Travis Barker

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.

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Musical Rant: My Distant Relationship with Blink-182

My relationship with Blink-182 has been strained ever since Matt Skiba took over for Tom DeLonge. Nothing against him; the guy actually gels really well with the band. But no matter how many times I listen to their newer stuff, I just can’t get into it.

The band isn’t the same to me. Though I didn’t hate California, I quickly grew tired of it and after my initial review, I haven’t listened to any of the songs since. I was baffled with the deluxe version boasting a second disc with what boils down to another album. With every preview and song they released, I slowly realized I didn’t care. But I was still mildly curious about the second disc and gave it a listen. I was surprised I liked it more than the original album, but it also drove home how much I don’t care about this band anymore.

When the band announced California Deluxe, I didn’t get it. Why reissue an album that’s not even a year old? And if they had so much material, why not release it on its own? It didn’t make sense to me. Whereas in the past, the thought of an expanded Blink album would be amazing, this time it felt pointless. Still, I was curious to see if the new music was worth it. And it’s not bad. None of the songs are outright terrible, but very few managed to grip me. “Misery” was okay, but felt like I was reading cringe-worthy teen poetry, “Good Old Days” has a strong hook and great energy, but is tiring due to the overused “let’s get nostalgic” theme. “Don’t Mean Anything” is repetitive and weak when compared to the rest of the songs and “Hey I’m Sorry” is forgettable, but has a good energy and vibe. And “Can’t Get You More Pregnant” is just dumb and pointless.

Still, most of the songs have more substance than those on California. Though most of them aren’t that interesting, they aren’t generic. They feel genuine, even the ones that sound like teen angst. Reading through the lyrics I didn’t roll my eyes nearly as much as I did with the previous LP. Even though I didn’t like most of the songs, I can stand to hear them, as long as they don’t deal with looking back (“Parking Lot”). It’s a trend Blink’s been on that I’m sick of. I get it, they’re older, they want to reflect, but we already got that with California. Let’s move on.

Luckily, there’s some promise to the album. “Wildfire” and “Bottom of the Ocean” are great songs – probably the best of the new Blink era. Some of these songs remind you of older Blink – lots of fun, great fast music, and a good hook. “6/8” is a standout song that’s heavy as hell. It almost sounds like a b-side from Untitled. Everything about it is awesome from the in your face aggression to the way Matt sounds like he’s screaming from miles away. The odd 6/8 structure really helps the song stand out and creates this cool, yet odd, flow.

So yeah, I like the second disc better than California. At the same time, I realize I don’t care what Blink does anymore. I couldn’t even find much to say about this release. Whereas before I would relish any news involving them and devour every single song they released, I didn’t give a shit this time. They kept posting songs from the Deluxe version and I ignored them. Their new stuff doesn’t hit that sweet spot. With Tom, they had a style all their own. Now, they sound like every other “pop-punk” band out there. Seeing their name doesn’t bring about that same sense of excitement. Rather, it’s more of a disappointment.

Though many disagree, I still think Tom is an essential part of the band. He had a certain sound and vibe that Blink is currently lacking. They just don’t sound the same. They’re different now and that’s okay. They are allowed to change and I’m happy the band is continuing to make music. It’s just not for me. I can’t exactly say if my missing Tom is what makes me dislike their new stuff; maybe it does. All I know is I don’t feel that same happiness and excitement when I hear them now. Maybe over time, this will change and I see these albums in a more favorable light. But I can’t pretend that I care about what’s going on with them now. They can still make exciting music as some of the songs show, but they’re still trying to find the right direction. I will always love Blink-182, but at this point, I’m moving on.

California – Blink-182

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

The world of Blink-182 has been hectic ever since Tom DeLonge quit, but didn’t quit, but quit the band. So it was unexpected when the band announced a new album without DeLonge. And man, have feelings been tense throughout the fanbase. If you thought the band’s 2003 untitled album divided fans, you haven’t seen what this album has done to the community. Some find it awful, others think it’s great. Some just outright hated the record after hearing the lead single. It was hard to form my own opinion after reading so many negative comments about the new music. I even considered canceling my pre-order, but I stuck with my gut and gave it a shot. I knew I wouldn’t like it as much as their past stuff, but I was still excited. But this doesn’t mean the album is stellar. If anything it’s decent considering this is a new era for the band.

