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Neighborhoods – Blink-182 review

Ross Finney | Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It is too much to ask of Blink-182 that they remain perpetual teenagers — but that’s really what we want.

For most listeners, Blink is synonymous with juvenile humor, high school relationships and the ability to make light of teen angst set to anthems like So-Cal pop-punk. Blink-182 took a formula inspired by the Ramones and early Green Day, and perfected it. They got it on the radio.

They were so good at what they did, and their tunes are so tied to a time, place, age and attitude in most of our memories that it is impossible to go into their new record “Neighborhoods” without a sense of expectation. And they fail to meet those expectations.

That’s not to say it’s a bad record; it’s just different.

Before the band broke up in 2005, their eponymous album hinted at which direction they would go. The jokes and light-heartedness that had defined their classic albums “Enema of the State” and “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket” were discarded in favor of mellower sounds and imagery, like on the single “I Miss You.” To put it simply, they have gone emo.

“Neighborhoods” is not an emo album, but it is marked by a somber tone and dark lyrics that deal with death, isolation and depression in a way the band has largely avoided throughout most of their career.

The circumstances of the band’s reunion certainly played a part in the dark overtones. The group reunited in the wake of drummer Travis Barker’s near-fatal plane crash, the overdose of a close friend of the band and singer Tom DeLonge’s unexpected bout with skin cancer. For a band getting used to working as a group again, there are bound to be obstacles to their creative output.

The lead singles from the album, “Up All Night” and “After Midnight,” are each surprising choices. “Up All Night,” a group composition, exposes the different directions the members went in the wake of Blink-182’s initial break-up. It is divided in a polar way between bassist Mark Hoppus’ low-fi indie and DeLonge’s penchant for arena rock.

“After Midnight,” has a sad ambience to it and is a ultimately a love song, but despite an attempted leap toward maturity, the lyrics, or more probably the singing, come off as juvenile; “After Midnight” hints at old tunes like “Online Songs,” but in the context of the album lacks the nuance that made that song an exception.

The strongest cuts on the album are actually the ones that haven’t been released as singles. The opening track, “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” is a particularly striking song about hearing music that reminds one of a deceased friend. It is heavy but not heavy handed, and DeLonge is able to make his perpetually teenaged voice work magnificently.

The second track, “Natives,” finds the band pushing up the tempos to past punk levels, and lyrically reminds us just how much this band has grown since those first albums. “Heart’s All Gone,” works in much the same way, perhaps to even greater effect, with a really rocking breakdown and a sing-along chorus that begs the question, why this wasn’t the single?

The album’s second half is filled with strong tracks, such as “Kaleidoscope.” The album closer “Even If She Falls” keeps listeners engaged and, while somber, keeps the album cohesive.

Blink-182 has grown up, and so have we. This album is the evidence.  It is not the nostalgia romp that we want, but it’s a solid album that should be accepted on its own terms.