Well… This one might be a little divisive. It may seem like blasphemy to say that an album released in 2015 could possibly be the ‘best of’ pop-punk, when so many would argue that the genre hit its peak in the 90s and 00s with Sum 41, Blink 182 or The Offspring, but Neck Deep spearheaded modern pop-punk and have breathed fresh, joyous life into the genre. Many of the pioneers are often seen in the modern day as more of a nostalgia trip, or a tongue in cheek cheesy pre-drink bop. Life’s Not Out To Get You, however, took that great foundation and brought pop-punk into the modern era with seismic effects.
The Wrexham boys’ second album is nothing short of a masterpiece. Every single song is memorable and has its place on setlists to this day; there’s such a range of styles, riffs, vocal performance and just general vibe across the twelve tracks, and it will likely remain my favourite album of all time until the day I die. My possible personal bias aside, Life’s Not Out To Get You launched Neck Deep to megastardom, their name is now synonymous with modern pop-punk, and a benchmark was set for the genre going forward.
Something that holds up so well with this album is its incredible message of self empowerment. It is as much a self-help book as it is a pop-punk album, and to this day many of its best lines live in my head, and give me shivers when I hear them again. Hell, I even got ‘Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors’ tattooed on my forearm.
The opening six songs are this unrelenting barrage; upbeat and infinitely singable, and just when you think you’re allowed to take a breather, the next song starts with a killer intro. Fan favourites ‘Gold Steps’ and ‘Can’t Kick Up The Roots’ find themselves in this opening section, and with some of the best riffs on the album and massively memorable choruses, it’s not hard to see why these songs are so often turned to to open or close live shows.
Much like the chorus warns ‘Kali Ma’ rips your heart out of your chest with a wicked feature from A Day To Remember’s Jeremy McKinnon, which both adds to the album’s pop-punk gravitas and simultaneously makes you feel bad for not having listened to ADTR since you were fifteen.
Neck Deep’s rapid, aggressive but reserved style, like a sharpened stick of butter, birthed bands like WSTR and Woes, who are so similar to Neck Deep in sound that they are often unfairly called direct rip offs. They are certainly similar, but they’ve adapted the great style Neck Deep cultivated on this album rather than simply hopped on a bandwagon.
But it’s not all split-lips, skateboarding and khaki shorts, as Neck Deep craft some absolutely gorgeous slower songs for this album. ‘Serpents’ and ‘I Hope This Comes Back To Haunt You’ start cathartically mellow with these incredible swells around the choruses, in something that reminds the listener of modern day Creeper. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that ‘December’ is more effective at making me cry than being pepper sprayed by a bowl of onions. The inclusion of the ‘token’ slow, sad song has definitely crept into pop-punk in recent years, with basically every release these days having at least two or three, but none have ever felt so at-home on their album as ‘December’ does.
All good things must come to an end however, and while Neck Deep’s new album All Distortions Are Intentional sees the band shift to a poppier, more mainstream sound, the style they revolutionised on Life’s Not Out To Get You has pathed the way for new kingpins in the modern pop punk scene. Groups like PUP, Seaway and Mom Jeans still have that distinct Neck Deep punkier tinge and front the genre into the coming years.
Life’s Not Out To Get You is available through Hopeless Records. Check out the video for ‘Gold Steps’ below!