Blink-182 – Neighborhoods (2011) – an album review

tl;dr Version: Can the biggest hit-making punk-pop trio of the previous decade reunite and recapture the magic? Well, it ain’t a perfect score, but it’s far from failing.

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Look, this is Blink-182, and for all that their sound evolved wonderfully on their last two albums, they still have to regard their core audience as the twenty-something former skatecore kids who fostered them through their rise to initial success. Maybe they aren’t quite as hip as they once were, but they can still play with the best of them, and with a world class rhythm section like bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer like Travis Barker, they can’t help but still have the power to blow your hair back when it counts. But it’s not a perfect score, because the years have diversified their tastes and made them perhaps a little more romantic than they used to be when they seemed to give a f^#& just a little less.

Boring Version: After a highly acrimonious break-up that sidelined the amazing progress this band was making on it’s previous two albums, Tom DeLonge built up a discography of somewhat indistiguishable Angels and Airwaves albums, and Mark and Travis worked as +44, recording some really good stuff, but not quite nailing the post-band success some (myself included) might have hoped for. It seems that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Fortunately, the three friends have set aside their differences and reunited to make a new album and cement their friendship once more. Is the reunion just Hollywood Magic, or is it something more lasting. And the real question: is it musically valid, moving on from where they were before the break-up, or is it a step back into the safety of past successes? Let’s have a closer look and see if we can find out.

Just one. I’m a fan. Not a die-hard, tattooed-the-band logo-on-my-nuts fan, but when I heard them stealing vintage Police riffs and making musical statements on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and the eponymous Blink-182 albums, these guys went from fun to fantastic for me, and I was glad as hell to hear that they’d patched up their differences and found themselves working together again.

That said, this album isn’t getting off easy. I’ve played it once or twice, and it sounds good, but it definitely didn’t  make my album of the year pick, so you know there’s room for improvement, starting with remembering where they were headed before they were so rudely interrupted, and without becoming as totally self-indulgent as their solo/duo material revealed them to be.

So if they’ve got it all out of their systems, then let’s see what Blink-182 v.2011 gave us. For this review, we’re using the Deluxe Edition, because F^#& it, we’ve waited long enough! Shove it all the way in!

Ghost on the Dance Floor starts with Travis in full effect over what sounds like it could have been a leftover Angels and Airwaves riff, but then the bass kicks in and we’re back to Blink. Tom sings this one, and it’s Tom singing to his strengths, but thank goodness, Mark’s harmonies give it the depth of field that was missing on the Angels albums. It’s actually a really solid power trio groove with that anthemic feel that opened their previous two albums, and gives Travis a minute to really tear it up in the instrumental and remind you that this isn’t just some pop radio act. Tom stickign in a few f^#&s and then we’re into…

Natives is a persistent drum rhythm galloping right out of the gate, with Tom whittling away at one of his fastest guitar riffs, before the power chords come in and Tom sings the verses, which breaks down to a chorus sung by Mark, propelled by Travis, until they get to the instrumental, with Travis grinding out a funky 7/8 rhythm that ends suddenly before recapitulating the chorus and jamming out for an instrumental outro.

Up All Night does a couple of totally atypical things from the start with an ambient keyboard noise that allows a rather sinister riff to lead up to an almost metalhead riff to bridge to the verse, and then Tom and Mark trade verses before a standard minted Tom in echo and Mark harmonizing the chorus, a formula they repeat after a reprise of the metal riff, which they also use to close the tune, and it’s heavy enough to sound like they mean it.

After Midnight opens with some nice high hat paradiddle work and bass chords over a simple chord progression buried a bit in the background. This is the first pop song proper, and heard out of context, it might not sound like much, but in context with the album, it sounds great. Tom handled the verses and Mark the chorus, so again, the collaborative spirit is alive, something they’ve needed for the last handful of years. It’s got enough tooth in the drum work alone to cement it as a not-too-fluffy pop song, but it was definitely built for radio, with an instrumental that could easily have featured on a few Cure albums. It also has the good grace to end before ti gets too old.

Snake Charmer opens with some gated drums that make it sound a little drum’n’bass, and another vintage Cure riff that leads up to the bridge riff, which has quite a bit of tooth to it. The verse opens quite with keys and high hat/rim work, but the chorus brings up the energy some. This one is seemingly all Tom’s vocals, but the rhythm saves it from Angles territory. The middle eight is actually quite pretty, considering the song is about ‘good girls who like to sin’, a topic most boys can get behind. It closes on the borrowed Cure riff, and then reprises the drum’n’bass loop that fades out slowly.

