[12 October 2011]
PopMatters Events Editor
Tense. A word that describes the mood of any number of interviews with the members of Blink-182 over the past year during the writing and recording process of their first album in eight years, Neighborhoods. It’s easy to assume that some wounds may still remain from the band’s messy collapse in 2005, but aside from the current state of the band’s friendship, much more has changed in the lives of Mark, Tom, and Travis since their self-titled 2003 release. Due to the constraints and juggling acts of each of their own personal endeavors, and perhaps the strain of mending relationships as well, the majority of Neighborhoods was written and recorded at a distance, in different studios, states apart. While this sort of disjointed effort might lend itself to poor, unfocused art in many cases, it’s that very tension bubbling underneath the surface of each song that has helped create one of the band’s best bodies of work and one of the most compelling albums of the year.
By now, the story is well documented. The 2008 Learjet 60 crash that took the lives of everyone on board except for Blink drummer Travis Barker, including his good friend Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, served as a catalyst for reconciliation in the band’s relationship, one that had originally appeared to be damaged beyond repair. By February of the following year, the announcement was made official at the Grammy Awards—Blink-182 was back. While Internet fanboys the world over rejoiced, the fact remained that with the passing of time had come many changes. Mark and Travis had found a musical outlet through their electronic-based alt-punk band +44, while Tom had poured his energies into his proggy space rock act Angels and Airwaves. Anyone expecting the 2011 version of Blink to channel the spunky, light-hearted pop-punk sounds of Enema of the State or Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is living a pipe dream. In fact, for many people, the reaction to Neighborhoods will be one based solely on expectations, whether they be sober-minded and understanding or detached and ignorant.
Everything about the album’s opening track “Ghost on the Dancefloor”, from its crunchy guitars, backing synthesizers, anthemic Tom DeLonge chorus, and dark tone draws memories of 2003’s Blink-182. But while Neighborhoods certainly shares characteristics from the band’s last outing, this is by no means a redux, more a continuation. The album’s first four tracks feel like a perfect storm of influence, as each member’s own unique flavor is felt without anyone stealing the show. The dual vocals of Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge sound as well placed as they ever have, especially on lead single “Up All Night”, a gloomy, questioning song sung over swirling guitars that hits its crescendo when DeLonge belts, “All these questions, they keep me up all night” during the track’s haunting chorus.
“After Midnight” is a standout and the type of messy relationship assessment that you’d expect from a more mature Blink-182. While capturing the biting tone the band has been known for in the past, the track also features a sense of restraint and a more thoughtful approach than is seen in much of the band’s back catalog. DeLonge’s lyrics—“All along we talked of forever / I kind of think that we won’t get better / It’s the longest start, but the end’s not too far away / Did you know? I’m here to stay”—speak from a place of maturity, and for those of us who grew up singing along with the band’s juvenile, smart-ass retorts, this sort of growth is a welcome addition.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Travis Barker’s sensational drumming proves to be a welcome anchor throughout the album, reigning in the tendency of each track to swing too far in Mark’s or Tom’s direction and keeping each track very much within the vein of Blink. This is a balancing act that someone as talented as Barker pulls off with ease. Both his harder hitting affairs such as “MH 4.18.2011” and more controlled forms of aggression in the likes of “Love Is Dangerous” prove to be memorable. Certainly, there are tracks that feel closely connected with Angels and Airwaves and others that seem to draw more influence from +44, but even in those moments you can feel the pull from the other side drawing the song back into the scope of the album. The whole idea behind Neighborhoods is that each of these parts, much like neighborhoods in a city, serves to provide a unique feel that, when combined, create an even more interesting and expansive whole. To discount this album as a mish-mash collection of each side’s material is to completely miss the point.
When Mark sings, “Your smoking tongue is the end of us all / But you only care about fame and fortune” on “Heart’s All Gone”, is he referencing Tom, who himself sings “Been gone a long time / I kind of lost my way, can’t find it” on “Wishing Well”? As murky as the details are to the real stance of the band’s relationships and inner workings, one thing’s for sure about the creation of Neighborhoods: they did it their way. Just as the band paid little worry to how it was perceived when the threesome ran naked through the streets in the 1999 music video for “What’s My Age Again?”, they seem to have little concern for the people who will inevitably bitch that they’ve “lost it”. With Neighborhoods, Blink-182 has restarted a career that will hopefully lead to even more great music in the years to come. In the meantime, this latest offering is a welcomed return and a rewarding listen for fans, both old and new.