Rating – 1/5
Welsh pop-punk outfit Neck Deep return with ‘All Distortions Are Intentional’. Billed as a concept album, the group delve into exploring themes through the lens of fictional protagonists in what we can only assume was supposed to be a sunny-yet-fractured charming set of reflections on existence.
It’s a lofty ambition to “do a concept album”, the barrier for entry is normally fairly high to be considered successful or interesting. You typically have to offer something original, insightful, and of course sonically different enough to set yourself apart from your contemporaries. Having said that, let’s not pretend that a concept album needs to reinvent the wheel to be interesting, but Neck Deep might have considered at least a cursory glance at the schematics before proceeding.
The album, as Neck Deep sees it, is an exploration of fictional ‘Sonderland’; yes they know it sounds like Sunderland but still went ahead with it; which appears to be a musical exploration of an Urban Dictionary definition. Alternatively, it might have been a term coined by someone with the same capacity for language as a toddler, or an Instagram poet.
In any case, a conceptual foundation built on a portmanteau of ‘sonder’ and ‘wonderland’ probably isn’t going to be the sturdiest, or even yield the most interesting results; unless the results are the house collapsing on itself as the audience watches on with bemusement.
Having done pop-punk in the past, and having done it very well, the group’s effort to expand their horizons skirt a precarious line somewhere between boring and derivative. The pop-punk sound is firmly entrenched with heavy production across the board; the guitar parts blur into one another with little deviation and the vocal delivery remains largely unchanged across the record, with a few tracks proving the exception.
Similarly, the super radio-friendly production is glassy and overdone; it panders to the modern homogenisation of sound, sacrificing subtlety and quality. The other universally divisive “artistic choice” comes with the inclusion of the heavily auto-tuned vocals. Love it or hate it, delete as appropriate, and let’s move on before it turns into a rant.
Many of the tracks offer little or no inventiveness and bleed together with a uniformity that completely contradicts what the group were trying to offer with this record. It’s a shame, as of course there are stand out moments that would have worked fantastically as singles, or as part of a completely different project. ‘Telling Stories’ is a fantastic straight-up bouncy jam with an infectiously catchy chorus which boasts a clever descending line that’s impossible to not tap your foot to.
‘Quarry’ is an interesting inclusion on the record, or perhaps it might have been if it didn’t sound like they’d taken any XXXTentacion track and copied it verbatim with slightly less interesting lyrics. Knock another one off the checklist guys we shoehorned the sad mumble rap track in, that’ll tie up the hip hop market for sure. It’s unfortunate but there’s too little to salvage the effort as a whole, it seems the concept angle that was talked up so substantially actually offers little to nothing in the way of helping the band create something new. These songs offer insights so well-trodden they may as well just have been written without the need for an overarching narrative.
Borrowing from pretty much every musical cliche you can imagine and repackage it in a purportedly different format; Neck Deep could’ve done a much better job. This is their ‘St. Anger’, except they don’t even have the excuse of having to work with an angry James Hetfield.
Review by Theo Wildgoose