Since the 1990s, pop punk has always been centred across the Atlantic, with blink-182 and Green Day hailed as the kings of the genre. Even now, bands like The Story So Far and The Wonder Years are undoubtedly the most successful of the new breed. But a wave of British pop punk bands has recently pushed its way forward, especially one. Wrexham’s Neck Deep have made a splash all of their own, proving Britain has pop punk credentials all of its own. But their sound has proved to be rather love-or-hate within the scene, with some loving their energetic, fast-paced sound while others find it too frantic and vocalist Ben Barlow’s offerings too abrasive.
But new album Life’s Not Out To Get You is all change. Full of summery, bouncy pop punk anthems, it does the job of keeping Neck Deep’s original sound while developing it into something refreshingly new. Barlow’s vocals are a lot smoother and accessible, and lyrics, one of the quintet’s strong suits, are considerably more audible than usual. Opener Citizens Of Earth is a fist-pumping call to arms which uses a ballsy riff to accompany Barlow’s shouty vocals, which make it hard to not imagine him stood on a soapbox. This soon turns into a pure anthem with melodic vocals and textured guitars, and paired with a childishly hilarious intro and outro, is pop punk through and through.
And the calibre of the songs have vastly improved, too. Single Can’t Kick Up The Roots is virtually unfaultable, combining the classic pop punk topic of hometowns with a massive singalong and quick tempo changes which give it a bouncy likeability. Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors is also cheerful and provokes the mental image of whole rooms jumping along to a live rendition.
In fact, positivity is a theme that is the core of Life’s Not Out To Get You, with tracks like Gold Steps practically radiating sunshine. But they also bring something new to the table. Along with guest vocals from producer Jeremy McKinnon (whose two lines are pretty pointless, to be critical), summer jam Kali Ma ends with what can only be described as an amazing pop punk breakdown. And Serpents is unlike anything they have ever done before. The minor key it’s played in (cue gasps) and rare lower octaves Barlow sings in makes it seem more epic than anyone could imagine Neck Deep to be.
But the thing that gives this album a certain edge is that Neck Deep’s influences have bled through to their own sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking Life’s Not Out To Get You is a 90’s pop punk compilation album. Citizens Of Earth sounds like Sum 41, Lime St.‘s riff is a dead ringer for sped-up New Found Glory, while blink-like riffs underpin Threat Level Midnight, The Beach Is For Lovers (Not Lonely Losers) and Rock Bottom. Hardcore fans of any of these bands may dismiss Neck Deep as being copycat pretenders to the throne, but it works. And it’s not something any other pop punk bands are doing today. But aspects of their old sound like constant double-time drums are also included, and although it’s less than usual, they seem to be included solely to keep fans happy, and so are more of a hindrance to their growth.
While Neck Deep’s previous releases split the pop punk scene down the middle, Life’s Not Out To Get You should put everyone on the ‘love’ side rather than the ‘hate’. With less abrasive vocals, lyrics that will be screamed back and a new likeability and more credible edge, this is the band Neck Deep should have been all along.
For fans of: blink-182, Sum 41, New Found Glory
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Life’s Not Out To Get You’ by Neck Deep is out now on Hopeless Records.