For “NINE:” blink-182 artfully copes with introspection in ”NINE“
By Jim Moster, Scene Writer
Like any movie or TV reboot, a reformed band needs to justify its return from the grave. In 2016, blink-182 regrouped with guitarist Matt Skiba to record “California,” their first studio album since the departure of Tom DeLonge. However, only with the release of “NINE” could the legendary pop-punk band finally proved its place in the present era.
Biology tells us evolution often results in imperfection. Blink-182 certainly evolved with the release of “California.” Despite some productive changes, the album sounds disjointed and desperate to recapture blink-182’s past. “NINE” more closely resembles a product of intelligent design — every element of the album coheres with a satisfying twang of intentionality.
Many casual discussions of blink-182 involve the question of when the band will finally “grow up.” Of course, blink-182 has dealt with dark themes such as depression and suicide since 1999’s “Enema of the State.” However, the band has yet to delve into recovery, or the grim process that follows pain. “NINE” fills this void in blink-182’s discography. Recorded by musicians now in their 40s, the album comes an appropriate time for introspection.
Despite the ebullience of its neon-rainbow album cover, “NINE” provides little allowance for thematic or musical frivolity. The album’s opening track, “The First Time,” primes the listener with a taste of conclusions to come: the new blink-182 embraces pop over punk, misery over levity and deliberation over disorder. Still, Mark Hoppus’ dorky, endearing vocals and the band’s pounding energy preserve the classic blink vibe. Matt Skiba finds his niche as a vocal foil to Hoppus, strategically entering each song to reflect fluctuations in tone and lyrical direction.
“NINE” primarily copes with the fallout of tragedy. The band wrote “Heaven” in response to the 2018 mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. “Angel wings at the bus stop / Halos left on top of the bar,” sings Hoppus in an explosive chorus. “On Some Emo S—” gives a titular nod to blink’s playful sense of humor, although the irony rapidly becomes apparent. The song stumbles over its soft poignancy, trips into animated choruses and collapses into a passionate guitar finale.
Much of “NINE” follows Hoppus’ struggles with mental illness and the isolation of modern society. On “Happy Days,” one of the album’s more airy and methodical songs, Hoppus encourages himself to overcome self-doubt and the toxicity of daily life. He and Skiba reflect on Blink’s whirlwind history in “Blame It On My Youth.” Here, the duo declares victory over their childhood circumstances amidst a blend of electronic and rock elements.
“Generational Divide” and “Ransom” contain the greatest concentration of punk on the album. Both songs last under a minute-and-a-half, highlighting the band’s clear preference for pop and hip-hop in “NINE,” though blink compensates for the absence of punk with sheer musical density — nearly every song is packed to capacity with energy, emotion and creativity.
Some fans will undoubtedly reject blink-182’s new sound due to personal preference or nostalgia. Nonetheless, “NINE” demonstrates how Hoppus and his crew can keep skillfully innovating after decades of playing together. If not, they can always join Tom Delonge’s U.F.O. research institute.
Against “NINE:” blink 182? More like blink 18-Boo!
By Jacob Neisewander, Scene Writer
Rapidly approaching their 50s and with no discernible retirement in sight, pop-punk pioneers blink-182 are still going strong, or rather, still going through the motions with 2019’s “NINE” — an album plagued with muddled lyricism, glossy overproduction and woefully uninspired songwriting.
That is not to say that the entire album is without merit. “NINE’s” opening track “First Time,” serves as a fun and energized homage to blink’s 2003’s self-titled opener, “Feeling This,” starting the album out strong enough.
The anthemic “Pin the Grenade,” is perhaps the best track on the band’s new album, providing an instantly memorable chorus and a wonderfully catchy hook. Moreover, the explosive minute-and-a-half long sleeper-hit, “Ransom,” shows the type of band blink 182 could grow into, complete with poppy electronic beats, clever lyrics and a showcase of the legendary Travis Barker’s super-human drumming.
But three or four solid songs do not make a satisfying or coherent album. Such is the case for blink’s “NINE”, which quickly takes a turn for the worse as it rides the early inertia of its first track into a sizable ditch.
Songs like “Heaven” and “Black Rain” suffer from plodding choruses and confused lyrics. Tracks like “Blame it on my Youth,” “Run Away” and “Happy Days” are too slow to match the energy of the album’s superior pop-punk jams like “Pin the Grenade” or “Darkside”.
“NINE’s” more somber tracks such as “Hungover You,” “On Some Emo S—” and “Really Wish I Hated You,” harken back to the old blink-182’s profound sense insecurity and relationship woes, but they also beg the question: How long can blink-182 sing about broken hearts, cheating on their girlfriends and hangovers?
The group has certainly changed over the years. Lead guitarist and co-vocalist Tom Delonge (singer of “All the Small Things” and the angst-ridden hook of “I Miss You”) is retired from the band, Matt Skiba from punk-rock group Alkaline Trio has filled in the gap, and bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker are both married with kids. Despite the musicians’ own transformations, it seems Blink-182 is still trapped in the past, stuck replaying its own greatest hits and trying desperately to recapture the magic of the 1990s and early 2000s.
It would be absurd to suggest the punk genre is off limits to those older than 23 — The Menzingers, Green Day, Weezer and others are getting older and still rock as hard as ever — but late game attempts at punk feel off. The band is stuck in its own past, trips down memory lane seldom resulting in a clear message or meaningful theme.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of blink-182, like I am, you’ll no doubt find a few tracks on “NINE” to add to your high school nostalgia-inspired pop-punk playlist. Newcomers, however, will find little to enjoy in the band’s latest and mostly forgettable offering. The album appropriately ends with a track entitled “Remember to Forget Me,” a song so weak I can hardly remember enough of it enough to critique it.