Blink 182 ‘Nine’ – Review

28 Sep

‘Nine’ is Blink 182’s ninth album (the title gets no points for originality) though it’s so far removed in almost every conceivable sense from their early run of peerless pop punk that you might not recognise it as the work of the same band. This is a numbingly repetitive modern emo-pop record that doubles down on its predecessor’s concessions to modern tastes. It sounds calculated and airbrushed to the extreme. Track after track uses a similar formula; the quiet/loud bait and switch, the liberal use of ‘woahs’ and ‘yahs’ that echo endlessly in the background, the countless lyrics that mirror Adam’s Song’s juvinella twenty years down the line. As opening track ‘The First Time’ draws to a close, you will know everything you need to about ‘Nine’.

Blink 182 have been a massively influential and criminally misjudged band who deserve a thorough critical reappraisal. Their fine run lasted from 1997’s classic Dude Ranch to 2011’s underrated comeback ‘Neighborhoods’. But In 2019 even they seem unsure of what their strengths are and how exactly to utilise then. To wit, their early classics go down like acid spiked candy drops; they’re bright, tangy and subversive. A bright mix only highlights their strengths, which is why the poppy ‘Enema of the State’ serves as both their best and best selling record. But this time Blink bend their back too far to blend in. The mix is frazzled, the auto-tuning and excessive EQ’ing absolutely stifling. More fundamentally, the hooks and choruses are as generic and faceless as the stuff served up by Imagine Dragons, Fall Out Boy and Twenty One Pilots.

On ‘Nine’ Blink 182 bring their hang ups and neuroses well and truly in to middle age. This is an album of pot belly bass lines, receding licks and Botoxed melodies. Worse than that, it has the facade of miserable, adult seriousness. It’s a moody and pretentious regression rather than the serious reinvention it’s being presented at. A stream of melancholy pours from beginning to end, never letting up enough to allow for the gags and innuendos that helped make ‘Enema of the State’ and ‘Take off your Jacket and Pants’ so enjoyable. It lacks the real, hard earned thoughtfulness of their untitled project from 2003 as well, which reckoned with similar themes in far deeper and more interesting ways. On that album they tackled New Wave balladry, experimental instrumentals, spoken word and Space Rock jams. This record’s touchstones are phoned in angst, EDM and Soundcloud Rap. The tempo and mood rarely shifts to accommodate anything original.

At one point Mark sings ‘I Remember your voice but it’s only an echo’ which is exactly how you will be feeling at that point. New member Matt Skiba, has all the chops but none of the personality of the departed Tom DeLonge. His overly processed vocals and predictable riffs serve to make each contribution interchangeable with the one before and after. He’s at his best on ‘No Heart to Speak of’ which is also the song that sounds most like a product of his day job Alkaline Trio. Here his vocal style (he always sounds like he’s shouting to his girlfriend from the other side of a busy supermarket) is complimented by a wall of fierce, buzzing guitars. Travis Barker also uses the song as an opportunity to flex his still impressive beat making. It’s Barker who continues to drive and challenge his Blink bandmates but even he can’t save this mess.

The album never truly descends in to the absolute pits – and this is a band familiar with the pits, as anyone who has heard ‘The Mark, Tom and Travis Show’ will attest to. In fact I’m sure any number of these songs would sound decent in isolation. ‘Darkside’, ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Blame It on My Youth’ are all reasonably catchy. The problem comes when you collect fifteen of them together, blitz them to hell in the mix, and then try to call it an album. ‘Nine’ ends with a song called ‘remember to forget me’ – it’s probably sage advice.

3/10

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