Neck Deep - Neck Deep (Cover Artwork)

Neck Deep

Neck Deep (2024)

Hopeless Records

Cards on the table, I didn’t even know this record was coming out today until this morning. And when I did realise, I felt kind of sad. Mostly because there was a time when I enjoyed Neck Deep’s output. There are a few records in their discography (Life’s Not Out To Get You, being chief among them) that are absolutely exemplary at doing a thing that I’ve been less and less interested in over the years. And then there are the more recent records. Hmm. Especially the last one. Radio-friendly, chart-chasing, over-produced garbage. But somehow, it failed to even achieve the commercial land-grab that it felt like it was literally made for. And in a landscape where pop-punk was having an overt resurgence as well. Weird.

So here’s the plot twist. Neck Deep have listened to the deafening silence that was the reaction to their last record. Normally I take a self-titled record that isn’t a debut as a bit of a red flag. It seems rather self-important in most instances. As if ‘this is the definitive version of who we are…’ (Killswitch Engage get a pass because they’re Killswitch Engage and they’ve also done it twice which is borderline hilarious). But in the case of Neck Deep (by Neck Deep…) it’s more of a reset. They’ve historically been able to shit out big, posi, pop-punk tunes with massive choruses in their sleep. This being the case made it even more baffling when they tried to pivot to something they’re so obviously less predisposed towards, but then I’m reluctant to criticise a band for trying to develop, so fair enough. But that didn’t work. This works. Really well.

If I disregard the fact that Ben Barlow is from Wrexham (he’s the most Californian-sounding person from North Wales who’s ever existed), then what you have here is a propulsive, chorus-heavy, pop-punk record. But one that comes, if not from the top drawer, then at least the second one down. I’ve listened to this record 4 times today and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to be able to reconcile that with the fact that everything I was actually looking forward to coming out today is either death metal or grim, metallic hardcore. (I also reviewed the Resin Tomb record out today if you want to see the kind of stuff that typically makes up more of my listening time).

To be clear, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s really very good. It’s 10 songs in 33 minutes. They’re literally all good. It doesn’t even drop in the obligatory acoustic ballad as they were guilty of doing along with EVERY other pop-punk band for about 20 years. They kind of tick that off with “It Won’t Be Like This Forever” without actually going full cliche. But it still retains a purity of pop-punk content. Songs about your parents fucking you up, sarcastic references to one’s own romantic failings, imploring a significant other to “Sort Themselves(sic) Out”; it’s all here. But it sounds like you want a pop-punk band to sound. The guitars are thick yet smooth, the drums well-balanced, the vocals doubled to just the right extent and the lyrics ripe for tee shirts.

I don’t give a fuck if these guys are twice the age they were when they first started singing songs like this, they still sound great writing and playing these songs when they do it like this. It was well below freezing when I woke up this morning but when I listened to this whilst walking the dog in the sun, for a brief period my cynicism evaporated and I remembered why I fell in love with pop-punk as a young man. If I end up at a festival where Neck Deep are playing this summer, I will absolutely go and see them. The fact that I would definitely have avoided them in those circumstances before this morning tells you a fair bit about this record.