Trab-Arena, Hamburg, GER - 20/8
Written by: PP on 04/10/2011 04:14:55
It's not as bad as I initially feared. Yes, it sounds like Angels & Airwaves and, at least partly, +44 and Boxcar Racer. Nope, it doesn't really sound like a Blink 182 record as you remember the band. But as a full record, "Neighborhoods", their sixth album and first one in eight years, is a lot better than what all of us expected once we heard first single "Up All Night" in mid July, though you might first have to accept that us hoping for "Dude Ranch" part deux was always going to be a naive utopia, even if it seemed like a possibility after Tom blew off some ambitious steam in his space rock project Angels & Airwaves across three albums. Darn it.
In retrospect, the internal differences that resulted in Blink 182's breakup in 2005 are crystal clear. Tom's first taste of ambitious songwriting was on songs like "Down" and "I Miss You" from 2003's self-titled album, which appeared to light a fire within him that couldn't just be blown out, resulting in pompous, grandiose arrangements and a whole lot of vast emptiness in his space rock outfit Angels & Airwaves, whose first album was, according to the rumours, based on some demos he was looking to use on the next Blink 182 record. Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, on the other hand, kept their feet on the ground and just wanted to write good rock songs without entirely abandoning their catchy pop punk background, so they formed +44 and wrote an excellent record that has left fans longing for more ever since.
Those differences manifest ever more clearly on "Neighborhoods", which ends up feeling like a compromise between the two camps, a solution in which the three could re-group as Blink 182 and meet each other half-way. In one corner, songs like "Up All Night" or "Love Is Dangerous" sound nearly identical to Angels & Airwaves in every conceivable way, except the songs no longer sound like they're satellites in outer space; the ambition for thoughtful, introspective and uplifting arrangements, though still undeniably there, has been toned down a notch so that us regular earthlings don't feel like we're floating somewhere above the clouds. Then on the opposing side, high-tempo mainstream punk tracks like "Heart's All Gone" and "Natives" recall the lighter mood of +44 songs with a little bit of Boxcar Racer thrown in the mix. These are characterized by their stronger flavor of melody and sing-along choruses in the same vein as we remember Blink 182 from our youth, hence they should have all older fans on board almost immediately.
The third type of song found on the album is "Snake Charmer", which combines the two approaches together in the same song. Here, the verse has a slow, ambitious build up similar to the dreamy space rock from A&A, but where Tom's band would've soldiered onwards taking the song into higher and higher realms of space without ever reaching a climax, here the song breaks down into a catchy +44 style anthemic chorus complete with power chorded guitars and that sort of stuff. So in that sense, "Neighborhoods", when you think about it, is a fitting title for the album considering how it explores vastly different sound bases ...I didn't think I'd ever get to say this, but Blink 182 have written an experimental album.
But like I've mentioned a couple of times during this review already, those differences are still inherently there. Nowhere else is this clearer than when analyzing the overall mood and atmosphere of the album in comparison to previous Blink material. The bright melodies that stemmed from the joy and the (back then) unbreakable friendship used to shine on every Blink record in the past, but on "Neighborhoods" I'm hearing a band that's still far away from that place internally. As a result, the album doesn't sound as tight and as naturally flowing as high budget productions like this one tend to do. It really feels like Mark & Travis are constantly being dragged in a direction they don't feel entirely comfortable with, perhaps the very reason why the less-A&A sounding songs are easily the best material on the album ("Heart's All Gone", "Natives", "Kaleidoscope", "Ghosts On The Dancefloor" etc). Fortunately, the trio have managed to piece the rest of the songs together so they, too, sound pretty good in the end, although this brings me back to my original notion that you'll first have to accept that this was never going to be a return to the college pop punk that they helped popularize.
Oh, and Tom is still the most off-tune voice you'll hear on popular radio channels, so I guess "Neighborhoods" is still a Blink 182 album underneath the surface.
Download: Heart's All Gone, Natives, Kaleidoscope, Ghosts On The Dancefloor
For the fans of: Angels & Airwaves, +44, Boxcar Racer
Release date 27.09.2011
Blink 182 - Neighborhoods by Interscope Records