For most, Blink-182 conjure memories of immaturity and boundless energy, dick jokes and a total lack of responsibility (admittedly, that live album they put out is full of some of the most ridiculous profanity my parents ever accidentally heard in my car). But shining through the cracks in their brash discography of ageless wonder and f-bombs lives a deeper, more poetic sense of romantic ennui, and that's the Blink-182 I love. From the rough, yet subtly tragic "Carousel" to the anthems ("Anthem" and "Anthem Part Two"), "All The Small Things" and "Going Away To College", the band explored some real, if not somewhat angsty emotions, and many of us were the right age to find them resonant. These songs always stuck out to me, and watching the band tighten the screws from the poppy/sloppy Enema Of The State to the more polished Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was one of my earliest memories of clocking a band's progression from album to album.
This ennui extends beyond the obvious suicide slinging "Adam's Song", a track that's boring to me now, but was pretty controversial with the adults of the day, supposedly inspiring kids to kill themselves. It's that kind of raw resonance that found resolution and containment in the band's last record. When Blink-182 emerged, the band had reached an interesting place. These man-boys became fathers, husbands, and maintained their music while adjusting the sound of their formulaic pop-punk to play with new ideas and techniques; recording Travis's drums in a shower, or introducing electronic elements beyond the guitar-bass-drums to name a few. Each track had some sort of differentiating factor, and coupled with the band's tidy hooks, made for a collection of really memorable tracks. "All Of This", "Miss You", "I'm Lost Without You", "Feeling This", "Stockholm Syndrome", I dare say some of these songs were the most emotive, resonant and potent of the band's career. So much so, that they probably should have called it a day right there. And they kind of did.
But nothing stays dead in science-fiction and/or popular music, and following Barker's near-death experience, the bromance was re-kindled, and they started working on new recordings. Expectations were reasonably pessimistic. Blink-182 was definitely their "experimental" record, despite it being the crux of their artistic creativity, and a follow-up with as much appeal to Blink-182 fans who like when they do uncomfortable things was as likely as Travis Barker getting his tattoos removed. So we got "Up All Night", which was initially exciting because it's been eight years since we've heard Tom and Mark doing a new set of call and response over Barker's monstrous punk beats, but nothing about it seemed unique or memorable. Turns out that's pretty much the main problem with most of Neighborhoods.
"Ghost On The Dancefloor" feels right and appropriate because it explores something ephemeral and lost to the band in an uptempo number worthy of their old chops. "Kaleidoscope" has a great hook from Tom, and "Heart's All Gone" is aggressive and catchy in the old style, not to mention the efficiency of the chilly interlude attached to it. And "Fighting The Gravity" doesn't even feel like it belongs on the record, a totally delightful left-field track towards the end. But nothing else sticks out. Part of me was hoping that "Wishing Well" would be some sort of continuation of the scattered emotions left outside in "Carousel" all those years ago, but the words just aren't connected, and "wishing well" and "shooting star" here feel boring and contrived. A missed opportunity to play on their own mythology.
Neighborhoods winds up sounding like a ghost of the band's middle ground, reaching for their massive success as a polished pop-punk act in the MTV age but never taking any of the risks that made their last LP so successful. It feels like a warm-up act, the band getting their feet wet in the studio with some safe, catchy tracks to re-establish themselves, but unsure of what their role will be in this new musical landscape. Armed with their strengths, a gargantuan rhythm section and their familiar voices, hopefully they move past the tofu tracks and create something truly unique again. It's possible. After all, Take Off Your Pants was also pretty nondescript, only interesting contextually between what came before and what came after. Let's see what happens next.