At album four one of the biggest risks a band can make is being boring. With an established sound it’s all too easy to fall back on old tricks and pump out the same tired routine. Another of the bigger risks is evolving to a completely new sound. Without a bridging release, your audience receive an album from a band they no longer recognise. Thankfully Neck Deep avoids either of these pitfalls but somehow still don’t manage to play it safe.
With All Distortions Are Intentional, the Wrexham based boys of Neck Deep find themselves tackling a concept album. A record based on stories with familiar themes but new characters. A risk with concept albums is they often sacrifice some of the bands recognisable charms for the sake of the concept's integrity. It would be easy to think this of lead single ‘Lowlife’ as it sounds like the least Neck Deep song on the album. Swapping out their usual layered melodics for a more rhythm focused, obvious bop-along. The song remains essential to the concept, a story of a wanderer named Jett who meets & falls in a special kind of love known as “limerence”. The focus of Jett's affection is a girl named Alice who hails from album opening track ‘Sonderland’. The track’s title draws on an amalgamation of wonderland and the lesser known expression “Sonder”. Sonder meaning to experience the sensation that every other person you encounter has a life as deep, rich and varied as your own. And in their story, you are not the protagonist. As a song it’s the track fans of Neck Deep will find most familiar. An arms wide open return to big chorus hooks, existential crises and recognisable pop-culture phrases.
Lead singer Ben Barlow has mentioned his desire to create a complete record that lives beyond the single. ‘Quarry’ serves as a perfect example of this by performing as a middle act interval. Moving on into the album's third act it seems life is not entirely smelling of roses for our pair Jett & Alice. The second half of the album opens with ‘Sick Joke’. A song that flavours the album with a sour tone in its lyrical content that fans will identify with. This contrast the band often executes well. With Sam Bowden & Matt West's driving riff work reserving the melancholy of the mood for Barlow’s words.
Throughout the record the musicianship is standard but not outstanding. Barlow’s vocals work their typical charm throughout, even featuring a starkly more regional accent in some instances. This offers a glimpse to where the band call home and distance from the more Americanised vocals many bands within this echelon strive far, which is certainly welcome. The songwriting has always been where Neck Deep excelled, in hooks and builds and an anthemic approach to pop-punk that rarely over reached its station.
Throughout All Distortions Are Intentional the song writing is better suited to storytelling. With the goal being to create an album that stands strongly as a complete piece, as opposed to a collection of single-like songs, they’ve succeeded. It is unfortunately at the sacrifice of memorable individual songs. And in today’s climate of streams, playlists and shuffle modes, an album as ambitious as this suffers for it.
All Distortions Are Intentional is released July 24th via Hopeless Records.
Pre-order the album here.
Sam and Kris of the Noizze Podcast had a bit of a different take on the record. Listen to the new episode on Spotify now to hear their take on the album and much more.