I was surprised by how much I liked the opening track “Cynical.” It begins slowly with Mark singing “There’s a cynical feeling/saying I should give up” and it speeds up to a rapid, frantic pace putting your energy into high gear. With the catchy hook, driving music, and Matt and Mark’s well-paired harmonies, it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. It’s pretty simple and standard for a Blink song, but it’s one that gets you excited for the record. The same can’t be said for “Bored To Death.” It’s not a bad song; it’s just underwhelming. It grows on you over time, but it’s pretty cut and dry. It also sounds like the band is trying a bit too hard to be meaningful with lyrics like “There’s a stranger staring at the ceiling/Rescuing a tiger from a tree.” The anthemic hook makes it prime for live shows, but it’s nowhere near their best.

The heavy, intense opening of “Los Angeles” caught me off guard. Something about the hard hitting music with a slight electronic twinge made it seem jarring for a Blink song. What won me over was the aggressive hook repeating “Los Angeles/When will you save me?” It has a lot of energy and power behind it to grab your attention. Just picture tons of people jumping up and down when that hook plays. The vocals are also pretty strong with Skiba fitting right in with the rest of the guys. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s one of the most satisfying. After hearing him sing some more I thought he sounded a bit like Tom. I may be alone in that but it’s something I can’t shake.

From there most of the songs are generic and predictable. “She’s Out of Her Mind,” “No Future,” and “Rabbit Hole” all play out the same: standard pop-punk with bouncy music, high energy, and a fun vibe. These songs are pretty catchy though they abuse the “whoa-ohs” and “Na nas” too much. This type of filler has appeared on other Blink songs, but it’s never been abused to the point of being lazy. It feels like it pops up every other song. Though they’re not my favorite songs, I still found them enjoyable; just a bit typical. I can’t say the same for “Kings of the Weekend.” This song rubbed me the wrong way. It plays like the most generic party song where a bunch of kids try to be “rebellious.” With its upbeat energy and positive vibe, it sounds like it was made to be a high school anthem.

Blink were never the most prolific songwriters, but their slow tunes are usually good. That isn’t the case here. “Home is Such a Lonely Place” feels corny with its “please come home, I’m lonely” message. It’s also dull with the soft music and lackluster lyrics. Same goes for “Teenage Satellites,” which is so boring I can barely remember how it goes. “Sober” isn’t horrible; it grows on you during repeated listens, but it doesn’t grab you right away. It’s catchy, yet predictable. Something about the melody and the lyrics seem standard like you’ve heard them before. But it’ll stay with you for the simple hook of “I know I messed up/and it might be over/let me call you/when I’m sober.” The closing track “California” isn’t any better. Like so many of the songs here, it’s just okay. It’s kind of sappy since it’s a love song to their hometown, but again it doesn’t stay with you once the album ends.

The Only Thing that Matters” is a bright moment if only because it sounds like something from Dude Ranch. It’s another standard Blink song, but it wakes you up from the slew of “meh” with its chugging riff and abundant energy. Similar to the opening track, this one has a hyper vibe making it one of the fun tracks on the album. And the reference to Marilyn Manson is cute, yet unnecessary and it’s not the first time they do it. On “San Diego” there’s the line “We bought a one-way ticket/so we can go see The Cure.” I’m not going to lie – that line alone made the song stand out for me. Otherwise, it’s another okay track that’s tolerable at best. It’s grown on me over time, but it’s definitely not a highlight. They also mention Bauhaus on “She’s Out of Her Mind.” It seems odd since it’s not something they’ve done a lot in the past.

