Chances are if you’re in your thirties today (maybe late twenties even) about fifteen/twenty years ago you went through a serious emo obsession. Bands like Jimmy Eat World were getting serious radio play and just about everyone’s featured album on Myspace was at some point In Love and Death by The Used. But this humble writer (Lee Ferguson) somehow missed that whole goddamn wave! Sure, I dabbled, especially with the more pop punk oriented bands like Sum-41 and Billy Talent, but for the most part, I was digging deeper into indie and metal during those formative emo years. Listening to Neck Deep’s All Distortions Are Intentional takes me straight back to those times fifteen years ago where every one of my friends was plugging some emo punk band and I just wasn’t vibing with much of it. Let’s have a second go at it and see if anything’s changed!
Oh, Lee, this takes me back as well, but not in a good way. See, unlike you, I was quite the little emo. I was the guy who would stew for days because his crush hadn’t noticed him in science class. That said, I still have a soft spot for this kind of music and a great album can remind me of the times when my problems were simpler. Neck Deep’s All Distortions Are Intentional doesn’t do that. It’s akin to finding an old yearbook. It is incredibly cringe-inducing, so much so I can barely make it to the end without wanting to turn it off. It is so annoyingly mopey and overly romantic that it kind of makes me a little nauseous.
Maybe I’m just getting older and more cantankerous, but I checked out the rest of Neck Deep’s discography and I liked some of it. So, what the hell happened?! The most glaring problem is vocalist Ben Barlow. I hate singling out band members but dear God, he might have THE whiniest delivery I have ever heard on a pop-punk album and that is truly saying something. From what I’ve heard, he used to have some grit to his voice, but either he or the producer scrubbed it clean. This would be forgivable if his lyrics were deep or profound, but they aren’t. Lines like “But like satellites drawn to your gravity/ I revolve around you” or “That’s S-T-R-E-S next to S/ That’s the root of it all and that’s stress” sound like they were lifted verbatim from my old MSN Messenger account.
What makes this worse is that there are some solid hooks and the band is especially tight on tracks like “Sonderland” and “Telling Stories.” It just isn’t enough. Barlow’s woe is me affectations just might be too dramatic for even the most hormonal of teenagers. I wouldn’t call All Distortions Are Intentional a trainwreck per se. It’s too processed and dull to even be that entertaining. Ultimately, I think it will have its champions, but it’s hard to believe that most fans of Neck Deep won’t be a little disappointed. What about you Lee? Has Neck Deep made you feel like you missed out on something or glad that you mostly avoided the pop-punk genre?
Well, Shawn, it appears we have entered into some reverse sort of gravitational backward world; yourself the once “heart on your sleeve teen” emo kid souring a bit over this one. Myself, totally missing the emo explosion, but finding a little bit of satisfaction in All Distortions Are Intentional. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with most of your criticisms. Barlow’s vocals are beyond whiney, the lyrics are somewhat dull, but I’ll debate you that on some tracks throughout this record it absolutely works. The problem with it is that it gets real old, real fast. Sit me down in a room and force me to listen to this album in its entirety and I’d be a grumpy asshole as well. However, if I’m rippin’ off a shuffle on my phone, or riding shotgun in a buddies car (I do not play the radio in my car) I feel like I could really get down with a track like “Lowlife” or “Sonderland.”
That is about as far as I’d go, because the majority of the record is lacking. When Neck Deep amp up and deliver those pop-punk hooky choruses I truly am brought back to a time in my young adulthood, even though I didn’t spend a ton of time with this genre and reflect fondly upon it; about three-quarters of this record makes me delighted that I didn’t spend too much time with it. Neck Deep needs to dig a little deeper. You can only ride that pop-punk dynamic for so long.
So Lee, even though this clearly bothered me more, it’s safe to say that you and I were both not sold on Neck Deep’s All Distortions Are Intentional. I feel if you were to hear one of the better tracks in a house party scene of a film taking place in the early 2000s, then you would hardly notice any weaknesses. As it stands though, too much of this album may cause you to renounce your emo kid past or be glad that you never jumped on the bandwagon in the first place.
Written by Shawn Thicke and Lee Ferguson
*Edited by Dominic Abate