Eight years might not seem like a long time for some people. It’s just eight more years of living life, going about your life as you normally would. But when you’re 11, 8 years is the equivalent of a lifetime. Because of that, it’s been a lifetime since I’ve heard anything new from Blink-182. When I was 11, I was stuck in a musical hell that consisted of random pop or country music, or pretty much whatever my family listened to around me. It wasn’t until the first time I listened to Enema of the State that I realized I was in control of what I took in.
This is a story that has been told so many times: “[Insert band here] changed my life!” But this statement rings completely true about Blink-182 changing my life and those of many of my friends in school. We would sit around and listen to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and laugh whenever they made a penis or fart joke, and listen closely when they would sing of broken homes. We listen to what we do today because of Blink.
When their self-titled album was released in 2003, it completely blew everybody’s minds. The young jokesters from California had grown up, but in a way that alienated nobody. Even greater things were in store for them.
But then in 2005, amidst inner turmoil and scheduling conflicts, Blink-182 broke up.
And for 6 years, we were left to think that was it. An amazing band had peaked and just disappeared at the height of their career. Some of us fans held our hope close to our hearts, knowing that couldn’t be the end. +44 and Angels and Airwaves were just side bands, Blink would live forever.
For those of us who waited, February 8, 2009 was the night we had been waiting 6 years for. I remember seeing them in concert for the first time on their first reunion tour, and it almost brought me to tears hearing them belt out Dumpweed on stage. It felt like everything was right with the world again.
All of this brings us to Neighborhoods. Their first album since getting back together, it is the product of 8 years of growth, new life and death. The darkness that was beginning to seep into the self-titled album has become fully realized, and instead of falling into it, the trio has learned to harness it and ultimately cope with it. Neighborhoods is the album that was not only expected to follow their self-titled release; it is the album that was meant to follow it.
Songs like the opener “Ghost on the Dance Floor” is a perfect example of the darkness that permeates this release, with reflection and regret taking front stage (“I saw your ghost tonight/the moment felt so real/if your eyes stay right on mine/my wounds would start to heal”). Despite the iffy name, it really is a superb track, and again, it almost brought tears to my eyes to hear them playing music together again. Tom DeLonge’s vocals dominate this song, while Travis Barker’s drums are let loose midway through the track, and it all sounds perfects.
Mark Hoppus is finally given his time to shine in the chorus of “Natives,” and his almost emotionless delivery is perfect for the tone that the song sets. The musicianship is all still sharp, and it leads perfectly into the first single that was heard off the album, “Up All Night.” Personally, I felt this track didn’t stand too well on its own, but when it is listened to in full context on the album, it’s a perfect fit. Featuring instrumentation that calls back to Box Car Racer, it also showcases the vocal sparring between DeLonge and Hoppus that has yet to make an appearance, and it is perfect.
The next two songs, “After Midnight” and “Snake Charmer” are two of my personal favorites on Neighborhoods. Hoppus sings one of the best choruses on the former (“We’ll stagger home after midnight/sleep arm in arm in the stairwell/we’ll fall apart on the weekend/these nights go on and on and on”), while DeLonge takes charge of the latter, singing about “good girls who like to sin.” Although “Snake Charmer” does start a bit odd, it quickly devolves into a classic Blink-182 rocker, with some creepy verses that are an exciting expansion on their sound.
The “Hearts All Gone Interlude” is a moody little instrumental track that is very reminiscent of +44 (we’ll tackle this issue of comparisons later) and perfectly leads into “Hearts All Gone,” a furious punk song that hearkens back to the older days when Blink charged through each song with a reckless abandon (see what I did there?). It feels slightly out of place on an album that has so far been dark and subdued, but it’s definitely a sign that the band can still play with the best of them.
Tracks like “Wishing Well” are catchy as hell, featuring it’s fair share of “la da da da’s” and bouncy guitars. Although the music itself is much lighter than the rest of the album, the lyrics still lean towards more personal reflection (“I went to a wishing well/I sank to the ocean floor/cut up by sharper rocks/and washed up along the shore”). “Kaleidoscope” slows the album down again, with Hoppus singing about the feelings of isolation in the studio (“So lock me up in the studio/fill it up with sounds and scenarios”).
The recording of Neighborhoods was a first for the trio, as their longtime producer Jerry Finn had passed away just a few years before they got to work on the album. They forced themselves to record individually and together at different times in two different studios while also producing Neigborhoods on their own. Their hard work definitely pays off though, as every song is mixed and produced to perfection.
These values also show in songs like “This Is Home” and “MH 4.18.2011,” which both speed up the album towards the end of its run. Although “This Is Home” isn’t particularly strong, “MH 4.18.2011” is definitely a winner, anchored by Hoppus’ delivery and Barker’s insane skills behind the kit.
Sadly, “Love Is Dangerous” comes off as melodramatic compared to the rest of the album, and it doesn’t really feel like it has it’s own spot. Despite all of the individual parts coming together to craft a good song, it just doesn’t feel like an integral part of Neighborhoods. Luckily, “Fighting the Gravity” is the most interesting song on the album. I expect this song will draw a mixed reaction from fans, but I loved it. From the spacey intro to the overall weirdness of the track, “Fighting the Gravity” is a song that allows Blink to further explore their boundaries in a way that sounds great.
Finally, “Even If She Falls” closes out the album on a very strong note, sounding like a song that could have been on the self-titled album. Although the lyrics aren’t particularly mind-blowing, DeLonge’s impassioned delivery creates one of the catchiest choruses on the album, which is perfect to close it out.
Like I said before, evidence of past side projects make their way onto Neighborhoods. But this isn’t to say that all three members brought pieces of their bands into the mix. Before they broke off into their different camps, they were three guys who formed Blink-182. Everything on this album is 100% Blink, and is the sound of three men coming together through their struggles and triumphs to create music together again.
Even after the nostalgia blinders came off, Neighborhoods still stands as one of the strongest releases of the year. It is an album that heralds not only the release of a beloved band, but the progress that they’ve made in their time apart. It is an album that looks back with a new perspective and looks forward with a smile. Even when stuck in the darkness of DJ AM’s death, the loss of Jerry Finn, or the personal demons that have haunted the band for years, there is still a glimmer of hope when looking forward.
Welcome back, Blink-182. We missed you.