Review Summary: The torch of pop punk has finally been passed.
Pop punk has become a scene dominated by masters of melancholy. The most recent revival has been one for an aimless generation, stuck on breakups and wanderlust. Genre titans like The Story So Far and The Wonder Years relate the cards of loss, depression, and angst to an audience that devours. This makes for respectable music, but lost in transmission are the upsides to life in middle-class suburbia. Neck Deep has retread the footsteps of these acts for the bulk of their career, but “Life’s Not Out To Get You” marks a sudden shift in direction. Neck Deep steps out of the shadows and energetically plays up a setlist brimming with energy, catchiness, and the one ingredient that modern punk too often seems to omit: fun. It’s a towering homage to punk of decades past and millennial pop culture. This record is one of a band revived, finally settled into a niche that has gone unoccupied for years.
The most instantly noticeable elements of the album are the shift in tone, and the greatly improved production. The hooks are more anthemic, the vocals pop more, and the overall mood is far more uplifting. The band has traded explosive chugging for a more refined and balanced instrumental quartet. Ben Barlow no longer sounds strained, instead settling comfortably into a very polished baritone piping. Palm-muted guitars move through verses like machine guns, building into massive choruses and bridges that contain some of the most impressive and captivating vocal riffing heard this side of Blink. “Threat Level Midnight” moves blisteringly fast as Barlow churns out plugs to pop culture powerhouse, The Office. “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” is an upbeat tribute to a downbeat hometown, with a kick-ass chorus to boot. “Kali Ma” nimbly incorporates an extensive homage to Indiana Jones within the framework of standard break-up angst, crashing into a closer that directly quotes the film and turns the theme of the song on its head. “Lime St.” is a game of ebb and flow between the swift verses and a more restrained, melodic chorus. “The Beach is For Lovers…” stays neatly within the confines of Neck Deep’s formula, but executes the strongest lead hook in the entire tracklist. “I Hope This Comes Back To Haunt You” is an experimentation with the same formula, spiraling into a monumental final minute before fading into silence. The record could have arguably ended here and been absolutely fine, but Neck Deep has an occasional insistence to step out of their defined sound. This unfortunately works to their detriment on several songs.
“Rock Bottom” is a perfectly decent song in its own right, but as a closer falls fairly flat. It doesn’t leave much of an impression or close with any particularly notable remarks. Similarly, the opener “Citizens of Earth”, while a nice throwback to punk of decades past, is a strange choice for an introduction. It’s the position of the opener to set a tone for the album, but the tone of the song is displaced and never again toyed with. It stands alone in its sound and feels wholly unnecessary. The acoustic sing-a-long “December” is the closest that any of the tracks come to being filler. Seemingly an attempt to recreate the success of earlier acoustic work “A Part of Me”, the song doesn't really provide much in the way of a softer selection.
Taken at face value, this record kicks serious ass. It knows its target audience and, while certainly capable of mainstream appeal with its pop-flavored anthemic hooks, is mostly aimed to please its immediate fanbase with a strong improvement on a familiar formula. Neck Deep have certainly sailed their fair share of rough seas, but have now chartered a smoother course for sun-baked beaches and snowy suburbias. “Life’s Not Out to Get You” is a soundtrack for car rides and late nights, and it really doesn't have to be anything more to be of the highest quality. The torch of pop punk has finally been passed - and it's in very capable hands.