In 2003, a wildly popular punk-pop band called Blink-182 released their critically acclaimed, self-titled fifth album. Unbeknownst to both the band and their fans, Blink-182 would be their last release for eight years.
Over these past eight years, Blink-182’s three members (Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus, and Travis Barker) have grown as people and as musicians. In their personal lives; the trio suffered a band breakup in 2005, the loss of a close friend in 2008, and the near-death plane crash involving Barker himself in 2008. On the musical front; 2005 saw Hoppus and Barker form a new band called +44, while DeLonge spearheaded his own new project called Angels & Airwaves.
After reuniting in 2009, the band quickly began work on new material. Two years of balancing reunion tours and studio time yielded the creation of fourteen new tracks, collectively entitled Neighborhoods. And this new album arrives today.
Now, even if the reader holds only a mild interest in the band’s music, one sentence will summarize the general outlook on Neighborhoods— One will either love it, or will hate it.
Let’s begin with the positive elements first, as is standard procedure.
As melody has always been the main focus for the two writers of the group, Hoppus and DeLonge, melody again demands the spotlight in most of the Neighborhoods songs. The album’s opening piece, “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” is chock-full of energetic and memorable melodies (and is also backed with a MASSIVE sonic soundscape), and its succeeding compeer “Natives” also demonstrates its rebellious attitude appropriately with noteworthy vocal melodies.
The album’s strongest tune is “Heart’s All Gone”— a ferociously dark, furiously fast, mid-album charge with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket-era melodies (in other words, simple-but-effective melodies), fused with gritty guitar gain and pummeling drums. “After Midnight” and “Even if She Falls” additionally showcase the writers’ melodic emphasis. “Midnight” relies on a keen contrast between DeLonge’s rhythmically versatile verse strains and Hoppus’s traditionally-crafted and instantly-catchy chorus refrain; “Falls” employs DeLonge’s clever guitar-and-vocal combinations with an “All the Small Things”-like chorus.
Along the musical lines, all three members really shine on Neighborhoods in the specificity of their abilities. For instance; the arrangements of these songs are surprisingly textured and full, compared to the “old” Blink sound (which consisted mainly of power chords with high gain on guitar, a round-but-slightly-rough bass sound, and Barker’s hard-and-fast drumming “technique”).
DeLonge is very resourceful with his guitar sounds, borrowing mainly from his Angels & Airwaves project and his other evident influences (U2’s The Edge being the most obvious), especially in the intro of “After Midnight” and in the entirety of “Love is Dangerous.” Hoppus’s bass tones are reliable as always, but are especially innovative in the eerie sonic atmosphere in “Fighting the Gravity” and in his well-placed slides and slurs in the chorus of “Snake Charmer.” Barker, while admittedly still lacking proper drumming technique, is a key asset to the vigor of the Neighborhoods tracks. Without his rhythmic backbone, tracks such as “Snake Charmer” and first single “Up All Night” would be pretty bland and forgettable.
All kinds of other new sounds are introduced in Neighborhoods— Some carefully-mixed background rhythm acoustic guitar (“Kaleidoscope”), some soaring synth strains (“This is Home”), and some densely-effected keys (“Heart’s All Gone Interlude”) all contribute to the rich sound of the album.
Lyrically speaking, DeLonge’s writing has actually improved dramatically. Where DeLonge would have previously been prone to pen lyrics along the lines of “Is it cool if I hold your hand? / Is it wrong if I think it’s lame to dance?,” he displays his newfound lyrical maturity (“The silent evil daughters / Like sirens on the water / You’ve been the perfect crime / It happens all the time”). And this sort of vivid imagery is prevalent throughout many of DeLonge’s other compositions on Neighborhoods— Including the achingly evocative verses in “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” the whimsical chorus of “Wishing Well,” and the palpably riotous verses from “This is Home.”
On the negative side..
DeLonge’s voice is HEAVILY effected with pitch correction, and it is unabashedly blatant and painfully obnoxious throughout the entire album. While many blame this on DeLonge’s dabbling in auto-tune during his time with Angels & Airwaves, it is still completely pointless and makes true enjoyment of the album very difficult. DeLonge’s “stylistic” vocal choices are also irritating— His over-pronunciation of words (“spider”/”inside her” in “Snake Charmer”), his mispronunciation of many words (he vocalizes the word “valley” like “vah-wee” in “Kaleidoscope”), and his awkward vocal fills (“la da da da / da da da da” in “Wishing Well” ) are the prime examples of this off-putting and unpleasant execution (both meanings apply here) of DeLonge’s vocalization.
The only other major “flaw” is the band’s tendency to drift away from Blink-182 domain.. And into Angels & Airwaves territory. While about 40% of the album sounds like a bonafide Blink-182 release, the rest is experimentalism by way of A&A. Now, don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s innovative spirit during the self-titled album era, but this might not be “old” Blink-182 enough for some fans. Just a warning for you.
In conclusion, there are many things that the band has improved upon with Neighborhoods. The members’ raw musicianship is more evident, the lyrics are more mature, and the production and arrangements are really compelling. While these things are indeed substantial improvements, the listener will really have to decide for themselves if they can look past a couple of major flaws in order to reach true enjoyability of the album.