Album Review

Revisiting Blink-182’s ‘Neighborhoods’

Image result for neighborhood blink 182

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.

Advertisements

Mixed Up Deluxe – The Cure

Image result for the cure mixed up deluxe

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. 

Young Lore – Night Riots

Image result for night riots young lore

Release Year: 2013

Rating: 7.5/10

Night Riots’ music is so irresistible, catchy, and charming. Listening to their songs, you can’t help get in a good mood while singing along. Though they gained notoriety with their 2016 EP Howl, they reinvented themselves with 2014’s Young Lore EP. While it isn’t a drastic departure from their current sound, it has a different mood. One that’s slow, somber, and not as fun. It definitely shows a band finding their style.

The best track here is “Back to Your Love.” Sounding similar to the direction they would move in later on, the song is upbeat, bouncy and bright with Travis Hawley sounding lovelorn as he sings. Since the music is so catchy, it’s easy to miss how bleak the song is. The lyrics talk about a couple who know things aren’t what they used to be and wonder if they can ever get it back. It’s their strongest track from their early days and perfectly shows off their catchy sound.

Remedy” is another upbeat track that gets you on your feet, though it sounds generic. Even with the splash of synth that pops up during the second verse, the song is formulaic. It could be from any alt-rock band and it gets boring after a while. “Loyal Blood” has the same issue. The music is fun and energetic with a good pop/punk vibe to it. But again, it sounds like alt-rock tunes you’ve heard a million times. Funnily enough, this track sounds like something that could’ve appeared on their first album as PK.

Most of the EP is made up of slow tracks that mean well, but don’t hold your attention for very long. “Spiders” catches you off guard with its muted pulsating beats and haunting vocals that open the song. It sets up this chilling feeling you can’t shake. Though it has a melancholic air, the lyrics are quite empowering with a message of stay strong and keep pushing forward in the face of adversary. It’s not a bad track, but the slow music and sleepy vocals become boring after a while.

Masks” begins ominously with buzzing music that grows more intense every minute. Tension thickens when Hawley starts singing making you question where the song is going next. The mood breaks during the hook when the music kicks up switching to an uptempo mood. It’s a slow-burning track that would’ve fit comfortably on their debut LP. Similar to “Spiders” it’s not very engaging. There’s nothing about it that grabs your attention. Soon, you’re ready to move on to the next song.

Closing track “Young Lore” is another highlight of the EP. Opening with a stark, somber piano, choir-like vocals fill the air as the music constantly builds. Hawley starts humming as if he’s singing a church hymn. The mood doesn’t stay somber for long as the bouncy music makes a return and gets you moving. It also has a positive message of living life now and doing what you want because our time on earth is short. Similar to their best songs, this one makes you dance and has a memorable hook you’ll struggle to get out of your head for days.

While Young Lore isn’t Night Riots’ strongest release, it does lay the groundwork for where they would go next. It marks a young band finding their sound. Some of it is generic, while other spots hint to what would come later. There are some dance-worthy tracks, but a lot of it is slow and mellow with nods to electronic elements they would add later on. A good chunk of it sounds like your average alt-rock band. It’s just a shame it isn’t as fun, catchy, or charming as Howl or Love Gloom.

Blue Sunshine – The Glove

Release Year: 1983

Rating: 7/10

It’s not unusual for artists to break out of their comfort zone and take on different projects. Though he’s the charming frontman for The Cure, Robert Smith wanted a break from the spotlight. With the help of some friends and some drugs, Smith recruited Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Steve Severin and vocalist Jenette Landry to form the psychedelic outfit The Glove. The group only produced one album, Blue Sunshine, and it’s a weird trip.

The eccentric album has elements of both The Cure and the Banshees but feels like a hodgepodge of different sounds and styles. Many songs such as “Like An Animal” have a psychedelic vibe to them with swirling synth, dizzying music, and weird lyrics involving sex and death – at least some things don’t change for Smith. At times, the album feels like a weird acid trip that you’re not sure is good or bad. The band plays around and mashes various styles together on songs like the breezy “Looking Glass Girl,” which sounds more appropriate for a Cure album, the disjointed and dizzying “Sex Eye Makeup,” and the manic, bizarre sound collage that is “Relax.” It’s as if the band threw caution to the wind and recorded whatever they felt like.

