Carefree summers down the skate park. Stifler’s mom. A pair of battered DCs. Early noughties pop-punk is the Peter Pan of rock, forever linked to eternal youth and simpler times.
Although pop-punk never grows old … the punks eventually do. Neck Deep’s vibrant 2014 debut, ‘Wishful Thinking’ and its urgent 2015 follow-up, ‘Life Isn’t Out To Get You’, stuck faithfully to the frolicking template left behind by vets Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World. But by 2017, the poppier moments of their third album ‘The Peace And The Panic’ suggested a new direction was on the cards for the Wrexham quintet.
Produced by Matt Squire, who’s known for his punchy work with Ariana Grande, Avril Lavigne and One Direction, Neck Deep’s fourth album, ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’, is sleek and smooths down their serrated edges. Instead, the band have focused on easy thrills, something they do very well.
Singer Ben Barlow’s nasal vocals are polarising, but he drills the addictive refrain of ‘Fall’ and jubilant highlight ‘Telling Stories’ into your brain with a charm that’s hard to resist. ‘When You Know’ conjures a wistful nostalgia that’s out of space and time, while the glistening hooks on ‘What Took You So Long?’ and ‘Empty House’ aren’t a million miles away from the slick anthemia You Me At Six and All Time Low’s have peddled with their last few albums. These are massive, get-your-best-mate-in-a-headlock singalongs, which will come in handy when the band finally get to play the huge arena shows they announced pre-Covid. It’s all super-catchy, but feels a bit glass-eyed, lacking the heart and flying spittle of the band’s earlier, scrappier material.
According to the band ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’ is a concept album set in Sonderland’, a fictional world inspired by the word ‘sonder’, a term from John Koenig’s YouTube channel and website of made-up words Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows. According to Koenig’, ‘Sonder’ is defined as ‘the realisation that each random passerby is living a life that’s as vivid and complex as your own’. The band’s ambition is to be applauded but the delivery is clunky and with lyrics like “You’re perfect, perfectly clean / I’m drinking coffee on a trampoline” – well, this is the Dictionary definition of ‘uninspired’.
The album storyline follows the burgeoning romance of two characters, Jett and Alice, but as Barlow sings emphatically about relationships and loss, it’s difficult to differentiate between this concept and that of any given love song.
Ultimately, with a new crop of acts such as Milk Teeth, Yungblud and Pup pushing pop-punk in new directions, it’s odd that Neck Deep have settled for what’s essentially a watered-down version of their original sound. ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’ feels like a sugar rush that wears off quickly. It’s good fun, but nowhere near as deep as they think it is.
Release date: July 24
Record label: Hopeless Records