Leaps and bounds above their debut full-length Wishful Thinking, 2015 follow-up Life’s Not Out to Get You proved that Neck Deep aren’t a one-trick pony. With The Peace and the Panic the Welsh quintet flex their creative muscles even further, but this increased experimentation means the record sometimes suffers as a result.
“The record explosively kick-starts”
Happily, The Peace and the Panic still offers enough golden moments to make it worth a listen, if not essential.
The record explosively kick-starts with the explosive pop-punk of raucous singles ‘Motion Sickness’ and ‘Happy Judgement Day’, both of which could have (musically, if not lyrically) slotted seamlessly into Life’s Not Out to Get You. However, a running theme of The Peace and the Panic is that its best songs are its most familiar-sounding, and few moments match the highs which come way too early on.
“Prove that experimentation does not always pay off”
The third track ‘The Grand Delusion’ is the first of a trickle of songs which hark back to the emo-pop sound largely missing from the genre since the noughties, and the first to prove that experimentation does not always pay off. The song’s primary hook (‘I think I would rather be/anyone else but me’) will undoubtedly speak to a generation of disillusioned teens, but it’s all been said before – and better. The chorus seems to bleed from the verse rather than stand out, making this one of Neck Deep’s most forgettable songs to date.
‘Don’t Wait’ is a middle-fingers up slice of punk, and while Sam Carter’s screamo guest-appearance adds bite to the track, all-in-all this feels like an unnecessary build on the heavier moments on Life’s Not Out to Get You – it’s clear that Neck Deep are throwing all their ideas against the wall to see which stick. While the political message is a welcome addition to lead singer Ben Barlow’s thin repertoire of subject matter (‘The government is lying’), the band pull off political commentary far more effectively in the infectious ‘Happy Judgement Day’.
Then there are the All Time Low-esque pop-punk-dance of ‘Critical Mistake’ and sweet bubblegum in the form of ‘Heavy Lies’, both of which are nice enough to listen to and don’t stray too far from Neck Deep’s old-school formula (‘Critical Mistake’ is the most fun song here and ‘Heavy Lies’ sounds like what Wishful Thinking might if the band penned that record now), but they won’t be stuck in anyone’s head after the record runs its course.
“Sound modern, relevant, and most importantly, exciting”
What’s left are the bangers, and tucked between the mediocre drivel are some of the Welsh band’s best songs so far. ‘Parachute’ is a semi-acoustic mid-tempo number steeped in noughties emo nostalgia, but unlike ‘The Grand Delusion’, here Neck Deep also manage to sound modern, relevant, and most importantly, exciting. Even better is the crown jewel of the record, the radio-ready ‘In Bloom’, boasting a massive chorus and undoubtedly a future staple in the band’s discography.
“Barlow opens up about the death of his father”
Throughout the record Neck Deep hint a sense of maturity missing from their previous releases, but there’s good reason for this, as ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ’19 Seventy Something’ prove. The band have been through a lot since the release of Life’s Not Out to Get You, and in these songs Barlow opens up about the death of his father during that last record’s tour. While the musically generic ‘Wish You Were Here’ isn’t going to make an appearance in any pop punk history book, hard-hitting couplets such as the heart-wrenching ‘They say you’re in a better place/But a better place is right here with me’ are enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eye. Competing for title of Best Neck Deep Song Ever is ’19 Seventy Something’, which starts as a bouncy, retro-sounding pop song overflowing with an optimism which only makes (spoiler alert) that middle-eighth all the more heart-breaking, complete with Barlow’s almost-weeping vocals and the underlying message of appreciating people while we still can.
“The occasionally rocky run ends on a high”
The record is topped off with the fantastic ‘Where Do We Go When We Go’, a meditation on the afterlife which reverts back to the quintessential big-chorus Neck Deep sound fans have grown to love. An odd way to end the album, feeling more like a mission statement for the ideas on offer here than a conclusion, this track nevertheless ensures the occasionally rocky run ends on a high.
“Fans of the genre should not overlook this release”
Riddled with inconsistencies, The Peace and the Panic is a bizarre blend of some of the best – and most forgettable – tunes the band have record since their initial EPs. Still, experimentation is welcome in a genre which does not see nearly enough of this, even if here it simply proved pop-punk is the genre Neck Deep do best. But what they do best they do better here than ever before, and with some unmissable moments, fans of the genre should not overlook this release.
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