Through the misty lens of nostalgia Blink-182 have been labelled a party band, with cute videos, immature lyrics, and incestuously catchy pop-punk hooks. It’s a fine legacy, and for a whole generation of fans aged 18-30 they defined adolescence with their three hugely successful albums Take Of Your Pants And Jacket, Enema Of The State and Dude Ranch. The thing is, when reminiscing the rose tinted glasses of reflection tend to pigeonhole bands, wiping away the subtlety and nuance from their career narrative.
Blink-182 were on the verge of a creative breakthrough when the band decided to call it a day; “I Miss You” was the band’s best and most intriguing single since “Dammit”, all gloom, regret and rich atmospherics, and their self title 2003 was a bold step away from the immature schlock of youth. The decision to release a self-titled album was a clear statement of intent. Forgoing the one-note jokes of the past, the message resounded loud and clear, this was the real Blink: still infectious, but more serious, more thoughtful and less immediate.
Refreshingly Neighborhoods, Blink’s comeback album, sees the band forgoing the chance for a childish cash in, instead they pick up exactly where their self title LP left off; evolving into a credible and emotionally mature outfit. While lead vocalist Tom Delonge’s talk of “going prog” never materialises, Neighborhoods remains a bold step forward, as the Blink of “First Date” and “Man Overboard” gives ways to pop punk elder statesmen of “Down” and “Always”.
Delonge has honed his voice since leaving Angels & Airwaves; his vocal harbours a lovelorn downbeat defeatist tinge, without the grating over-singing that plagued his post-Blink project. His trademark whine is closer to a solemn coo than ever before. This new vocal prowess is best displayed on the album’s closing set piece “Love Is Dangerous”; an understated but no less sprawling work, that finds Delonge exchanging the bitterness of his past performances for a wistful almost matter of fact delivery, that conveys the acceptance and wisdom of age. Sadly, while the tone is on point, and the delivery crisp, Blink remain lyrically naïve, and no matter how earnestly they repeat it, the notion that “love is dangerous” is not a profound or earth shattering revelation.
Blink lyrics may not be incisive, but when the rhythm section is locked in tight, Delonge is perfectly capable of capturing the dizzy frustration of a scatterbrained lover. “Natives” is sublime, it’s propulsive, cluttered, almost claustrophobic as fleeting thoughts and wild impulses collide. The arrangement is equally inspired as “Natives” masterfully migrates from its dynamic core for a reflective moment of instrumental introspection that Mark Hoppus manages to sully with a flat, and frankly safe chorus.
Anguish is succinctly captured on “Up All Night”, a track that is greatly enhanced by a plain speaking chorus and a slamming lead riff. “Heart’s All Gone” keeps the tempo up and the guitar work beefy, but while it’s an impressive showcase for Travis Barker, they can never quite find the emotional poignancy to match the track’s inherent urgency.
This is a common theme across Neighborhoods, which lacks both sure-fire singles and real emotional resonance, as the album drowns under the weight of a series of mid-tempo mood pieces (“Kaleidoscope”, “Wishing Well”, “MH 4.18.2011”). Fortunately there are no real duds on display, Blink are incessantly melodious, and while their arrangements are rarely distinct, they never fail to satisfy, mixing the unruly rush of romance to the pensive regrets of reflection.
Neighborhoods is the next step in Blink-182’s evolution, and it’s the best, and most fully realised start to finish LP of their career so far, it is not however, the carefree romp full of disposable nostalgia and three minute pop songs that the band’s fair-weather fanbase may have been expecting.
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