Music

Revisiting Blink-182’s ‘Neighborhoods’

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The disintegration of Blink-182 was a mess. Tom DeLonge was suddenly out of the band, but he never quit, yet he wasn’t coming back. It can be hard for a band to bounce back after such a public fallout, but Blink survived. No matter how you feel about their current output, you can’t say California isn’t a success. It earned them their first Grammy nod and debuted at number one in the states and in other countries. But the album isn’t anywhere near as ambitious, exciting, or progressive in sound as their comeback record Neighborhoods.

What’s most notable about the album is the continuation of the dark, mature sound found on Untitled. Lyrics tackle heavy topics like death, isolation, and personal demons. Even the upbeat opener, “Ghost on the Dance Floor” is depressing. It’s based on Travis Barker hearing a song that reminded him of the late DJ AM. “Wishing Well” sounds like something to dance to, yet the lyrics paint a bleak picture: “I went to a wishing well, and sank to the ocean floor/Cut on the sharpened rocks, and washed up along the shore/I reached for a shooting star, it burned a hole through my hand/It made its way through my heart, have fun in the promise land.”

They also experiment with their sound, with each member bringing in their own influences. DeLonge’s influence is the strongest with songs like “Ghost on the Dancefloor,” The Cure-esque “This is Home,” and the lackluster “Love is Dangerous.” Each has elements you can trace back to Angels & Airwaves. Whereas the intense “Hearts All Gone” sounds like a b-side from +44. For the most part, these different influences work together well and result in songs that ultimately sound like Blink-182. Though the lackluster “Love is Dangerous” is DeLonge all the way. It’s so bogged down in synth and New Wave sounds it doesn’t fit on the album.

But the record isn’t without its flaws. The band recorded most it separately and it shows. It feels disjointed and clunky in places. It just doesn’t recapture the spark they were aiming for. It’s more of a growing pains record. It seemed they still had some things to work out before heading back in the studio. But considering the record we got, it could’ve been worse. Also, some songs are forgettable like the terribly named “MH 4.18.2011.” It has the same high energy and quick pace of “Here’s Your Letter,” but otherwise it doesn’t manage to be that memorable. The song is okay, but it’s not as strong as the others.

Fortunately, the album is solid. The excellent “Natives” has a frenetic guitar riff and pounding drums that grabs your attention since it has more of a punk rock vibe. It sounds the most like a classic Blink-182 song and feels like something from their self-titled record. “Up All Night” is another satisfying track reminiscent of their older stuff. The music is hard-hitting and punches you in the gut. It’s an intense ride that gets into their dark side with the mention of demons and dying alone. “Snake Charmer” is another highlight with its slinky rhythm and pummeling riff. It has a hypnotic vibe that’s hard to resist. And the catchy “Kaleidoscope” blends dirty riffs with an upbeat, bright riff.

Similar to their previous output, the album divided fans. While some championed the mature sound, others balked at the lack of catchy pop-punk jams that made them famous. Rather than revisiting the past, Blink looked to the future and continued the mature sound they explored on their 2003 output. Did it work? Sort of. While there are several standout songs, it sounds disjointed and lacks some of the fun that made their other albums great.  Still, the experimentation and their continued mature sound showed they were at least trying to progress whereas California feels like a step backward. It’s generic and bland. At least Neighborhoods sounds like a band trying to make things work. It showed promise for a new chapter of Blink-182 that, sadly, we never got around to seeing.  We have a subpar version of them instead.

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Mixed Up Deluxe – The Cure

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 7.5/10

In 1990, The Cure wanted to take a break from the bleak nature of Disintegration. To shake off the melancholy, Robert Smith launched a new project: a remix album. Mixed Up not only featured club mixes of Cure songs, it was also a way for fans to get their hands extended mixes without hunting down pricy singles. This year, Smith finally relaunched The Cure’s remaster series and compiled a deluxe edition of this remix album. Surprisingly, I was excited to get my hands on the release despite not being a fan of the original. I wasn’t expecting much, but I actually enjoyed the release more than I expected, but it’s not perfect.

