Review Summary: Throw it all away.
I genuinely think Neck Deep revitalised pop-punk with Life's Not Out To Get You
. Whilst other bands at the forefront of the genre such as The Story So Far and Knuckle Puck were going the way of melody rather than, well, punk
, Neck Deep found a perfect blend of catchy punk riffage and a fair amount of that 'pop' flavour that didn't detract from the overall package. Hell, even the acoustic 'December' was heartfelt and a true sing-along. So, when 'Happy Judgement Day' hit, the future looked good. Direct in its political undertones but with enough of an instrumental backbone to not seem too over indulgent, it showed a more mature Neck Deep. However, despite some highlights, The Peace and the Panic
finds itself getting lost in the worst of 2000's punk and emo and proving far too reliant on past glories of a genre once dominated by genuinely fantastic music.
Although The Peace...
does tend to find a groove quickly, it never tends to stray too far from said groove. Instead of taking more from Life's Not Out...
, the album is more akin to their debut Wishful Thinking
. Vocalist Ben Barlow has lost much of the punk-esque tones to his voice, and it's almost immediately noticeable. His voice can become grating at times and sounds incredibly toned down. Songs like 'Parachute' and 'In Bloom' live and die on the power of the vocalist, and sadly Barlow just simply isn't up to the task. Rather than coming into his own as he did on their previous effort, he sounds more Good Charlotte than anyone would really care to expect. This can work to his advantage at times, particularly on 'Don't Wait' with its huge sound and anthemic verse from Sam Carter of Architects, but it falls flat too often to truly warrant the change.
And the rest of the ensemble simply fail to pick up the pieces. For the fourty-minute run time, it is far too often the instrumentals lack any character or power present on their previous effort. Songs like 'Critical Mistake' and 'Where Do We Go When We Go' pale in comparison to anything off of Life's Out...
; guitars rarely deviate from basic pop-punk riffage, bass is rarely a noticeable trait, and drums maintain their consistency of simplicity on top of basic fills. In addition, the riffage in particular seems to borrow a lot from the worst of early 2000's emo and punk ala Good Charlotte and really drag down what is an already lacking instrumental. On top of this, rather than opt for a more carefully constructed tracklist such as on their last album, the album struggles in terms of flow. The more reserved tracks 'Wish You Were Here' and '19 Seventy Sumthin'' feel jarring due to their placement, especially since the former comes after the worst track off of the album, 'Critical Mistake'. The song is terribly melodramatic and feels incredibly lifeless, even if the band is, well, pop-punk. No excuses, particularly with a song such as 'December' doing what these tracks only dream of doing. The aforementioned 'Where Do We Go When We Go' is also charactarised by a painful hook of "Rain rain go away/Come back another day/I just want to get one-up on life before it kills me". Truly inspirational.
So where to from here for Neck Deep? It's easy to say that such a misstep won't do anything for the band; their album debuted at #2 and garnered an incredible amount of attention for them. But when looking back on their discography, The Peace and the Panic
is a poorly constructed follow-up to an album that showed a new torchbearer for a lacking genre. So, although the quintet avoids following suit with many of their peers, they fail to advance their own sound, instead relying on rehashed ideas from the last fifteen years and stripping down their sound for a more broader audience. Nothing to be ashamed of, but as a listener, it's incredibly hard not to wonder what could have been.
Seek Out: Happy Judgement Day, Don't Wait
Avoid: Critical Mistake, Wish You Were Here, Where Do We Go When We Go