Album Review: Neck Deep - 'The Peace And The Panic'

27 August 2017 | 9:32 am | Staff Writer
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Neck Deep recently hit back with their third LP, 'The Peace And The Panic'. It's been a much talked about release since it was announced, since it was released earlier this month, and even before then, as the U.K. band's fan base continues to grow. But the question we're all eager to know is if it lives up to th- yeah, look, you've no doubt seen the score above and already understand that I absolutely love this record, so let's just dive in!

'Motion Sickness' serves as the album's introduction to what's about to go down. In some ways, it acts like a Greek chorus, essentially saying, "Here's where we've been, here's where we are and here's where we're going. Welcome to the story of ‘The Peace and The Panic’”. That's also reflected in the song's key as well. Written in D major, it's the only song in that key on the record and I believe that represents the idea of this opening piece acting as a preface of sorts - it's the album but it's also... not the album. Regardless of me thinking way too (neck) deep into this release early on, it's also just an awesome opening song first and foremost. It's got energetic rhythms and catchy vocals hooks found in almost every single bar and the punctuating lead tone makes it ripe as an opener regardless of me being overly romantic about it.

Now, here, we’re going to break this album down into its two corresponding sides - “The Peace” and “The Panic”. I’m going to talk about my interpretation of it and why I think which side is which, despite their sonic qualities and what's been said in past interviews beforehand.

So first off, "The Peace".

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Neck Deep

The first half of this record, "The Peace", sounds like anything but. It's full of Dani Washington's intense drumming, Matt West's and Sam Bowden's heavy-hitting guitar riffs and in the case of 'Don't Wait', contains a wicked guest feature from a very prominent metalcore vocalist whose name rhymes with Ham Smarter. If anything, this particular track sounds more like it should be “The Panic” sonically, right? After all, it's basically go-go-go. But if you look at the lyrics, this side of the album is really about Neck Deep as a band coming to peace with things. It's their collective rationalization and their expression of issues of life on the road, religion, the current global political landscape, loss, and their own personal flaws. It's a welcoming hug as well as a middle finger to all those things and more as they go about their lives in the best way that they can, funneling it all into their music.

Musically, this side of the record is fuckin' stellar. This will be the half that core fans of Neck Deep will most certainly love, I can almost guarantee it! It feels like a real maturation from 'Life Isn't Out To Get You' and 'Wishful Thinking'. As I said, the band aren't afraid to get more intense than ever before on songs like 'Don't Wait', but they also don't shy away from bringing things down and cleanly strumming away their problems on a track like 'In Bloom'. ‘In Bloom’ stands out as one of the best and possibly most unique compositions of the whole album. It contains far more emo undertones to it than any of their other work with its twinkly guitar tones and dynamic drumming. Though the track does shift to a sound we are far more familiar as the song barrels along, it’s still a brilliant showcasing of Neck Deep's growing talents as musicians and songwriters. Especially Barlow’s vocals which have seen an improvement beyond belief. He even uses slight falsetto and head voice to help close out the song’s chorus, so well that it gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it.

Parachute’ and ‘The Grand Delusion’ I can also foresee being loved and adored by old school fans and just pop-punk sweaters in general, what with the sheer energy of the former and the latter’s unmistakable New Found Glory-like vibes. Once again, these songs are superbly well written and just go to show how much these lads have come and how good they are at just nailing what makes a good song good.

The actual keys here are also relatively different from the following latter half of the album. There's a whole lot of B major, and C# major going on, and even a C and a G major thrown in as well. I really feel that this talk of keys is actually important to understanding the record as a whole and how it's broken up and how the end of the record links right back around to the beginning.

Speaking of which, let's get to "The Panic".

[caption id="attachment_1092605" align="alignnone" width="760"]Ben Barlow, Melbourne, 2017. PC: Digital Beard Photography. Ben Barlow, Melbourne, 2017. PC: Digital Beard Photography.[/caption]

If there are parts of this record that are going to turn people off then it’ll most likely be the latter half of the record; “The Panic” side of things. Whereas “The Peace” is characterized by heavier riffs and driving percussions and themes about coming to grip with this utter clusterfuck of a world, “The Panic” finds itself dealing with issues that are out of Barlow’s control yet are affecting him personally on a much deeper level. That’s where the panic lies; in all the variables of life that you cannot foresee nor ever expect like sudden death, heartbreak, and betrayal.

