Blink 182 – Neighborhoods (2011)

If you’re the type of person who takes time to sit down and read a music blog, odds are you’re not the type of person to like Blink 182. Believe me, I understand. You hate the hyper-speed two minute songs dealing with shit you cared about when you were fifteen that either feature Mark Hoppus passing off talking as singing or Tom DeLonge doing that punk voice to level eleven. They can be as off-putting as any band on the planet from an aesthetic sense. Yet, I can’t seem to shake them. It’s probably the fact that they wrote songs directly about my life during my formative years and I developed a strong sentimental connection with them as a band that will never go away. Seriously, for those of us who attended so much as one day of high school between 2000-2005, didn’t it seem like Blink 182 was just the soundtrack for your life? “What’s My Age Again?” for those nights when you acted like a jackass for no reason? “Feeling This” for the first time you uh… you know. “First Date” for obvious reasons. And so forth and so forth. The irony of this, of course, is that Blink 182 releasing an album when we are all in our twenties is a bit of a moot point now. It wasn’t your music that mattered, it was that stage of my life. So, unless you’re writing songs about graduating college or getting a job, I can’t imagine you have a whole lot to offer me. Nonetheless, I tread my way through Neighborhoods, the first release of zombie Blink 182 (back from the dead).

The album can clearly be cut into two halves. There are fourteen tracks with the first six and a half (I don’t really count interludes) being their slight attempt at going harder than before. This is really just an extension of their slightly darker material on their last album (2003’s self-titled.) The second half is the sort of upbeat sing-a-long that Tom showed with his in-between band, Angels and Airwaves.

Starting with the first half, they definitely show a bit of a shift from their happier fast-paced melodies and offer up a few distortion-heavy songs. The guitar remains simplistic but is clearly indicative of a new sound for them. Blink has always prided themselves on their somewhat juvenile lyrics (they had a song called “Merry Fucking Christmas, Asshole”) and I am sad to say that that has not changed, even with the trio pushing their forties. The opening track, “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” really isn’t that bad (probably enjoyable for Blink fans), but just throws me out of it with lines like “I saw your ghost last night/ It fucking hurt like hell.” The same could be said for the song “Natives,” which has the refrain line, “and I’m like fuckin’ Jeckyll and Hyde.” I don’t have an aversion to profanity, but in this case, it just makes them sound like whiny adolescents. The entire album is actually pretty ripe with self-pity.

That brings us to “Up All Night,” the first official single from the album. I do applaud them for showing some rocking chops in their beat, but their bellyaching about “demons” and being unwanted just kills any sympathy I would have for the singer or his message. The main reason they sound like this is because Tom still insists on that punk rawk voice that makes them sound dated at this point. You know what I’m talking about. Tonoyt! Alroyt! Toym! Here oy go! Tom is from Poway, California. I’ve lived in California and never met anyone that talks like that. You’re thirty-five. It’s time to drop it.

After the first half offers more attempts at that distorted rocker style and an interlude that I still don’t entirely understand, the second half starts in with the clap along songs. The track “Wishing Well” has a refrain that, to the best of my compression, is “La da da da duh duh da da.” Okay, maybe one song like that? Not two tracks later, on “This is Home,” the refrain is literally “I.. I I I… I…” and “Oh… oh oh oh… Oh.” If you enjoy that sort of thing, then go for it, but it just seemed to me like a plea to include the audience in this fist pump-a-long, which wouldn’t seem so strange if the central message of every song wasn’t how hard it is to be you. If you think I’m being harsh, give it a listen. Virtually every song is Tom (they actually used to swap the vocals a lot more, but Tom has pretty much forced Mark into a corner on this album) dishing out lines that almost always start with “I feel like…” [substitute oppressive metaphor].

The brightest spot of the album is undeniably the drumming of Travis Barker. I know people hold his reality show and association with Blink 182 against him, but you really can’t deny that the guy is a fantastic drummer. After seeing him live, the guy is about as impressive a musician as I have ever seen. There are many moments on the album where they just let him unload (the opening track) and times where you can hear him blowing it away in the background (unfortunately). We were recently discussing Blink 182 and thought that the best thing for them to do would be to just release Barker back into the wild, because the guy could seriously go down as one hell of a drummer.

For the old school Blink fans (the 25-30 crowd), I think that you will enjoy parts of it for it sounding familiar and reminding you of what it felt like to be young. I can’t completely trash a band that is able to create that personal and wistful an experience with their bands. But from a sheer music standpoint, they fail. I’m sorry. I remember the Tom, Mark and Travis that used to make music videos that made fun of all the pop acts at the time with an unrelenting frat boy attitude. Now, they just come across like old men who can’t let anything go… which is probably the case.