Blink-182 ‘Neighbourhoods’ – Review

5 Oct

A couple of years ago I went through a bit of a Blink-182 phase. I’d never been particularly into them first time around, but a lot of their songs had penetrated my consciousness, whether it was through TV, radio play or friends who were fans. I think my revival in interest was due to a combination of factors; I was 18 and a fresher at Uni (the subject matter for a few of their songs), I was probably nostalgic for the pop culture of my childhood (and few acts represent late 90’s pop culture as well as Blink-182, not just through music but through their fashion, attitude and brand endorsement), and enough time had passed for me to realize with hindsight that there was more to them than dirty jokes and throwaway punk songs. Their best album, ‘Enema of the State’ (and in particular its classic singles ‘What’s My Age Again’, ‘All the Small Things’, ‘Adam’s Song’ and ‘Going Away to College’) perfectly captures the frustration and agony of growing up and finding your place in the world whilst adjusting to adult life. It also contained some of the catchiest and funniest songs you could ever wish to hear, and its influence has been (for better or worse) huge.

Now they are back, older and wiser, which is somewhat problematic as Blink were once the exact opposite of old and wise. How can a band that were so perfectly suited to their original time and place, and so perfectly suited to being young and cynical, adapt to middle age, not to mention declining interest in the genre they helped define? On the one hand we want them to carry on because we love their music and they reminds us of our youth, but on the other hand we realize that they will almost certainly never return to that state of brilliantly productive creativity. A while ago I came across a picture of The Ramones at one of their last shows, decked out in skinnys and leather jackets, and i remember thinking it was kind of sad that they had continued for so long, living off past glories in a way that seemed to be the polar opposite of what they originally represented. Blink-182 cancelled their summer tour this year because they didn’t have any new songs to play – maybe they are also aware of the dangers of playing purely for nostalgia’s sake. ‘Neighbourhoods’ then is their stab at relevance in 2011, and mostly they strike a fine balance between old and new.

The band have said that ‘Neighbourhoods’ features songs that could have fitted onto any of their older albums. Whilst this isn’t particularly true (there is nothing as rabid and relentless as the songs on those early records) you can sort of see where they are coming from. Many tracks borrow ‘Enema of the States’ pop sheen and retain its well crafted choruses and radio friendly melodies. But elsewhere there are songs that remind me of the darker punk sound that is more reminiscent of ‘Take off your jacket and Pants’, and the more intricate and experimental moments take off where 2003’s self titled album left off. impressively they manage to weave all these elements together, and they are at their best when they take all those reference points and create something entirely new with them.

When they delve completely into unknown territory things get a little less exciting, and frankly the more experimental numbers are a bit hit and miss. ‘Snake Charmer’ is pretty useless, it’s too similar to something Tom’s other band ‘Angels and Airwaves would put out, it makes you wonder why he didn’t just save it for their next album; this type of airy, anthemic stadium rock is just not what Blink are about. So whilst this is an ambitious album for the boys, the obvious fact remains that Blink-182 are best when it comes to the loud and fast numbers they built their name on. The toilet humour may have been flushed away (excuse the pun) but some traces of what was remain. ‘Heart’s All Gone’ is a classic pop-punk number led by Mark (my favourite of the two singers, and he is generally greatly underused on the album) and it’s easily the brightest song on here. ‘Natives’ is another fast number that demonstrates why Travis Barker is often considered to be the finest drummer in rock, even if his elaborate style is an ill-suited compliment to the basic style of the other two members. ‘Wishing Well’ and MH4′ are two other tracks that update the classic Blink sound whilst staying true to what made them so popular in the first place, either one of these would have made a more suitable first single than the slightly empty ‘Up All Night’.

The Beatles made twelve albums in six years which is pretty astonishing when you think about it. Blink 182 have been away for roughly the same amount of time, so when they returned with a song as insubstantial as ‘Up All Night’ you can understand why some fans were disappointed. It’s not that ‘Up all Night’ is a bad song, it’s just that we had hoped for more. It does work better in the context of the album but I’m still not too keen on it.  Second Single ‘After Midnight’ is a lot better, it aims to replicate the style of ‘Miss You’ or ‘Stay Together For the Kids’ and does a pretty good job of it.

Featuring only ten songs, one of which is a short instrumental interlude, and two more of which are utterly forgettable, ‘Neighbourhoods’ is a regrettably slim and insubstantial comeback album.  However, there is a 14 track ‘deluxe’ version which is worth getting as two of the bonus tracks are very good and the other two aren’t bad either. All in all there is more than enough evidence here to suggest that Blink have a future, and a fairly promising one at that. Even though ‘Neighbourhoods’ never fully realizes the band’s true potential, it does a good job of reminding you why Blink 182 are so special, and it proves that against the odds they have grown up, and grown up in style.

7/10

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