Most notably, we see this with the acoustic track that's dedicated to a late friend, 'Wish You Were Here'. What might seem to some like an overdone cliche or a cop out and Neck Deep trying to replicate the success of older tracks like 'December' and 'A Part of Me', I think makes perfect sense and something that works wonderfully in the full context of this LP. It suitably falls into "The Panic" as it deals with a situation that is as I just stated, was entirely out of the singer's control as he tries to come to terms with this close loss. Simply put, 'Wish You Were Here' is beautiful and it plays like a eulogy read straight from the pulpit.

'Critical Mistake' and 'Heavy Lies' alleviate this emotional pressure and lighten things up a little bit, especially the former with its tight rhymes and deliriously infectious hooks that burst from nearly every single line. It's one of my personal Neck Deep tracks so far because although it’s not as deep or as intense as their other fan favorite tunes, it’s just too damn ear-worming, warm, and bubbly to not love. It’s so well written as it all flows in and out of itself from section to section; building and taking away parts where needed for maximum impact. And it's one that I so dearly hope makes it into the band's live sets in the future.

I have many favorite songs from 'The Peace And The Panic', but one key stand out is the penultimate track, ’19 Seventy Sumthin’. The song for all it’s worth is the most Simple Plan sounding thing you'll have ever heard from Neck Deep or outside of Simple Plan's actual discography. Bright and chirpy guitars strum along to a smooth backbeat as Barlow reminisces and tells the story of his mother and father falling in love, before starting up their own family. As this gorgeous and otherwise relaxed song moves along, the story divulges into the life Barlow has known with his father and the rest of their family, until the song drops away into subtle, gentle palm muted guitar chord that serves as a backdrop to the heart attack that sadly took his father's life. The song then crashes into a monolithic final climax, one whose impact is only defeated by the real life personal loss that spurned this very piece into creation.

Something that really stood out to me after a few listens through the record is that ‘The Peace And The Panic’ never traverses into any form of “woe is me” territory about the pain and loss that Barlow has gone through. Yes, the songs have their melancholic moments and they aren't always upbeat thematically. But the way that these tracks are arranged and the chords they’ve chosen to use form a far more affirming and uplifting feel. This is evident on ’19 Seventy Sumthin’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’, where the instrumentation is as positive and upbeat as the band has ever been, despite how much pain and humanity has gone into the songs lyrically and thematically. They're emotional but they never ever seem desperate or deceitful. And even as Barlow laments to his mother on ’19 Seventy Sumthin’ that “I will hold you when you cry because that’s what he would’ve done”, the song stays steadfast in its anthemic sound. In this way, this record and its individual songs serve as a loving celebration of the man the singer's father was and will always be to him, rather than just being a lament mourning. It changes the whole dynamic of the record and makes “The Peace” side to this forty-minute listen one that could’ve gone off in a whole other direction too.

The album's narrative concludes itself with co-lead single, 'Where Do We Go When We Go'. Listening to this whole record in full, from the peace to the panic, from death to the celebration of life - this song perfectly sums every single inch of it up. It's the moment where Barlow takes everything that life has thrown his way and everything he's experienced and rather than resisting it all, he lets it shape him and lets him guide him where he's going next. He's fully realized the delicacy of life and the very real tangent nature of our entire existence; very philosophical for a pop-punk record but who said that core beats and power chords couldn’t get deep! This final song also shifts back into C# major, bringing the LP full circle around and linking both “The Peace” and “The Panic” together as a whole. It’s a grand conclusion to what is also a grand record, as it reminds us that although we cannot always control what happens to us, we can most certainly control how we handle it.

Neck Deep have shifted away from their Story So Far worship of previous efforts and have opted for something that feels far more... them. There are elements of the very bands they were blooded on as kids throughout this new record but it never once feels like a rip-off or even like they’re merely paying homage to those bands - it just feels like Neck Deep! The songs are both heavier, softer, lighter and more emotionally intense than ever before and it takes a mature band to not simply reach for just one side of the coin but instead dive right in, nail both sides, and create a mixture of sounds that are both old and new. And these English lads do that so goddamn well. For instance, Barlow’s lyrics are the best they’ve ever been, at times on the nose and self-deprecating, but also deeply emotional and often romantic when they need to be; all feeling so honest in the process!

This is the record that Neck Deep have been wanting to make since they first started and it isn’t just one thing; it’s many things. There’s a balance here. It's the yin and the yang; the good and the bad; the night and the day; the cold and the warmth; the peace and, of course, the panic.

  1. Motion Sickness
  2. Happy Judgement Day
  3. The Grand Delusion
  4. Parachute
  5. In Bloom
  6. Don't Wait (ft. Sam Carter)
  7. Critical Mistake
  8. Wish You Were Here
  9. Heavy Lies
  10. 19 Seventy Sumthin'
  11. Where Do We Go When We Go

'The Peace And The Panic' is out now via Hopeless Records