In 2014, Neck Deep decided to transform from a side project into a full-fledged band with the release of its debut LP, Wishful Thinking. The Welsh pop-punk group found success upon its debut, but as it garnered more admiration with newer releases, its first album gradually faded. Six years later, at the pinnacle of Neck Deep’s career, it’s time to hold Wishful Thinking in high regard once more.
Neck Deep emerged in 2012 when frontman Ben Barlow and former guitarist Lloyd Roberts — who departed the band in 2015 due to sexual misconduct allegations and was replaced by Sam Bowden — first met. They released a track titled “What Did You Expect?” that later makes an appearance on Wishful Thinking. After the track earned recognition, the pair added drummer Dani Abasi, guitarist Matt West and former bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans. Thorpe-Evans left in 2018 to fulfill his dreams of becoming a producer and was replaced by Joshua Halling.
The group released two EPs, Rain in July and A History of Bad Decisions, in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but Neck Deep didn’t make music its full priority until Wishful Thinking. Upon its success, every member either quit their full-time jobs or dropped out of school. Half a decade later, the band opened for Blink-182 on its 2019 tour, and Neck Deep has become a recognizable name in pop punk. The love for its debut LP, however, has only dimmed.
Wishful Thinking packs a heavy punch, boasting a vigor that most bands lack when trying to find their sound. Neck Deep, however, knew what it was doing before it started. “Damsel In Distress” delivers a roaring guitar line as it delineates the story of how a boring party turns interesting when a girl who needs saved shows up. In “Sweet Nothings,” Barlow takes the time to tell his significant other she’s the reason he can overcome his demons. Wishful Thinking conveys all the troubles that come with growing up and overthinking, and though the band has honed its sound all this time later, Neck Deep is a success story because of this golden, 12-track album.
Here are the best five tracks from Wishful Thinking:
5. “Staircase Wit”
In “Staircase Wit,” Barlow looks back on an unhealthy relationship. The phrase “staircase wit” means thinking of the perfect response after it’s too late, and even though Barlow is completely done with his ex, he knows he could’ve said the right things when he had the chance. Behind mesmerizing guitar riffs and drum patterns, Barlow admits to his ex she should’ve spared him by never coming into his life in the first place: “Held it back, lost the nerve / Was too scared to talk when you gave me your hand / And you gave me your heart when you should’ve kept it to yourself.”
4. “Losing Teeth”
Opening the album is “Losing Teeth,” a track about realizing adulthood is closer than ever and how now or never is the time to take risks. Guided by robust bass and guitar lines, Barlow shares how these adventures, which were seemingly in the midst of a summer romance, truly were high risk, high reward: “Though we complained about it all, it was such a worthwhile waste of my time / Each day and each night, a memory / Take care, and please don’t forget me.”
3. “Growing Pains”
“Growing Pains,” while also about young love, takes a massively different approach. Here, Barlow is telling his significant other he’ll be there through both her good moments and rough patches. Backed by intricate guitar shredding, he even promises to take some of the load just so she knows he’ll never leave her: “Don’t bear the weight of the world on your shoulders / It’s not too heavy / I’ll break my back, so you can feel like someone’s on your side.”
“Candour” closes the album in a heartbreaking fashion, drawing inspiration from Barlow’s dad, who was experiencing health problems at the time and died in 2016. The track perfectly blends drums and violins with Barlow’s blatantly emotional vocals as he attempts to communicate how much of a role model his dad was. He tells his dad how grateful he is to be blessed with him during their short yet impactful time together: “The lessons learned at your side will stay with me all my life / The man I hope to become I know is deep down inside / I know you don’t even need to say / I know you’re proud in your own way.”
“Mileage” asks the tough question most people are scared to hear: How can you be sure life is always going to be fine? With an enthralling guitar line, Barlow ponders on how much everything has changed since the band earned attention: “And it tears me apart how we knew from the start these would be our last days / But what makes you think that your ship won’t sink? You can run, but inside, it will feel the same.” By the end, Barlow realizes this apprehension will pass as long as he chooses to be optimistic: “And you will find a peace of mind underneath the doubt / The light will dim, and we will grow, but we won’t burn out.” The track is incredibly relatable and catchy, making it the best on Wishful Thinking.