instrumental that transitions seamlessly into “Morning Light,” a beautiful deconstructed acoustic ballad that ironically evokes imagery of the dreaded walk of shame. On “Blue’s” longest and final track, “Red Carpet,” NATB turn on the turbo boost and drive it home with an epic electric guitar solo courtesy of Bailey.
As a whole, Blue is a solid album. The musical peaks and valleys that are sprinkled throughout the album offer an ear-pleasing variety of sound and approach that keep the listener engaged and invested. It is clear that NATB are evolving, moving forward and feeling more comfortable in their songwriting skin.