And then there are the joke songs “Built this Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody.” Both are about 16 seconds with one line about hooking up with dudes. They’re kind of funny and make you chuckle the first time you hear them. But they’re so short to even care about them. If they were at least a minute they would’ve felt worthwhile, like “Happy Holidays, You Bastard.” Instead, they’re throwaway jokes that aren’t even very funny. Not only that, they don’t fit in with the album. The sound of the record is classic Blink-182. The subject matter has changed slightly with a lot of reflection on growing up, but there’s talk of girls, getting girls, and losing girls like their earlier albums. Maybe that’s why they thought bringing back joke songs would be a good idea. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work.

It sounds like I hate this album, but I actually don’t. My feelings are still a bit conflicted, but I actually enjoyed it. There are a handful of songs I loved that made me excited and pumped like past Blink songs. But most of them were just okay. They didn’t stand out and I couldn’t remember them even after hearing the album five times. A couple grew on me, but most weren’t notable. The album is definitely a throwback to their “classic pop-punk” sound and happy-go-lucky vibe. This has upset some fans feeling like it’s a step backward. While I understand this point, I’m not upset with the decision. Was it the right one? I have no idea. All I know is I don’t hate it.

Overall, it’s a decent album especially with such a huge change in the lineup. I wouldn’t call it better than their last release, but it’s a good start for this new era of Blink. What doomed this album from the start was its release after the DeLonge debacle. There are still so many people in the Tom = Good or Tom = Bad camp that it may affect opinions. Perhaps if they released the album under a different band name, it wouldn’t have been met so harshly. But when you take into consideration this is the first release from a band who experienced a very public disintegration, it’s pretty good. It’s not their strongest album, but it’s a band trying to find footing after such a shake up. As a Blink fan, I’m happy California is doing well and I hope they continue to do great thing whether with or without DeLonge.

“Bored to Death” – Blink-182

Released Year: 2016

Rating: 7.5/10

Things have been messy with Blink-182 ever since the drama with Tom DeLonge quitting, but not actually quitting, the band. Since then remaining members Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker moved on without DeLonge recruiting Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba. It was initially for a few shows, but then there were talks of a new album. Considering everything that happened and DeLonge still insisting he’s not done with Blink-182, new music seemed like it was never going to happen. Blink changed that by releasing the single “Bored to Death” from their upcoming album California.

The song is standard Blink-182 pop-punk fare: low key verses, intense percussion, explosive chorus, and an overall anthemic feel. Hoppus takes over on vocals, while Skiba picks up backing vocals. With somewhat grim lyrics referencing growing up and “not coming home” it’s a pretty solid song. It’s nothing that’ll blow fans minds or get them excited for the new album right off the bat. I wasn’t even that impressed with the song when I first heard it, but listen to it a few more times and it’ll grow on you.

The chorus is simple, easy to remember, and is prone for sing-alongs. And the bridge with the “oh oh ohs” is infectious. It’s such a cheap way to make something stick, but damn it’s effective. It does feel overdone when the mindless singing comes in one more time near the end of the song. Skiba’s guitar playing is on par with the other guys. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to copy what DeLonge did, but his style isn’t so drastic that it sticks out from the other members. Even his singing is pretty good and it makes me curious how he’ll sound on lead vocals. At times it does sound like a song suited for +44, but this could be because Hoppus is singing.

“Bored to Death” is nowhere near Blink-182’s best or most exciting material, but it’s promising. Overtime the song grows on you getting better and better, making you pumped for the rest of the album. Plus, Skiba seems like a good fit for the band. His style fits in with the other guys and never sounds like he’s a carbon copy of DeLonge. Of course no matter what you think of DeLonge, the group won’t be the same without him, but it’s great that this new chapter of Blink-182 is off to a great start.

