Tuesday, October 4, 2011

blink-182 - Neighborhoods

It's finally here. 8 years after their previous album and 2 years after their reformation, blink-182 has released their newest full length, Neighborhoods. I think that it's a pretty big deal, seeing as how blink-182 is arguably one of the biggest bands out there right now (regardless of what people may think of talent- I'm talking numbers and whatnot) so a comeback album is bound to sell extremely well, unlike a certain other comeback album released this year (seriously, did you even know that there was a new Limp Bizkit album out?)

So that's all and well but how does it sound? I personally think it is impossible for anyone to review this album without mentioning Angels & Airwaves at least once. Not that Neighborhoods particularly sounds like it should have been released as an Angels & Airwaves album (although some will inevitably argue that it does) but it’s obvious that people are going to draw these conclusions when the world they have been living in has only had the spacey rock band for their Tom DeLonge fix. 

I'll try my damnedest to get the AVA comparisons out of the way first.

Neighborhoods begins with Ghost on the Dancefloor, its synth and drum intro creates an airy atmosphere that is bound to rack up the Angels & Airwaves comparisons (namedropping The Cure here is also acceptable), and hearing Tom take lead vocals will only boost those claims. As the song progresses it sounds less and less like AVA and more like something the band has never done before. It is a nice showcase of what is to come on the rest of the album: the band is taking what they know and moving forward with it. 

At this point everyone has heard Up All Night, with its Box Car Racer-esque riffing, its call-and-response verses between Mark and Tom and its “Tom-with-reverb-turned-to-11” chorus, which does slightly recall AVA but at the same time it also channels previous blink-182 songs such as Always. Second single, After Midnight, is probably the most AVA-esque track despite that Mark gets to take the lead during the chorus. Of the two guitar tracks on the song, one is light and airy while the other one has a much more distorted sound- a staple of AVA songs. The opening drums may be a little more technical and as I said, Mark gets to sing the chorus but it all follows a very similar vocal pattern and song structure to some of the catchier songs found on We Don’t Need to Whisper.

Snake Charmer is where it gets weird. A bonus track, thrown into the middle of the album, with heavy guitars, a bouncy sing-along chorus and lyrics that feature metaphors of biblical proportions. It’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the whole album- while plenty of the songs on this album showcase that the band is moving in a new direction, Snake Charmer manages to do it without having to rely on sounding like something they’ve done before.

Neighborhoods has more to offer than just taking cues from AVA and throwing in Mark and Travis for good measure. Natives is drawing many comparisons to the blink-182 classic, M+M's. I think that's hardly a good comparison to make; the lead guitar may sound kind of similar but there's no real relation past that. Natives is one of the faster, more straightforward rock numbers and features some of the best lyrics the band has ever written- "We'll have the time of our lives although we're dying inside" (perhaps a signal that things aren't as all patched up as the band claims? Or, since Mark sings the chorus, maybe it was written for the second +44 album that never came to be).

Heart’s All Gone, the first real “Mark” song on the album, is another fast one, recalling +44 songs such as When Your Heart Stops Beating and Lycanthrope. It sounds kind of like Bad Religion without all the vocal harmonies. More interesting, at least in terms of discussion, is the deluxe edition-only Heart’s All Gone Interlude, which is the second interlude that the band has featured on an album- the first being The Fallen Interlude from the band’s 2003 untitled release (in case you forgot). Whereas that song was its own entity, Heart’s All Gone Interlude is very specifically meant to be listened to in conjunction with Heart’s All Gone and it doesn't really stand as its own track. However, unlike The Fallen Interlude, it doesn’t sound out-of-place on the album- it’s a tad more mellow than the other songs up to that point, but it doesn’t completely switch genres completely to bridge the gap between the album’s first and second halves. Yet, since it does lead directly into Heart’s All Gone, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t just included in the pre-gap of its parent song. It certainly would make a less awkward transition when skipping around one’s music library on shuffle.

The second half of the album is where the band shows more ties to their previous material. Wishing Well and This Is Home are the catchiest songs on Neighborhoods. If the band were to try to record an Enema of the State: Part 2 at this point in their career, the songs would sound like this. They don’t actually sound like it would have fit on Enema of the State, but the playfulness of the two songs show that the band isn’t all about being grown up and showing maturity (in particular, the lyrics to Wishing Well are kind of nonsensical: “I reached for a shooting star/it burned a hole through my hand/and made its way through my heart/had fun in the promised land” but in spite of that it’s still a fun song and everything about it definitely screams “hit single”). This Is Home features a prominent synth and an infectious, stuttering chorus. It’s nice to hear Tom singing lighthearted songs once again.

And if the two aforementioned tracks are what the band would sound like if they recorded a sequel album to Enema, then Kaleidoscope and MH 4.18.2011 would both be at home on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket: Part 2. Kaleidoscope is another “Mark song” turned “Mark and Tom song” which features Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on the piano, while MH 4.18.2011 has the distinct pleasure of being a pure Mark Hoppus tune. The former re-lives the more somber tunes from Take Off Your Pants but manages to avoid being as sappy as songs like Story of a Lonely Guy, while the latter song uses the familiar energy to try a hand at writing songs about living in fear. Interestingly enough, both songs have lyrics that could be interpreted as a metaphor for the band getting back together. That’s just speculation, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed it.

Love Is Dangerous fits the stereotypical “last song on the album” structure so well that there’s no way that it was recorded without knowing that it would end the album. Not that it’s a bad song or anything, but it doesn’t exactly reach the same level of “album closure” that other album closers reach. It’s not an awful or cringe-worthy track, but there’s nothing really special about it and it’s much less interesting than most of the other songs.

Deluxe edition track, Fighting the Gravity, harkens back to the slower, more grinding +44 songs such as Weatherman. In fact, I think this song could be a sequel to Weatherman. That’s how much it reminds me of that song. Lyrically it’s one of the darkest songs the trio has ever written and its slow instrumentals complement the lyrics in creating a moody atmosphere. A very direct contrast to what the band is usually known for.

Usually bonus tracks and B-sides can be alright, but they’re left of the final version of the product because there’s just something about them that makes them subpar to the songs that are on the album. But sometimes the songs that get cut out from the standard editions wind up being better than songs that did make it. Even If She Falls is one of those songs. While some tracks on Neighborhoods take some cues from the band’s back catalogue, Even If She Falls is a classic blink-182 song. Just listen and you’ll understand.

Was it worth the wait? To some, without a doubt. To others, not at all. The haters will continue to hate (I hardly think that blink-182 wrote this album with pleasing their dissenters in mind anyway) and the new sounds will turn off some old fans, but I think they did a fine job of taking bits and pieces of their previous efforts and combining them with the sounds of their side projects and running forward with the result. Sure, maybe some will complain that there are too many “Tom songs” and others might say that the production sounds sloppy (it doesn’t really, Jerry Finn may have passed on (RIP) but Mark has produced a fair number of albums at this point and it sounds like he knows what he’s doing). There is a very obvious influence of Tom DeLonge's other project that can be heard on a number of songs and there are also hints of +44 and just a touch of Travis Barker's solo ventures into hip hop, however after a few listens it feels very much like a blink-182 album. And that’s exactly what it is.

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