Blink 182 – Neighborhoods (Deluxe – 2011)

Posted: September 15, 2011 in Music

I remember the good ol’ days. The days when most of my friends actually had jobs. The days when twenty bucks was enough gas to get you through the week. The days when television was more than a scattering of reality shows and the theaters actually had ‘movies’ instead of 90 minute CGI experiments.

I’m talking about the age when Blink-182 was ruling the world with their off-color punk-driven mayhem that made you laugh and mosh at the same time. The California trio were a breath of fresh air that brought punk back to the mainstream at the turn of the century, and led the movement that broke down the barriers, allowing such great bands as New Found Glory, Green Day, Rancid, and The Offspring to make a name for themselves outside of the punk scene.

But as far as acceptance, radio play, and popularity, it’s hard to top the impact Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus, and Travis Barker had during their heyday. Mohawks and tattoos were joined at live shows by ponytails and polos, as the band not only crossed over into the world of ‘pop,’ they damn near took it over.

In fact, they just might have, had it not been for an ugly break-up in 2005. In a move that opened the door for Green Day to carry the torch for radio-punk, DeLonge left the band marking the end of Blink-182. Being bigger than Jesus had taken its toll on the group, and DeLonge – and his incessant need to control the band – had simply had enough. Hoppus and Barker went on to form +44 (and Barker also joined Rancid’s Tim Armstrong in a project titled The Transplants), but it was obvious that the sound Blink had perfected needed all hands on deck. DeLonge had his new projects as well, first with Boxcar Racer, and then (and currently) with Angels & Airwaves, but even with great success of the latter, it was nowhere near the energy and fire that fueled the distinct sound that was Blink-182.

Sometimes it takes tragedy and disaster to clear the mind and get one thinking straight, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. On August 21, 2008, the band’s frequent producer Jerry Finn died of a cerebral hemorrhage (which, in turn, opened up some communication between the members), and just as the band was having open conversation in September of that year, Barker was involved in a plane crash that killed four passengers on September 19th. Barker was severely burned and in intensive care. It was during his hospital stay that all three members were able to finally settle their differences – leading to the band reuniting in 2009. So here we are, two and a half years later, and after a myriad of delays and detours, the band is set to release Neighborhoods on September 27, 2011.

For those that think this is some quick cash-in and insincere attempt to put people in the seats for their current tour, you couldn’t be more wrong. While Angels & Airwaves are set to release their fourth album a little later this fall, Blink-182 is back – dedicatedly.

DeLonge even took the rare occasion to be humble, saying “My biggest failure was the breakup of Blink. That was a failure of friendships, businesses and communications. In our hearts, we thought that was forever and gone. What’s funny is, at the time, I looked at it as a triumph.”

It’s not much of a surprise that the band’s sixth album is a more mature, less riotous effort – after all they’ve been through, jokes come at a premium. So one must understand that going in. The toilet humor is gone – the fart jokes disappeared, and the youthful energy of punk albums past has been replaced with a more modest, honest, reflective sound that is less a party album and more a soundtrack for the trials and tribulations the band has endured over the last seven years.

Sure, I wanted to return to the Dude Ranch and get an Enema Of The State, but – episodes aside – the band actually started evolving away from the sound of their earlier albums with their 2003 self-titled. It happens everyday. Bands grow up. Plus, how many wiener jokes are there, really.

From the first couple of bars of the opener “Ghost On The Dancefloor” it’s apparent that this maturation is taking another step forward. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like DeLonge’s other band, with spacey keyboards and a noticeable lack of Hoppus vocals (although he does squeak in a little in the background from time to time). It’s pretty tame in comparison to much of the album, but a nice re-introduction to a band that was left for dead quite a while ago.

“Natives” harkens back to a more familiar Blink, with strong guitars, back and forth vocals, and Barker just banging the shit out of his drum kit. What you might not catch on the first listen is how ‘dark’ this track is. For a band that used to make us at least smile – if not completely bust out laughing – this is quite the departure. When Hoppus rails off “…we’ll have the time of our lives, although we’re dying inside,” it is obvious that paying attention to the lyrics might not be a bad idea from this point on.

The first single off the disc is “Up All Night,” which has the formula down pat. Swapping verses (for the first time on the record), Hoppus and DeLonge spin a tale of horrible memories and horrible circumstances, and Barker ties it all together with drumming that is proficient one second, and mind-blowing the next. A great track, made even better by a breakdown at the end that etches the track permanently into your brain.

“After Midnight” is easily the most emotional roller-coaster on the album. Heartache rules the day, and continues the dimmer, less illuminated feel this album has carried so far. The mood does improve a bit towards the end, and Hoppus brightens the mood with the final chorus. It would be easy to once again praise Barker here, but I’ll save the love from here on out for those moments when he really knocks it out of the park. He’s solid throughout the entire disc – but that should come as no surprise whatsoever.

