Have you ever stared at a word for so long that you started to get a strange feeling that it wasn’t actually a word? That’s how I feel about Blink-182. Alongside Green Day, the California trio is perhaps the most iconic band to come out of ’90s pop-punk, and all my life I’ve been inundated with Blink. Enema of the State was one of the first CDs I bought, when I was 13 years old, and a few years later I made my way onto Absolutepunk.net (the biggest pop-punk site, and it started as a Blink-182 fanpage), met one of my best friends (who considered Blink-182 her favorite band for years), and fell in love with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and Blink-182. I heard the band continue to make headlines in the wake of their break-up, read everything about the plane crash that almost killed Travis and ultimately brought them back together, watched their reformation at the 2009 Grammy Awards, and endured the two-and-a-half year wait for a new album. I’m sure any Blink fans reading this have a similar story.
So staring at the name Blink-182 now, it almost seems disassociated from from Mark, Tom, and Travis; it seems to encapsulate something bigger. Perhaps that “something bigger” is the pop-punk craze of the ’00s that Blink helped to launch. Perhaps it’s the near-legendary status of the group in pop-punk circles, a status that their hiatus and Green Day’s move towards rock operas and political statements only helped to enforce. Perhaps it’s simply my history with the band and my expectations of them on their first album in eight years. Or perhaps I’ve just been staring at the phrase “Blink-182″ for too long.
Let’s get to the meat: Neighborhoods. Blink’s sixth album is vastly different from their last release, 2003′s Blink-182. There are no songs quite as punky as “Go,” no acoustic-based ballads like the worldwide hit “I Miss You,” no 6.5-minute space-rock explorations like “I’m Lost Without You” (which presaged Angels & Airwaves). Neighborhoods lies somewhere between pop-punk and alternative rock, and the choruses are the most consistently memorable and catchy that Blink have ever written — imagine an album full of “Always”s and “Feeling This”s, but more mature.
“Mature” is an easy word to throw around, and you’ll probably read it in every review of Neighborhoods. It’s certainly not hard for a trio of thirty-somethings to write something with more class than “What’s My Age Again?” or “First Date,” but Blink have always had an introspective, serious side — see “Stay Together for the Kids” (in my opinion their most underrated single) or the aforementioned “I Miss You.” On Neighborhoods, however, Blink-182 confront the same types of subjects — relationships (“Heart’s All Gone,” “Love Is Dangerous”), low self-esteem (“Natives”), how life can feel pointless when you contemplate its end (“Kaleidescope”). But they confront them with the tone of a man slowly coming to terms with his demons: “Hold on as we crash into the earth/ A bit of pain will help you suffer when you’re hurt.”
Blink’s philosophical outlook still leans strongly towards pessimistically defiant when they sing “Love is so dangerous/ We’ll betray the ones we care about” on closer “Love Is Dangerous” and ”We’ll have the times of our lives/ Although we’re dying inside” on “Natives.” ”Up All Night,” “This Is Home,” and “MH 4.18.2011″ all portray a kind of beautiful anarchy where we “work and fight, stay up all night to celebrate the day” and “dance like fucking animals” in the darkness — Blink capture the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness in the face of life flawlessly, whether they’re singing about demons keeping them up all night or wearing their hearts on their sleeves to admit that “it fucking hurt like hell” when they “saw your ghost tonight” (the song is about “hearing a song you shared with someone that’s passed,” according to the band). Even when they go so metaphorical that you can’t deduce the song’s subject, like on “Wishing Well,” lyrics like “I went to a wishing well, I sank to the ocean floor/ Cut up by sharper rocks and washed up along the shore” seem to strike at the pith of the Disconnected Generation.
If you were a disenchanted, restless teenager when you found Blink-182 and are still a disenchanted, restless adult, this album may find a home with you. Balancing arena-worthy choruses, soaring alternative rock songwriting, emotive and personal lyrics, a punk defiance, and a disillusion with the world, Neighborhoods may not be Blink-182′s most raw, fresh, and loud release to date — but it may very well be their most complete. The band have grown up while staying young and relevant, and listening to the album for the tenth or twentieth time, I can’t help but stare at their name again until it becomes meaningless. It’s only after I succeed that the name “Blink-182″ can start to take on the qualities of Neighborhoods and become redefined in my head.
Stream: “After Midnight”
Stream: “Up All Night”
Stream: 1.5-minutes clips of all 14 tracks