The first disc is a remaster of the 1990 original featuring extended singles and remixes of the band’s biggest hits. There are some solid mixes here like the airy and mellow version of “The Caterpillar” and the jazzy version of “Close To Me,” but most of the songs don’t hold your attention for long. It’s made with a specific audience in mind. If you’re not a fan of lengthy club mixes, like me, the album won’t do much for you. I found songs like “The Walk,” “Lovesong,” and “A Forest” to be too long. They got repetitive after the first four minutes. The drawn out songs make sense in a club setting, but they don’t really translate outside of that if remixes aren’t your thing. Most of the mixes are decent, aside from the generic “In Between Days (Shiver Mix),” but little about them leaves a lasting impact. I found myself getting bored with them and started tuning them out. The updated versions of “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” are highlights, but the rest of the album is decent at best.

I was looking forward to the second disc featuring rare remixes from 1982- 1990, but these tracks are forgettable. Some of the mixes are random, disjointed, or all over the place. The vocal on “Let’s Go To Bed (Extended Mix 1982)” sounds like it was chopped up and sprinkled randomly throughout the song. It’s annoying to hear Smith’s vocals start and stop abruptly. “Why Can’t I Be You” feels endless with bits of the song stretched out and played on a loop, while Primary (Red Mix 1990)” attempts to turn it into a high energy rock song with bits of weird buzzing noises, but it just doesn’t work. Mixes of “Pictures of You,” “Just One Kiss” and “Just Like Heaven” do nothing interesting expect make the intro and outro longer. Even though I’m not a fan of the original, the mixes on that album are at least decent and has its great moments. Here, all the remixes are uninteresting. They just don’t hit you the way some of the mixes on the previous and the last disc do.

The third disc, Torn Down, is full of new mixes by Smith and is the highlight of this collection. He takes a song from every Cure album and tweaks it just enough to give it a different flavor. “The Drowning Man” is bleaker and darker, “A Strange Day” is more intense with its tribal beats, “A Night Like This” is jazzy and upbeat, and “Three Imaginary Boys” is downright eerie. These mixes feel more focused and concise. They don’t keep going well after you’re bored. And in most cases not much changes. Smith admits he didn’t mess with the songs too much and kept the general feeling of the song. “Shake Dog Shake” sounds more aggressive and angry and “Never Enough” sounds like a clean mix, but otherwise they don’t stray far from the originals. Others may balk at the lack of change, but I found them to be perfect. It puts a different spin on the song and doesn’t feel needlessly long. Smith also goes beyond the singles and mixes tracks like “Cut Here,” “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” and “The Last Day of Summer” for a more diverse listening experience. It’s great to hear new versions of tracks like “Want” and “Like Cockatoos.” It’s a chance to highlight The Cure’s material outside of their singles. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much out of this disc, yet it’s my favorite out of the three.

Mixed Up Deluxe isn’t for everyone. It’s for a niche crowd that can appreciate a good club mix or for those into the club scene. If you don’t care for remixes or don’t like dance music, then you won’t find most of the collection appealing. Still, it’s a solid release. You have all of The Cure’s once rare mixes on one disc with extras and a disc full of new remixes. It’s worth it for the third disc alone. It doesn’t feel like it was put together to make a quick buck. Rather, you can tell it was crafted with some thought and it invigorated Smith to try some new versions. Also, there’s so much material to listen to, there’s bound to be one or two tracks you find yourself nodding along to. It’s not for all Cure fans, but it’s still a great addition to your collection. 

Best Album of 2017

Eternity In Your Arms – Creeper

There was only one album this year that I couldn’t stop listening to or gushing about; Creeper’s Eternity In Your Arms. I played this record the entire year. I never got tired of it. It’s a fun, wild, and dramatic romp through the world of Creeper. Full of songs that get your adrenaline running, the album is nothing but a good time. It’s not just loud, brash guitars and screaming gang vocals. With this album, Creeper creates an entire world that listeners are invited to discover. We hear about the mystery of James Scythe and the stranger. And while the band gives us plenty of clues, they ask us to put the rest together ourselves.

