Blink-182 – Neighbourhoods

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Album Reviews
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Label: Universal Music

Release Date: 27th September 2011

It’s an inescapable fact of life; you’re gonna grow old someday. For a band, the challenge is how to grow old gracefully without chucking in the bin your sound and turning your back on the very thing that rose you to prominence. No band has run into more difficulty with this quandary than Blink-182, a band who were the late-90s darlings of rock-loving teenagers from all spheres. The California trio’s hugely fun mix of catchy pop-punk and immature dick jokes appealed far and wide and earnt them a deservedly huge fanbase. But when the time came for them to ditch the sniggering innuendos, the band hit a huge stumbling block. 2003’s self-titled stab at maturity was a flop, a mess of confused ideas and a lack of clarity as to how a grown-up version of Blink-182 were supposed to sound. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the band were barely on speaking terms, and matters came to a head when guitarist and co-vocalist Tom Delonge ditched the group to indulge his Bono fantasies in the truly awful Angels and Airwaves. The remaining duo of bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker formed their own post-Blink band, +44, and for many years the ‘Blink me Travis!’ signs and old copies of Enema of the State gathered dust, before Barker’s near-death experience in a plane crash brought the band back together. With the inevitable reunion tour under their belts, thoughts turned towards attempt number 2 at producing that elusive ‘mature’ album, with the finished effort dropping a few days ago.

What makes this review fascinating is I have absolutely no idea how this record will sound – it could be an utter stinker from a band who really should’ve known when to quit, or a glorious statement of intent from a band back to their very best. The three preview tracks the band drip-fed us proved inconclusive: one shocker, one belter, and one instantly forgettable middler. So I guess there’s only one way to find out:  time to take a deep breath, cross our fingers that they’ve got it right this time, and dive straight into ‘Neighbourhoods’.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that the band have at last found a consistent sound for themselves. This was something they badly struggled with before,  but thankfully not anymore, and the album is much the stronger for it as the band have finally managed to thrash together a sound that retains the best aspects of their songwriting talents whilst also making that step forward into maturity without feeling forced and awkward. That sound in question is to all intents and purposes an extension of the one Barker and Hoppus pioneered in +44, which was built around a superb feel for melody and hooks and an ear for additional instrumentation and arrangements. Throw into this the cunning build-ups, fade-outs and atmospherics of Angels and Airwaves and the harder-edged, more old-school punk overtones of Box Car Racer, and we have the blueprint for Blink-182 Mk. 2. The preview tracks they put out are curveballs in that regard, as none of them are particularly good demonstrations of this new template. Indeed, so awfully muddled and sloppy is lead-off single ‘Up All Night’ that in my review of it  I crucified the band for sounding like they didn’t give a shit anymore. Thankfully, the album as a whole proves that I was way off the mark.

That’s not to say it’s brilliant, and indeed, Neighbourhoods is nothing if not inconsistent. Much has been made of the band barely actually recording together, and surely that can only be detrimental to the record if the only time the band are actually together in the same room is to twiddle knobs on a production desk.  There are multiple, very obvious, dips in quality, especially on the aforementioned ‘Up All Night’.  Elsewhere, the final three tracks give off the impression of three scraps  that were tacked on hastily to bolster the running time, and end the record on a rather flat note. ‘After Midnight’ is mediocre,  ‘Snake Charmer’ drags it’s heels despite the odd highlight, and ‘Kaleidoscope’ is overwrought with production tricks to try and mask the lack of tune underneath. But for every under-par track, there’s another very strong one round the next corner.  Whilst the ending is a disappointment, the start of the record is excellent, with the exuberant and catchy ‘Ghost on the Dancefloor’ matched back-to-back with the grittier punky tones of ‘Natives’.  ‘Wishing Well’ is similarly spunky and spritely, and ‘MH 4.18.2011’ is a superb piece of pure pop-punk, with nods to classic mid-90s Blink, Green Day and Allister abound in the gorgeous guitar-driven melodies and vocal lines. ‘Hearts All Gone’ is the track old-school fans have been screaming out for, and it’s probably the most pure, powerful slice of old-fashioned punk rock they’ve produced in nearly fifteen years.

Interestingly, it’s those latter two tracks that are perhaps the biggest nods to past glories from the trio – this is a group keen not to keep giving lingering stares to the history books. Maybe the many life experiences the trio went through, both when apart and reunited, have helped shape this record into something overall much stronger than their previous stab at being a grown-up band, and you can certainly feel it in the music – the vocal melodies and lyrics from both Delonge and Hoppus are infused with melancholy and a reluctant sense of hope, and guitars crunch and soar over constant waves of pounding, technically brilliant drumbeats to create a texture of greys and darkness lifted with just enough wistful hope and pop hooks to give us light at the end of the tunnel. That’s vitally important, and keeps the listener ploughing through the successful experiments and the failed ones.  For when all is said and done, Neighbourhoods is a tentative success for a band who for while were almost the rock music equivalent of Peter Pan – the three cheeky funsters who would never grow up and stop making references to genitalia and having sex with your nan. Such is the amount of time that has passed since their last recorded activity, it doesn’t feel right comparing this record to previous efforts in their canon – it feels more like the debut album of a new chapter in the band’s lifespan, and that’s probably how the band themselves would like to view it. Comparing it to ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ or ‘Dude Ranch’ would be to miss the point entirely; those days are, for better or for worse, long behind them, and they don’t plan on going back to try to re-create them.

It makes more sense in a way to review the album as if it wasn’t  made by Blink, as if it were the debut album by a new band that occasionally sound like Blink, but are nowadays a largely different proposition. So then, it’s a mostly successful debut album for Blink 182.0, and while there are glitches and bugs to iron out, there is at least now clear signposts as to where the band are at right now, and where they’re going.

Rating: 78%

Standout Tracks: Ghost on the Dancefloor, Heart’s All Gone, MH 4.18.2011

Words by Adam Johnson.

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