Blink-182 – Blink-182

Release Year: 2003

Rating: 10/10

It’s been over ten years since Blink-182 released this groundbreaking album. Though now it’s hailed as their underrated masterpiece, fans didn’t know what to think of the new sound. This wasn’t the fun, happy-go-lucky, jovial band they were expecting. This band was dark, moody, and bleak. The music was heavy, the songs were serious, and the pop-punk shtick was left behind. Many say this is when Blink matured, grew up, and forgot the fart jokes. This is also where they expanded their sound, including more instruments and genres they never explored before. All of it lead to their strongest and best album yet.

For this release, Blink-182 did a complete 360 to how they approached their music. Everything here is heavier and darker than before, which you can hear right off the bat with “Feeling This.” There’s a lot of aggression in both the music and the lyrics, which fits perfectly with the theme. It also has more impressive guitar playing from Tom Delonge. He’s always been a decent player, but doing the same three-chord rock didn’t allow him to expand. Here, he messes around with different styles and sounds to get a bigger, better result. He plays with more flair along with the other guys. This track is a warning to fans: there’s no Enema of the State 2 here.

As I mentioned before, Blink’s music is usually upbeat and fun. Here, it’s the opposite. On songs like “Obvious” and “Easy Target” they explore their heavier side with brutal music and somewhat bleak songs on relationships. They let everything go on the chaotic “Stockholm Syndrome.” Everything on this track is fucking crazy and destructive. The way the guitar and bass chug along make it sound like they’re destroying everything in their path. Both the music and the lyrics are dripping with venom and anger. It blows you away because it’s unlike anything they’ve done before. “Violence” follows a similar format, but has a more punk rock vibe. Though the verses are paired with muted music, the chorus explodes with energy and loud guitars. Along with expressing their anger, the album has its share of moody moments.

I Miss You” is a different direction for Blink because it’s entirely acoustic. It also finds Mark using a stand up bass, while Travis uses steel brushes for the drum loop. With the longing lyrics and the dark toned music, the song is very melancholy and somewhat gothic, especially with references to The Nightmare Before Christmas. What’s interesting is the track is directly inspired by The Cure’s “Lovecats.” Blink has always been big fans of the band, but it seems like their love for them comes out the most on this album. This is most obvious on “All of This,” which features Robert Smith. This is pretty much a Cure song. Everything about it sounds like something the seminal 80’s band would do. With Smith singing “Another night with her/but I’m always wanting you” it comes across as brooding and bleak. I just love how they step aside and let Smith do his thing on this track.

Not only did the band step up their sound, they stepped up their songwriting too. You won’t find songs about running naked and awkward first dates here. Rather a lot of them deal with serious, some might even say adult, topics. Even though “Go” is fast paced and upbeat, it seems to be about Mark’s parents fighting and how he wants to take his mom away from the scene, but being helpless. “Down” is about longing for someone, but not being sure if they feel the same way. “Asthenia” is interesting because it foreshadows what Delonge would do on Angels and Airwaves. The song is about an astronaut stranded in space and wondering if coming home would make a difference. The space theme can be found again on the sappy “I’m Lost Without You,” which has more of a prog/space rock sound. It’s also the weakest song on the LP, since it sounds like Delonge is whining the entire time, but it’s forgivable.

When you start to read the history of the album, you learn a lot went into making it. Not only did the guys change their style, they changed their recording techniques. Songs like “Feeling This” and “I Miss You” were written by Mark and Tom, but they were in separate rooms when they did it. To get different sounds out of their instruments the would either record the music from different rooms or the music was recorded separately and pieced back together, such as Travis’ playing on “All of This.” Incorporating these various techniques shows how ambitious they were when putting the album together. They wanted to change things so much that they recorded in an unfamiliar way. It seems to have worked in their favor.

This album means a lot to me. It’s one of those records where I remember where I was and how I felt when I first heard it. Though fans were initially split on the new musical direction, it has since become their most appreciated work. While there are still some elements of pop-punk on the album, it’s almost abandoned in favor of dark tones, lush rhythm, and aggressive riffs. It was important for them to make this album. They’ve always been the butt of everyone’s jokes; this showed the world they were ready to be taken seriously. They grew both as musicians and songwriters and made what may be their greatest album so far.