Neck Deep - The Peace and The Panic (Cover Artwork)

Neck Deep

The Peace and The Panic (2017)

Hopeless records

In 2018, Neck Deep make for an interesting, if slightly problematic proposition. Releasing ‘The Peace & The Panic’, their 4th album (if you include the double EP combo of Rain in July / A History of Bad Decisions), then they’ve amassed an incredibly solid back catalogue of teen anthems that work well on record, brilliantly in music videos & equally well at the Slam Dunks & even Reading festivals of this world. At this pivotal stage of their career, the question is: can they remain relevant as they – and their initial audience – move into their mid-twenties and beyond?

Initial signs are that Neck Deep are at very least aware of this situation. Both the musical canvas & vocal lines are far more varied from the get-go. Don’t expect Radiohead exactly, but there is definite progression here. Ben Bower’s vocals are more engaging than they were on earlier offerings & This seems to stem from a greater confidence in both the strength of his maturing voice & also the more nuanced lyrics on display this time around. Nonetheless, this is still instantly recognisable as a Neck Deep record. For all the development, Bowers’ voice remains distinctive & he shows no signs of ditching the somewhat divisive American accent any time soon.

Looking a little closer at the diversity on offer through the album – there are a solid 2 or 3 tracks that will fit very nicely into a festival set for the crowds who long for Neck Deep to remain as they were in 2013, a couple of now-customary ballads, a selection of very radio-friendly tracks which sit sufficiently in the pop-punk camp to keep die-hards happy whilst also opening the door to greater mainstream exposure – and then there is ‘In Bloom’…

In Bloom could well prove to be an important yardstick in Neck Deep’s career in years to come. It strays quite significantly from the path of their trademark sound & is (surprisingly) the 4th of 5 single from this album. It incorporates an intro with an affected lo-fi newscast about the dropping of the atomic bomb, a string section behind the chorus & guitars that actually sit further back in the mix & allow the strength of the songwriting speak for itself. It’s an alarmingly charming & affecting song & one whose appeal will extend to many who hear it, whether they care to admit it or not.

The album’s title is very apt in regards to its overall feel & themes. We go from laments around the apparent passing of a friend on ‘Wish You Were Here’, the recent passing of Bowers’ father on ’19 Seventy Sumthin’ to a direct (if a little unfocused) attack on the media & government on ‘Don’t Wait’ (featuring Sam Carter from metalcore giants Architects). What’s obvious throughout though, is that Neck Deep are trying new things – which when set against the backdrop of the relatively restrictive parameters of the pop-punk scene, should be applauded. The fact that some of them are working successfully, and to great effect suggests talent beyond most of their peers. The album has the feel of a work in progress, but I hope their experiments continue to hit the target as they grow.