The last few years have been a wild ride for Neck Deep. Regardless of their setbacks, their success is undeniable. Now, the band are ready to drop their third album The Peace and The Panic, and show no signs of slowing down. Is it all we’ve been waiting for, though?
Opening the album are Motion Sickness and Happy Judgement Day, two tracks that bounce along to a fairly familiar Neck Deep formula. It’s catchy, upbeat pop punk. There is some stylistic variation compared to older material, most notably a more nasal, almost American tone to Barlow’s vocals. It’s not so significant that it’ll make or break the album for many, but it is definitely recognisable.
Track number three, The Grand Delusion moves along in a similar manner before we run into Parachute. Parachute introduces some more poppy vibes, and rewards us with a more anthemic tune documenting a desire to get out, see and do things in the world. Although it’s lighter in nature, it’s a happy callback to the huge songs that we heard on their second album Life’s Not Out To Get You. Having said that, it’s lyrical content is slightly basic in places.
In Bloom is one of the biggest curveballs on the album, and may be a dividing line for many. It’s a light, alt-rock piece with lots of pop influences also exemplified in its music video. It’s definitely a song to grow on you though. Once you’re familiar with the style, the chorus comes through as a strong centrepiece surrounded by jubilant guitar tones.
From the album’s lightest album to its heaviest, Don’t Wait features Sam Carter of Architects, who drops an ample amount of throaty screams. Don’t Wait brings out some more of the political themes suggested on the album’s cover and predominantly in Happy Judgement Day. It’s angsty and suspicious. Carter’s vocals initially come in alone, but are soon layered with Barlow’s singing in a surprisingly effective medley.
With Critical Mistake, the album sadly begins to err. It’s another upbeat, pop-rock style song, but falls victim to feeling superficial and shallow. Barlow’s vocals lack any grit here, and whilst that’s clearly the aim, it comes across in poor taste. Wish You Were Here introduces an acoustic guitar in a ballad reminiscing about a late friend. It’s a moment for pause as it becomes clear that members of the band have undergone serious pain in the last few years, and the duality of The Peace and The Panic becomes apparent. It’s no musical prodigy, but it at least feels heartfelt.
The closing stages of the album are another mixed bunch. Heavy Lies lacks serious innovation, we’re back in the Neck Deep comfort zone, but it’s not innately flawed. There’s a singalong friendly chorus and some sweet couplets before we move into 19 Seventy Sumthin’. Both for the band and its fans, 19 Seventy Sumthin’ is likely to be one of the most poignant tracks on the album due to the passing of Ben’s father, Terry Barlow, of “Fuck Neck Deep mate, Ben’s Dad owns a record label!” fame. It’s nice to see it’s not purely a miserable song; the band turn it into a celebration of the man’s life and relationship. A narrative is brought out here that many will value, running up to the sad final day.
The Peace and The Panic‘s final song is Where Do We Go When We Go. Thematically, this is a great way to close off the album with one of the questions that have clearly been haunting Neck Deep. That said, it is one of the weaker songs on the album. A light voice sample brings it in, before the band move through the motions. There’s nothing to be said against the thought behind the song, but the chorus is unimaginative.
In all, The Peace and The Panic has some thoroughly enjoyable songs on it, but comes across as a rather confused record. There’s nothing wrong with trying to introduce some stylistic variation within an album, but Neck Deep‘s album seems torn between two polarising styles. The album certainly has its merits, and many will adore it, but it is relevant to suggest that a lack of stylistic continuity might be jarring for some listeners. Furthermore, the band flirted with their nuclear / political style, but never truly dedicated to it, leaving to the wayside a theme that could have united the various hands dealt by The Peace and The Panic.