Part of what makes the album so much fun is how grandiose it is. Everything about Creeper feels larger than life and melodramatic. The way the music swells, Will Gould’s Meatloaf-esque vocals, and the macabre stories held in each song makes it feel like you’re witnessing a play unravel before you. They excel at bringing camp and punk together for an unforgettable experience.

Songs like “Black Rain,” “Poison Pens,” and “Room 309” scratches that itch for in your face, unapologetic punk rock. But the songs that really impressed me were tracks like “Misery” and “Crickets.” Just when you think you have the band figured out, they throw you for a loop with these ballads. The former is heartbreaking, yet there’s something beautiful about it. The latter trails dangerously close to country, but they make it work. It shows they don’t only know how to make loud songs. They can work with other genres comfortably and it helps them stand out. Elsewhere, the band mixes punk with elements of gothic, emo, glam, and pop that keeps the album fresh and exciting.

Creeper managed to make a punk rock album that’s engaging, fun, fresh, and memorable. No matter how many times you listen to it, you want more. And I can’t wait to hear what Creeper does next.

 

Worst Album of 2017

Beautiful Trauma – Pink

As an avid Pink fan, this choice kind of hurts. When she announced her return to music, I was so excited. I’ve always loved Pink for her aggressive, I don’t give a shit attitude and empowering songs. I looked forward to an album full of upbeat, fun songs mixed with a few ballads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that with Beautiful Trauma.

This album bored me. So many of the songs are slow. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of ballads, but I don’t hate them. Slow songs give listeners a break from the fast numbers. Pink’s ballads are normally beautiful, sometimes even haunting. Tracks like “Try” and “Glitter in the Air” still give me chills, but when there’s a solid block of them I find myself getting bored. I need the fast songs to pick me back up. This is the big problem with this album. There were way too many slow songs and very few of them are notable. They just sound like any generic pop song currently on the radio.

While listening I kept waiting for the energetic, fun tunes to kick in. The closest I got was the title track. Not even the song with Eminem could save it. And that was a big disappointment. I love “Here Comes the Weekend,” but “Revenge” is just okay. Eminem’s verse isn’t even one of his best; it’s lazy and lame. The only thing I liked about the record was Pink’s voice. We get to hear how much her vocals have improved over the years and she sounds gorgeous. But there isn’t much beyond that.

For a Pink album, it’s surprisingly tame. Because of her don’t give a fuck nature, she usually has a good chunk of songs that represent this. Her songs are normally biting and clever with a somewhat cynical sense of humor. This vibe is almost completely missing here. We get a few times in tracks like “Revenge,” but otherwise the songs are pretty generic. While I can admire her showing a different side of herself, it just doesn’t feel like a Pink album to me. The album is forgettable, generic, and isn’t as fun as her past work. While her other albums are empowering, this one is just dull.

Musical Quickie: 8 – Incubus

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 6/8

Incubus‘ eighth album, 8, finds the band playing it safe. It’s business as usual for the guys and it’s nothing exciting. Songs like “State of the Art” and “Familiar Faces” are unoffending, but don’t keep your attention for long. You may not skip them while listening to the album, but would you seek them out on your own? Probably not. There are a handful of exciting tracks, like “Nimble Bastard,” “No Fun,” and “Glitterbomb,” which all have strong hooks. The rest of the songs are forgettable or pale imitations of what they’ve done in the past.

There’s not a lot that’s exciting about this album. While none of the songs are outright bad, they just make you go “meh.” It leaves you with little to say about it. It’s a shame the album is so unremarkable since they seemed to be going in the right direction with the Trust Fall (Side A) EP. They at least tried some new things. Here, they stick with routine and it’s pretty boring. Save for a handful of songs, there isn’t much to this album. In the end, 8 is just okay and pretty forgettable.