The songs can be jarring with the weird music, but what’s most unexpected is the absence of Smith’s warbling vocals. Landry takes over vocal duty and even though her voice isn’t bad, sometimes her high-pitched shouting is grating. At times it feels like your ears are going to bleed. Luckily, Smith does lend his voice to two songs: “Mr. Alphabet Says” and “Perfect Murder.” And of course, if you’re a Smith fanatic, they’ll be the best songs from the album. The former is actually the most memorable track with its bouncy opening. Here, we move away from the psychedelia and move into a weird, bluesy mood. It has a jangly piano that’s reminiscent of ragtime tunes. What really puts the song over the top are the additional strings. It gives the song a sense of drama, which is a bit unexpected. Sometimes the strings are jarring, other times it’s oddly pretty.

“Perfect Murder” also has great music. The opening exudes a tropical feel with the playful xylophone kicking things off. Smith sleepily sings lyrics like “move inside my daydream/like fingers in a glove” making for a mood that’s lazy and soothing. Something about it makes you feel like you’re in a hazy, hot jungle. The song ends with Smith’s random noises and howls along with what sounds like crickets chirping in the night. The music and the overall feel makes it stand out from the other songs on the album. Those who prefer Smith’s vocals will be happy to know Glove songs featuring his singing were eventually released on the 2008 reissue.

None of the songs are bad; if anything the music is interesting and catches your attention. But few of the songs aren’t very memorable. Some of them haven’t aged well, either. “This Green City” has a twinkling Casio riff that sounds like it’s taken from a 70s news program. When you hear it, it just makes you laugh. “Punish Me with Kisses” has a similar problem with a cheesy piano riff from a cheap effects program. “Orgy” is a bit of an exception since its snake charmer-esque music is hard to forget. It plays like it’s trying to put the listener in a trance. “Blues in Drag” is an odd, soothing instrumental with echoing keys and gentle strings. It has its pretty moments but is easy to forget when compared to the other songs.

Blue Sunshine is one weird ride. It’s an odd, psychedelic experience that makes you wonder exactly what drugs the group was taking at the time. It’s not necessarily the best album, but its experimental nature makes it worth a listen. Because the band plays around with so many styles you never know what to expect next, which can make it fun. There are some upbeat, catchy songs, but some of them are forgettable. It doesn’t help that the lyrics sound like nonsense at times. It’s weird enough to keep you engaged, but it’s definitely an acquired taste.

Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Image result for justin timberlake man of the woods

Release Year: 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I first saw Justin Timberlake’s rugged, I’m-an-outdoors-man promo for Man of the Woods, I was not happy. I didn’t want down to Earth Justin. I wanted Sexyback Justin. Luckily, the album isn’t stepped in folksy roots as the promos made it out to be. Unfortunately, the album isn’t that good. The main problem is there are no songs that stand out, grab your attention, and make you want to crank it up whenever you hear it. The closest we get is lead single “Filthy,” which is just weird and takes a while to grow on you before you start singing it.

Songs like “Man of the Woods,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Wave,” and “Higher Higher” are fine but pretty generic. Once the album ends you don’t remember them until you play the LP again. They have decent music and some pretty good hooks, but there’s nothing exciting about them. “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton is an unexpected highlight. It’s got just the right amount of a country vibe to please country fans and non-fans alike. Plus, Stapleton and Timberlake sound great together.

Most of the songs are inoffensive and not bad to listen to, but they’re just there. “Montana” may have a 70s inspired groove, but it sounds too similar to the rest of the songs on the record. “Morning Light” featuring Alicia Keys is nice but gets boring pretty quickly. The rest of the tracks like “Breeze Off the Pound,” “The Hard Stuff,” and “Livin’ Off the Land” are hard to discern from one another since they sound so similar. And seeing as they’re the closest thing to Timberlake’s newfound persona, they don’t really do much for the record.

Other songs are just cringy. “Sauce” features the unfortunate line of “I like your pink/you like my purple,” which is wrong on so many levels. It also features him doing a shoddy Prince imitation, which is hard to sit through. “Supplies” is even worse. Timberlake attempts a trap song filled with generic hip-hop music and an annoying hook. It’s so out of left field, it doesn’t fit on the album. And it’s hard to take “Flannel,” an ode to a fucking shirt, seriously. He actually sings the line “But if I’m bein’ selfish, that gave me a reason to be there/With my flannel on.” The preceding interlude featuring his wife Jessica Biel is even worse. She talks about wearing his shirt and how makes her feel like a woman. It will make you roll your eyes.

Man of the Woods is a definite miss for Timberlake. While there are a handful of decent songs, the album severely lacks the fun, must-listen-to dance hits he’s become known for. Most of the songs are generic or just plain dull. After hearing the album a few times, I couldn’t care about it anymore. It’s not the weird, earthly vibe we thought it would be. Even worse, it’s a boring, generic safe record for Timberlake.