Saturday, October 29, 2011

MUSIC REVIEW: Neighborhoods (Deluxe Edition) by Blink-182

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone in their 20s who hasn't heard of Blink-182. They had a string of hits in the 2000s that made them one of the most successful bands of the decade, right up until the announcement of their "indefinite hiatus." That is the point at which, for most people, they fell off the face of the Earth. However there remained a large contingent of fans who kept their fingers crossed hoping for the return of Blink and a new album. And there was a new generation of Blink fans reaching adolescence who had torn through Blink's back catalog and were ready for new material. So in early 2009 when the members of the band announced they were getting back together, there were a lot of excited fans, but even more questions. Could they recapture the popularity they had before their break-up? Could they create something that would satisfy new fans as well as old? What would the new album sound like? Now we have the album -- a brisk 36-minute disc called Neighborhoods -- and we have our answers. For all those distinct groups of fans who have been waiting eagerly and those former fans who may not even be aware of the album's existence, the answer is the same: Neighborhoods is a mediocre album. It is unlikely to win over many new Blink fans, and only a little more likely to satisfy their preexisting fanbase.

The album begins on a promising note with "Ghost On the Dance Floor" -- an uptempo track that leads off with a very short drum intro before we get to the guitars, which are classic Blink: cheerful but strangely wistful, transporting you back to your adolescence in suburban California (even though you didn't grow up there). New elements like synthesizers and a genuinely unexpected drum interlude let you know that you're listening to a Blink song in 2011, and not 1999.

After "Ghost On the Dance Floor," we get "Natives," a track which tries too hard and ends up feeling overly angst-y, before the album gets to "Up All Night" (the first single). As one listens to the chorus, it seems as if Blink are trying to touch on some more mature themes, such as the difficulties of maintaining a long-term relationship and the weight of the responsibilities of adulthood. And while there is a good song somewhere inside of "Up All Night," it is buried beneath verses of incomprehensible gibberish. (Sample line: "Everyone's cross to bears the crown they wear on endless holiday.")

Then we get one of the best two tracks on the album (the other being "Ghost On the Dance Floor"). "After Midnight" seems to be made from the same blueprint as the Blink hits of yore: a toe-tapping drum beat beneath singsong-y guitars, and lyrics that offer a promise of long-lasting love, even as they describe all the hallmarks of adolescent infatuation. It plays like a slightly more chilled-out "All the Small Things," and the band was very smart to make it their second single.

Next up is "Snake Charmer," a song whose rock-out guitars and sinister lyrics recall Tom Delonge's side project Box Car Racer. If it weren't for the depressingly Korn-ish outro, it would be a song worth recommending. (Mark Hoppus fans should check out "Fighting the Gravity," which sounds like a +44 track that was rightly left off their album.) After that is "Heart's All Gone," another uptempo song that doesn't fuck up too badly, nor does it impress in any way. Even as they wail away on their instruments and Mark Hoppus sings his heart out, Blink couldn't get much more than a "meh" out of me with this one.

"Wishing Well" is a sonically cheerful song that represents a welcome break from all the forced moroseness of the first half of the album, although it does have its fair share of emo gibberish ("I went to a wishing well / It sank to the ocean floor / Cut up by sharpened rocks / And washed up along the shore"). My advice is just to soak up the music and ignore the songwriting, especially since "Wishing Well" is the last enjoyable song on the album.

From here, the album changes gears and descends into paralyzing mediocrity. Tracks like "This Is Home" and "MH 4.18.2011" (which I'm guessing refers to the April 2011 issue of Men's Health magazine) are completely forgettable and will probably leave you wondering if Blink even knew what they were trying to accomplish when they made them. At some points in its second half, the album veers dangerously close to self-parody: "Love Is Dangerous" is literally just Tom DeLonge singing "Love is dangerous, love is so dangerous" over and over ad nauseam.

So what's the final verdict? Well, as one of those Blink fans who was devastated when the band originally broke up, this was an album I had wanted to hear for a long time. But by the time it came out, my excitement had somewhat lessened. And it lessened still more when I actually listened to the album. I guess in some ways I had moved on. And while Blink has learned a few new tricks since their last disc, ultimately Neighborhoods is dragged down by their teenage tendency to try to rip their hearts out of their chests on every song. It has the schizophrenia of a transitional album, which is fine if they can actually complete the transition on the next album. But the new Blink seems proud of their contradictory sound: the title Neighborhoods is meant to represent how each member of the band is a different neighborhood, though they all exist in the same city. Hopefully they can move into the same zip code on for their next album, and not just be happy with having a nice metaphor to explain their shortcomings.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

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