If you liked the first track (or any AvA song), you’ll enjoy the space-rock vibe behind “Snake Charmer”. Not a lot of Hoppus vocals, but plenty of his bass, which resonates throughout. Even though DeLonge carries the vocals here, the additional keyboards and epic feel are as memorable as anything else on the album. It’s not very punky, but it is definitely worth multiple listens.

The two-parted “Hearts On Fire” (which claims two tracks), starts off with a soft, methodical prelude of guitars only, but soon gives way to Barker showcasing his skill, and – believe it or not – Hoppus leading the vocal barrage. DeLonge takes this song to really concentrate on the structure of the guitar parts, and it’s fine work, indeed. It’s definitely a quicker tempo through most of it, which makes it easy to declare it’s place asone of the best tracks on the album.

Most of the album has had lyrical content that was either very serious or downright depressing up until this point, so the timing of the ‘happier’ “Wishing Well” couldn’t have been an accident. We even get a sing-a-long “Na-na-nanna-na” chorus to lighten things up. It’s not the most memorable track by any means, but it shows a nice shift of emotion the album really needed.

It is obvious with “Kaleidoscope” that Tom really has transformed from punk rocker to something quite different. Hoppus takes his share of the vocals here, but DeLonge’s composition here almost ‘new-wave.’ That doesn’t make it bad, but it sure makes it different. It’s unique – and that what makes it special. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if this makes it as a single, as it will allow the band a broader canvas for future experimentation.

“This Is Home” is finally where the band trips over it’s own new shoes. It wants to be different with a heavy dose of keyboards, but everything else is so tame that it’s almost inexcusable. Lyrics were unmemorable, as were the guitars and drums. If there is anything ‘forgettable’ here, it’s this track.

More times than not, when you get a track that makes you raise your eyebrows in concern, the next one blows you away. And that’s the pattern here, as “MH 4.18.2011” erases the sour taste of the last track in the first ten seconds. The track is as close to the pure, unadulterated punk sound the band grew up on as anything else on Neighborhoods, and while the change has been well-played, it’s nice to know the band remembers what brought them to the dance. No synthesizers, no echoed vocal effects. Just the raw aggression that the band embraced several albums ago.

After an odd intro borrowed from Ziggy Stardust, Hoppus and DeLonge actally pull off a harmony vocal effort in “Love Is Dangerous.” The lyrics return to some pretty serious shit – and are the focal point. Barker is tuned down a bit as the track slows itself by design, only to build to an epic close that is becoming DeLonge’s trademark. We finally get the mandatory dose of Barker at the end, as he snares his way through the last bars. It won’t stand out for many as a grand track, but for me, it was spot on.

Just when you thought the album couldn’t get any darker, the band delivers “Fighting The Gravity.” On first listen, it felt out of place, but after multiple repeats it became clear that this was just another – albeit it more drastic – ‘experimentation’ by the band. I overuse the term ‘haunting’ from time to time on this blog, but there is no better way to describe this song. The strength is in the structure, where nothing is overdone, and everything just flickers a soft light throughout. I wouldn’t want a whole album of this, but the placement here is again perfect.

The mood shifts for the album’s closer, which has as much of a positive vibe to it as anything else. You get the sense that – even though the album has laid the sadness on pretty thick – everything is going to be just fine in the end. It’s not a complicated song, but it does the job tying a pretty red bow around it all. Barker shifts around from frame to frame, but Hoppus and DeLonge tag off between simple, enthused guitar rhythms and vocals. Once the band lightens up a bit from the memories of their recent past, I think this is the sound we’ll get from them moving forward.

Hoppus said it best – about the band and the album – in a recent interview with KROQ radio when he stated the following:

“To us, it means… kinda what we discovered through the re-formation of Blink-182 is that the three of us are very different but put together, we do something that we really like. You know, Travis is a very “street,” “urban,” uh, kind of a dirty aesthetic, I’m more of an indie rock guy and Tom’s an outer space… kinda like the different neighborhoods that make up a city. There’s a lot of different sounds and a lot of different parts of Blink-182 in this record and we came from suburban California so it just felt like kinda what the record was. Kinda put together like a city.”

A city worth visiting, for sure…

8/10

Tracklist:
01. Ghost on the Dance Floor
02. Natives
03. Up All Night
04. After Midnight
05. Snake Charmer
06. Heart’s All Gone Interlude
07. Heart’s All Gone
08. Wishing Well
09. Kaleidoscope
10. This Is Home
11. MH 4.18.2011
12. Love is Dangerous
13. Fighting The Gravity
14. Even if She Falls

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