Life’s Not Out To Get You, Neck Deep
“This is the age of descent / The fresh faced generation of defect / It’s gotta come down before we reach for the reset / This is for the lost, downtrodden and rejects / And anybody looking for a purpose.”
Full of angst, these lyrics open Neck Deep’s sophomore album, Life’s Not Out To Get You. Breaking into the scene in 2012 as part of the U.K.’s pop-punk revival, Neck Deep received a lot of attention for its aggressive and raw sound, reminiscent of the early 2000s. With Ben Barlow’s rough vocals and in-your-face musical thrashings by Lloyd Roberts on guitar, Fil Thorpe-Evans on bass, Matt West on guitar and Dani Washington on drums, this quintet was destined to become a group of quintessential pop-punkers. After the success of the group’s two EPs, Rain in July and A History of Bad Decisions, Hopeless Records signed Neck Deep and released its first full-length album, Wishful Thinking, early last year.
As someone who has attended 10 too many Warped Tours, I know it takes a special kind of romanticized self-loathing for a pop-punk band to fall outside the realm of generic. It’s as if the pop-punk scene decided to exhaust the same three clichés: hating hometowns, hanging out with friends and missing a girl. Sadly, Wishful Thinking did just that. Many of the problems in an album like Neck Deep’s Wishful Thinking could easily be found in one by State Champs or Knuckle Punk or any other similar group. I get it, we’re all young and some of us are scared we won’t always be, but it’s excruciating to be continuously reminded of that over guitar riffs and snarky vocals. Songs like the Wishful Thinking opener “Losing Teeth” are full of quick, albeit catchy, hooks that fail to show much growth from the band’s previous EPs.
For Life’s Not Out To Get You, Neck Deep was looking to create a more refined sound than on its debut, so the band sought help from punk-rock and pop-punk veterans. By enlisting Jeremy McKinnon (from the band A Day to Remember), Tom Denney (A Day to Remember) and Andrew Wade (The Ghost Inside) as producers, Neck Deep set the stakes high for the success of its second album. Life’s Not Out To Get You quickly peaked at No. 1 in both the U.K. and the United States independent album charts, and the album was an immediate fan favorite. Drawing on the recognizable sound of ’90s pop-punk acts like Sum 41, Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory, Neck Deep’s newest album is spearheading the pop-punk revival. Life’s Not Out To Get You draws from the pop-punk culture without replicating it. Sure, some of the same tropes can be found in the album, but to call the lyrics generic would be disrespectful to the depth Ben Barlow brings to this record.
While the opener, “Citizens of Earth,” remains faithful to the angst fans have come to expect from Neck Deep, songs like “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” and “Kali Ma” surprise listeners with their personal nature. “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” starts with an I-hate-this-town attitude, but quickly shifts from that tired narrative: “The golden groves are lined with affluence and roses / But the bigheads down by Central Station are closer to where home is / It can be grim and send you west from time to time / Yeah, this place is such a shipwreck, but this shipwreck it is mine.” Barlow recognizes that a hometown song is long overdue for the band, but he refuses it to become another classic self-hating single. As he puts it in the song’s hook, “The sound of my youth echoes out through these empty streets / I guess I can’t kick up the roots / It’s home and that’s the truth.”
Closer to the end of the album is my personal favorite song, “The Beach is for Lovers (Not Lonely Losers).” Slowing the tempo of the record, this track is a homage to the classic emo songs of many fans’ early teens. Neck Deep brings the neuroticism typical of bands like Motion City Soundtrack and mixes it with an upbeat melody evoking a euphoric sadness in listeners. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a senior and about to graduate, but my mantra this year has been to move forward. Thus, lyrics like, “We don’t wanna tell the same sad story / Heard it all before and that’s fucking boring,” and “There’s more to life than chasing ghosts / But then hindsight’s 20/20,” really get to me. Much like most of the record, this song deals with Barlow’s continuous fight with self-doubt and anxiety. Track by track, Barlow shares with his fans his struggles with entering adulthood. Easily relatable and refreshingly upbeat, this is my favorite pop-punk album to date.
Neck Deep has always been trying to create something that is both faithful to its influences and outside of them. Life’s Not Out To Get You did just that. So if you want to reminisce on your teenage angst, or if you just never left that phase of your life, make sure to give this record a listen.