Review Summary: Are we witnessing the birth of another pop-punk titan?
I did not see the meteoric rise of Welsh pop-punk band Neck Deep coming, at all. What seemed to be a painfully middle-of-the-pack group captivated almost all of my friends, as well as the scene at large. Of course, there were always people like me, in the back, keeping the praise in check with our bitter, albeit valid, criticisms. But who knew these guys would be headlining Warped Tour alongside the Wonder Years, so soon after their debut album (which, mind you, wasn't critically loved, nor by me). So after I finished this album, one question was bouncing throughout my head: Is this Neck Deep's Upsides?
Well, no. Not really even close. However, I have to give credit where it's due, and say well done, Neck Deep. You actually won me over with this collection of songs, ranging from solid to catchier-than-all-hell. And if that isn't enough to win you over, many songs actually contain an impressive emotional core, even if the lyrics rarely stray from the beaten path. If you can check your ego at the door, in the same way you would listening to a radio-friendly Pop record (or similar), give this album a listen, if only to feel good.
As I wait for the new TWY album, the new Defeater album, and countless other heavier bands due for another album, gangsta rap occupied most of my time, and Neck Deep couldn't have been further off my radar. When “Can't Kick Up the Roots” dropped (the lead single), my mind nearly imploded from counting all of the cliches ND managed to pack into one song: the trite guitar riffs, the vocal melodies and inflections catering to teen girls (and boys), the gang vocals, the NFG-inspired drums and pre-chorus. In fact, this entire track reeks of New Found Glory. But hey, it could be worse. A NFG-style banger is a usable tool in the scheme of an album, if done well enough. An album full of these would send me running, but thankfully, this track is the most “I love my friends and pizza and Mountain Dew” this album gets. The bridge is truly awful, but I really don't bother skipping this track, which I never would have guessed.
After the first track (which I deem a slight misfire), we are treated to 6 tracks of pop-punk gold (well, maybe silver). Seriously, every track has a hook that will keep you coming back, and possibly not for the reasons you'd expect. These songs have a remarkable undercurrent of 90's alt rock, and even later emo flowing through them, even though they are most definitely pop-punk tracks on the surface, and at their core. I would almost liken it to what the Swellers did with “Good for Me”, branching off in a bold way, while retaining their charm. Neck Deep can't put together an entire album like The Swellers or The Wonder Years can, but they may be well on their way. This album unfortunately ends up being quite top-heavy.
Probably the most surprising track on here is “Serpents”, where Neck Deep hit a stride like they never have before. Frankly, I was wowed by this track. After what starts as a pretty good straddle between soft and loud pop-punk, they bust out this beautiful chorus, one that will probably wow you too. The lyrics still dwell in the realm of woe and heartache, but decent wordplay and great vocals keep you from scrutinizing. Lead singer Ben Barlow really takes advantage of his lower register on this album, a very smart decision. It's also worth mentioning the drums on this track specifically, although I would personally like to thank the drummer for his performance on the entire album. He really ***ing nails it.
When I come into pop-punk albums like this, lyrically, all I'm hoping for is that they don't make any huge mistakes, or “fatals”. Just don't ruin the songs, and we'll be cool. And LNOTGY does pretty much that. However, Barlow is good at melding words with melodies and inflections. To be fair, I don't delve into the lyrics too much, unless I can sense something's there. But a few spots on this album do catch attention, positively. For example, the chorus of “Gold Steps” manages to capture an honest message that I enjoy simply because I hope listeners take it to heart. Summed up as “Life's not out to get you”, this message is pleasantly, yet defiantly contradictory to the “my life sucks” ethos that can unfortunately permeate this kind of music, and does it in the perfect amount of words.
“December” is essentially a Taylor Swift track. And if it were her song, I wouldn't care for it. So I can't really say anything other than that about it. The rest of the unmentioned songs are all fine enough, but don't pack anything as catchy as the first half of the album. “Rock Bottom” just barely rises above filler status, which is quite disappointing for a closing track. I did enjoy the Blink-182 homage at the beginning, though. Had LNOTGY's second half matched the strength of the first half, this would be a classic modern pop-punk record, joining the club with Under Soil and Dirt, Ups and Downsizing, and so on. For now, Neck Deep will stay right in-between the brilliance of The Wonder Years, and the painful potential of Real Friends.
If you come into this album looking for something more, you probably won't find it. But if you're looking for some quality tracks to tide you over until No Closer to Heaven, this is it right here.
7.5 out of 10.
Citizens of Earth - 3/5
Threat Level Midnight – 4.5/5
Can't Kick Up the Roots – 3.5/5
Kali Ma – 4.5/5
Gold Steps – 4/5
Lime St. - 4/5
Serpents – 5/5
The Beach is for Lovers (Not Lonely Losers) – 3/5
December – 3/5
Smooth Seas Don't Make Good Sailors – 3/5
I Hope This Comes Back to Haunt You – 3.5/5
Rock Bottom – 3.5/5