Heart’s All Gone Interlude is a plaintive bit of guitar noise and piano (performed once more by the wonderful Roger Joseph Manning Jr)  that leads to a little light guitar riffing as the tempo picks up and slowly transforms into…

Heart’s All Gone is a right out of the gates pot boiler with Mark singing at breakneck speed. The song has a short middle eight that gives you just enough breath to continue with more breakneck versing and chorusing. There’s a slow instrumental break which gives them all a chance to take it to quarter time,and then half time before the full speed attack returns, all power chords and bravado, no frills punk rock the way it was meant to be played.

Wishing Well starts with a compressed build of the verse riff featuring Tom back in classic Blink mode, remembering how he wrote those tunes five, ten years ago. Nice breakdown bridge to the next verse, and that hook ladadada, dadada dada ladadada dada dadada. Heads for the big finish which to my ears is three seconds of the Police.

Kaleidoscope starts with a nice Stewart Copeand rhythm and Mark setting up perhaps the most ballady thing we’ve heard from him in ages, and then Tom sings the chorus, which doesn’t overstay its welcome before Travis takes it up a notch for the second set of verses, and the chorus takes us to an instrumental section that pretty much features Travis pushing the Copeland rhythm around behind a growing wall of guitars, and then it breaks back to just a gated snare, which then gives us the chorus, and an outro that breaks down with an almost shill room world beat feel.

This Is Home starts out the gates with guitar, bass,drums and keys, sounding for all the world like an 80s pop song updated with a rhythm section recorded in 2000. Great use of Roger here, though it’s a really simple keyboard riff. It’s a fairly standard Tom song, but it’s also pretty irreverent, with lots of swearing and referencing to getting laid. Some nice bass riffing in the instrumental and some classic wipeout snarework leading back to the chorus and the sudden end.

M.H. 4.18.2011 some out of the gate as a pretty straightforward rock tune, and then turns into another Mark Hoppus punk pop song of the classic Blink mold, complete with that perfect chorus. These are the songs that made their early albums really work, so it’s nice to revisit this territory. The instrumental is another simple but effective jam with another great wipeout paradiddle and that chorus that may just be the catchiest hook on the album, even with the helicopter lyric reference.

Love Is Dangerous opens with a simple drum rhythm and keyboards that then opens to a mid-tempo rocker with Tom and Mark singing the verse in octave harmony, and the chorus, which sounds like something from Tom’s Angels work. It has a nice ambient feel with the echoing, swirling synth pads, and Mark trading secondary chorus vocals to the third chorus, Lennon-style. The instrumental is Travis in marching band mode, and they build on top of that. Basically, this is proof to my ears of what they would have sounded like had they continued on from their previous album. A rather nice, understated outro.

Fight The Gravity comes in like a lamb, brushed drums and a gentle bass line that builds up to a mid tempo rocker that sounds like it could have been on the Crow Soundtrack alongside the Cure and NIN. Then a wicked drum breakdown leads to a chorus that cements the comparison. It’s got this really nice gothic rock groove that you haven’t really heard from the band before, even when they were dabbling in Cure territory on their eponymous album. The chorus has a little more energy, but for all that, it never gets too far away from Cure/laste period Bauhaus territory. The drum breaks at the end are priceless.

Even If She Falls opens fast and sets up a classic Blink-182 groove. Tom singing in his low register, slightly balladeering, but not too far away from the ballads that made the last two album sell millions, so it’s a warm welcome back to that style of writing as well. It’s actually a really nice closer, when you think of it, and it’s nice that they didn’t put this too early, trying to set it up as the obvious radio hit. Hard to say if there is a radio formate that can use this kind of music anymore, but with that anthemic drive and the sense that they’ve recaptured something, it’s a triumph of its own kind, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, ‘even if she falls in love’.

This album could have been better for me, but I can’t say how precisely, because really, it does everything it needed to do without stepping too far back into the past to retrieve the hallmarks of their sound. They’ve managed to experiment or at least continue the experiments they’d started on the previous two albums, and yet refrained from sophmoronic humour that added a certain irreverent charm like the hidden tracks on Take Off Your Jacket and Pants, but which really wouldn’t have helped them here. Plus, hey, anything that reunites them with the unofficial fourth member, Roger Manning, is good for me.

So Blink is back, and I look forward to hearing the next album. This one bears repeated listening, though it’s not quite as revelatory for me. I’d definitely like to play it for my sister, who loved these guys before I did. Keep ‘em coming, boys. It’s good to have you back.

© 2012 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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