On their first album in eight years, Blink-182
tackle maturity and mortality, and while that would seem to run counter to the band’s bratty punk-pop
roots, it ends up suiting them quite well. Building on the reflective spirit that started to show itself on 2003’s Blink-182
is a darker but still insistently musically engaging record that seems perched halfway between the enthusiasm of a fresh start and the bittersweet wistfulness for the heartbreaks the group members have had to endure. Rather than turning into boring grownups, Blink-182 have managed to age gracefully.
In the time since Blink-182
, much has happened to the band. The trio broke up, forcing bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker
to form a side group, called +44. Meanwhile, guitarist Tom DeLonge started a new band, Angels & Airwaves. The three men pursued other music as well -- Barker, for example, was the drummer in Transplants -- but none of these groups matched the commercial success of what Blink had achieved. Then in 2008, Barker barely escaped tragedy when he survived a small-plane crash that killed four people. A month earlier, the band’s longtime producer, Jerry Finn, died from a brain hemorrhage. Finn’s death paired with Barker’s near-death experience -- he suffered severe burns -- brought the members of Blink-182 back together but, more importantly, seems to have inspired a collection of songs that seem haunted by life’s fragility.
Adventurous but Radio-Ready Tunes
Consequently, the Blink-182 you find on Neighborhoods isn’t the fun-loving one from Enema of the State. Instead, it’s a band that’s visited by ghosts, troubled by the loss of youth, and trying to make sense of the adult world. But rather than letting those fears deaden their skill with pop hooks, Neighborhoods is a more sonically adventurous album filled with to-the-point, radio-ready tunes. Blink had been moving away from pop-punk to modern rock by Blink-182, and the new album continues that transition, embracing atmospheric guitar rock on “Snake Charmer” and “Up All Night” without surrendering punk’s punchy aesthetic. Neighborhoods is being released in two formats, but while the best songs are on the 10-track version, the 14-song deluxe edition offers a more complete, satisfying listening experience, including the moody experimentation of “Fighting Gravity” that’s worth owning.
Despite the traumas that Blink have had to endure, the prevailing tone of Neighborhoods is one of gratefulness. The band confront these dark feelings early on with the album-opening “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” but whether it’s the demons addressed on “Up All Night” or the regret of “After Midnight,” there’s a sense that the trio are trying to cut through the pain by singing about it directly in song. DeLonge, the band’s principal singer, retains his snotty, nasally tone of yesteryear, but on Neighborhoods it’s tempered with a disillusioned quality that never comes across as whining. Likewise, Hoppus, whose voice isn’t quite as dynamic, manages to evoke a struggling, resilient quality that’s quietly compelling. Beyond bemoaning “bad girls” on the arresting “Snake Charmer,” there’s very little adolescent name-calling on Neighborhoods, and while it would be a stretch to say that Blink-182 are deep lyricists, they express their fears in likable, universal ways.
A Second Chance
Presumably, one of the appeals of Blink-182 during their heyday was their brash, immature tone that thumbed its nose at the anger of alt-metal
and the pretensions of modern rock. And yet 12 years after their breakthrough with Enema of the State
, the trio have arrived in a place where they can be adults without abandoning that punk rock ethos. Neighborhoods
isn’t as consistent as its stirring opening flurry of tracks, but the record remains a tuneful delight throughout, even when the songs become a touch predictable or trite. Tragedy may have brought the group back together, but Neighborhoods
feels imbued with so much life. It seems a shame if Blink-182 didn’t use this second chance to produce more records as rewarding.
'Neighborhoods' - Best Tracks:
“After Midnight” (Purchase/Download
“Snake Charmer” (Purchase/Download
“This Is Home” (Purchase/Download
“Love Is Dangerous” (Purchase/Download
Release date – September 27, 2011