Remember that band blink-182? They came out with hits while we were in middle school like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things.” High school ushered in songs such as “First Date” and “Feeling This.” At long last, after eight years of side-projects and bad feelings, the potty-mouth, fart-joke-making, class-clown-kings of pop-punk have put their differences aside and released another album, titled “Neighborhoods.” As a fan since their 1994 debut album “Chesire Cat,” watching the band go through its ups and downs has been a fascinating experience, and I feel no shame in being able to sing along to pretty much every song they’ve ever written.
Each blink-182 album is significantly different than the last. “Chesire Cat” was a roughly produced teen-punk album. “Dude Ranch” kicked it up and had some of the catchiest, straight-up punk songs you heard from the'90s. The boys from blink tried to talk about a deeper sense of love with “Enema of the State,” and “Take Off Your Pants And Jacket” set the tone for the dirty pop-punk of the 2000s. In 2003 their self-titled album changed their sound entirely and showed a dark side of the band they had never shed light on. Following this album, all the band members parted ways in what seemed to be an indefinite hiatus.
Guitarist Tom DeLonge formed the synthesizer-heavy, space rock band Angels & Airwaves and bassist Mark Hoppus, with drummer Travis Barker, created alternative punk band +44. While these two groups were no doubt talented, neither possessed the groove blink-182 had, nor the juvenile spirit that was their unifying trademark. One of the most relieving things about “Neighborhoods” is simply hearing the distinctive vocal harmony between DeLonge and Hoppus again, with Barker’s ridiculously inventive percussion, song after song just like it was since the '90s. “Neighborhoods” might as well be called “Nostalgia” in this sense.
However, like the rest of blink’s albums, "Neighborhoods” establishes a sound of its own. You can clearly hear the enhanced production value since their last album, and there are many more background synthesizer effects, which sound suspiciously similar to Angels & Airwaves but are not over the top. DeLonge’s guitar playing combines cleanly picked melodies with signature distorted power chords, but it also brings back some of the pseudo-virtuosity of his songs from the olden days, like “M+M’s,” with the track “Natives.” As always, Hoppus solidly backs DeLonge up on bass and, rather than playing strictly rhythmic bass lines, plays melodies that complement DeLonge’s.
The first half of the album is light and easygoing with more upbeat songs including “After Midnight,” “Snake Charmer” and the single “Up All Night,” which beg to be punk-anthems at any self-respecting party. The latter half of the album has a much more intimate feel, which seems to be where blink-182 is heading after years of being comedy-rockers. The band members are approaching their 40s, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they want to sing about more meaningful things than the hilarity of poopy-caca.
“Neighborhoods” also features some of the heaviest-sounding punk songs the band has put out yet. “Natives” switches back and forth from the stylistically fast-punk theme to being cut in half tempo-wise in the space of two measures, which is a surprising presentation of complexity from the technically simple punk band. “Heart’s All Gone” showcases Barker’s blisteringly fast and innovative drumming techniques at their greatest yet.
As a long-time fan of blink-182, I like this album just because of the circumstances from which it was spawned – a prolonged separation of band members, growth for each individual and a reunion based on the musicians’ realization they had something phenomenal, a something they came close to losing due to harsh feelings held through the 2000s and Barker’s tragic plane accident in 2009. “Neighborhoods” recognizes and reflects on these themes. The album will impart joy (and, as always, the prospect of some venereal disease) to the listener. Blink-182’s transition from “not-to-be-taken-seriously” to the mature sound they’ve obtained in “Neighborhoods” is one of the most remarkable occurrences in the world of punk rock, but I’m sure they’d shrug it off and say “we just want to see boobies” if you asked them about it.