Whether or not pop punk is a genre in need has been a question on many minds for the last few years. What started with the successes of early All Time Low, Blink 182 and Sum 41 turned into a world-beating phenomenon which has seen its fair share of ups and down’s. Right now, pop punk looks to be anything but a ‘genre in need’. You only need to take one glance at the current crop of pop punk bands – The Story So Far, Knuckle Puck, As It Is and frontrunners Neck Deep – to know that the genre is more than safe. The Ben Barlow-fronted Neck Deep are currently flying the flag for the genre, with their new album Life’s Not Out to Get You coming out tomorrow via Hopeless Records. Read on for a full lowdown on the record.
Although modern day pop punk has tended to stick within certain boundaries, it’s very clear that Neck Deep aren’t afraid to overstep these on Life’s Not Out to Get You. The record, produced by A Day to Remember’s Jeremy McKinnon, kicks off with the fully-fledged Citizen of Earth, an anthemic morsel of pop punk genius which only Ben Barlow and co. can pull off these days. An opening recording off studio laughter and chugging riffs both intertwine as the song hits you in the face harder than a lead hammer. Barlow sounds intense and urgent from the off, his vocals borderline in-your-face during the massive chorus. Recently unveiled track Threat Level Midnight keeps the intensity on the front line, this time chugging along in a more traditional Neck Deep manner. “I just need a break from the walls that close me in” sings Barlow during the verse, before the chorus picks up the pace nicely and makes for more classic singalong moments a la All Time Low. Lead single Can’t Kick Up the Roots goes on to encompass fast-paced verses and huge choruses alongside inspiring lyrics which only a band like Neck Deep can come up with. Barlow and co.’s lyrics are the perfect blend of incessant storytelling and life mottos, to an extent where they sometimes overshadow the actual music. “I’ve been wasting away, but in a town with no way out there’s not much else to do anyway” sings Barlow during the chorus, before Kali Ma slows the pace down a bit for some much needed reminiscence. It doesn’t make proceedings any less anthemic, though, because that’s exactly what Neck Deep do so well. Recent second single Gold Steps leans slightly more towards the heavier side of the pop punk spectrum, bearing what is by far the catchiest chorus on the whole record. “Because I’ve been moving mountains that I once had to climb” declares Barlow during the chorus, one which is interspersed with two-tone guitars, pounding drums and a brief McKinnon cameo at the end.
Lime St. is the halfway point on the record, reaching this mark in classic pop punk style (much like the rest of the record). Its catchy chorus and bouncing riffs are exactly what they say they are on the tin, with this song in particular one of the most relatable to the influential Blink 182. “Did I fuck up too many times?” asks Barlow over sprawling guitars, fuzzy bass and Dani Washington’s hugely commendable drumming. Serpent’s sudden explosion of fury and teen angst adds a darker undertone to the record, with Barlow sounding almost as if he has a point to prove. The Beach is For Lovers (Not Lonely Losers)’s interesting song title is just as interesting as the track itself, with reverb-laced whammy guitars colliding with Barlow’s effects-laden vocals during the first verse. Lovelorn lyrics (something Barlow does well) man the frontline here yet again, this time round sounding more lost and broken as opposed to hopeful. Barlow’s musings of “glory days” and “cracks on empty streets” hit you with as much power as Washington’s underpinned drumming, his skills throughout the record extremely impressive. December’s balladry is impressive from a lyrical stance, yet it does take a while for you to warm up to the slower-paced instrumentals on show. An acoustic guitar fronts proceedings, although it sounds just a tad too generic to remain exciting. Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors does the opposite of this, utilizing pounding percussion, distortion-laced guitars and more in-your-face vocals to prove an already well proven point which Barlow has tried to throw around for ten songs now. Penultimate track I Hope This Comes Back to Haunt You is equal parts heart wrenching as it is arena-ready, demonstrating exactly why Neck Deep are worth getting excited about in the future. The album comes to a powerful close on Rock Bottom, with Barlow definitely sounding more relieved and overjoyed as opposed to the preceding tracks. It’s a strong ending to an equally strong record, with the whole band coming together over the course of Rock Bottom’s anthemic duration.
In two weeks, Neck Deep will grace the Reading & Leeds main stages with one hell of a fantastic album having been added to their growing repertoire. After a few listens of Life’s Not Out to Get You, it becomes very clear that the question isn’t whether or not pop punk is in the dumps; rather, when will Neck Deep be crowned as the legends they’re on the way to becoming? Life’s Not Out to Get You is quite possibly on the verge of sending Neck Deep into the rock stratosphere, with not much standing between Barlow and co. and world domination. Bring on the future, because it’s going to be exciting. Jack Parker
Life’s Not Out to Get You comes out on Friday 14 August via Hopeless Records. Watch the video for Gold Steps below.