This is Sound: Stockholm Syndrome Is Gone: A review of blink-182’s Neighborhoods (Deluxe Edition)

This is Sound: Stockholm Syndrome Is Gone: A review of blink-182’s Neighborhoods (Deluxe Edition)

By: James Cassar

In 1999, it was hard to distinguish one boy-band from the next. Although the Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC had their standout members (Nick Carter and Justin Timberlake, respectively), the rest of the groups tended to fade into the bubblegum background of lovelorn radio anthems and MTV airplay. The age of nu-metal had been ushered in with the likes of spell-check travesties Korn and Limp Bizkit dominating the adverse airwaves of overweight headbangers everywhere and angsty teenagers alike. Hip-hop also saw its way into the spotlight, with household name Eminem making a modest, soon explosive start with his crude yet cohesive Marshall Mathers LP, and Michigan began to clap their hands for their unsung microphone maestro. One genre remained untapped. Although the rock n’ roll supergroup the Foo Fighters released a tight collection of songs at the tail-end of the year, there wasn’t a middle ground for anyone looking for the accessibility of pop, the angstiness of nu-metal and rap, and the earnest musicality of rock n’ roll.

Although blink-182’s MCA debut Enema of the State proved to stretch the definition of ‘earnest musicality’ to the breaking point, the factors that borrowed from other popular genres remained. To this day, hit singles “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?” are still transmitted across the airwaves worldwide today, and the rediscovery of the turbulent “Adam’s Song” also shed light on the band’s darker, more thoughtful side that would eventually transform their sound two albums later.
2001 brought another jovial pop-punk record straight from the mountain of jaunty juvenilia, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Toilet humor remained a staple in this record’s sound as their entire discography thus far had embraced the immature, loose lyrics that had brought them into infamous territory with furious soccer moms. Propelled by the success of “First Date” and “The Rock Show”, the trio embarked on several world tours, including the Pop Disaster Tour with genre pioneers Green Day and Jimmy Eat World, and the frugal Dolla Bill Tour with post-ska stadium rockers No Doubt. After the shenanigans of being rock stars had taken their toll on the band, life set in, and so did the mature themes that alienated them from their complacent, candy-coated childishness.
Recorded in the wake of guitarist’s Tom DeLonge and mega-superstar drummer Travis Barker’s solemn side-project Box Car Racer, blink-182’s untitled record dropped in November 2003, nearly four years after “Adam’s Song” hit radio turntables. Gapless, humorless, and accompanied with an iconic smiley-face logo, 2003 saw the resurgence of the band’s dark tone, with sprinkles of genre-bending design (the 80s ode “Always” is a throwback to the ethereal synths and layered guitars of The Cure with lyrics that channel a poppier Joy Division) and the earnest musicianship I alluded to earlier (the lustful vibes of “Feeling This” start off the album’s central theme of a dying relationship, with the searching, lovelorn underscoring of “I’m Lost Without You” leaving the listener with the ruddy shrapnel of a broken heart). Despite this dramatic change in direction, blink-182 still retained their antics live, with a tongue-in-cheek countenance that rivals the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fiery, fanatical stage presence.
Alas, every good thing must end. Bolstered by the sudden magnitude of fatherhood (all three members’ wives bore children within two years of 2003’s record), the band canceled a string of overseas tour dates, and eventually, the clamor of DeLonge’s personal problems caused in the strained dissolution of the trio. Music was still produced from all members of the band despite the ‘posthumous’ Greatest Hits singles repackaging in 2005. DeLonge brought the world the arena-rock project Angels & Airwaves with former members of The Offspring and 30 Seconds to Mars rounding out the roster. Barker and Hoppus channeled early efforts of their former band (think 1997’s modest success Dude Ranch) as well as the boisterous energy of their contemporaries with (+44).Both bands enjoyed moderate success, but those who heard the albums pummel through their earbuds constantly wondered when the sometimes irreverent, sometimes introspective trio from Poway, California would return – if that day came.
Then, tragedy hit. The Learjet crash that was seen around the world – well, at least in select issues of Alternative Press and the pop-punk blogosphere – claimed the life of DJ Adam Goldstein – known simply as DJ AM, Barker’s close friend (he was also in the crash, sustaining several injuries). In the disaster’s wake, contact began to resurface, and so did the almost-familial bonds that formed tightly around music and the incessant need to consistently improve on their sound they learned from the best to make it sincerely their own.
As if the music gods channeled prayers, the trusty defenders of pop-punk reconvened and formally made it official that they’d be making music again at the 2009 Grammy Awards. A reunion tour with their apprentices Fall Out Boy and Taking Back Sunday proved wildly successful, selling out in hotspot regions around the globe. Regardless of their live performances being revitalized and all the fan favorites being rehashed 2009 style – no new songs were unveiled on this circuit.
That hiatus from hightailing it into new musical territory broke free from its constricting chains this summer. Bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus on his illustrious Twitter feed (@markhoppus) revealed the first single from the then-untitled LP would be released on the airwaves of California juggernaut KROQ in mid-July. The radio delivered the break in the silence. ”Up All Night,” the anthemic leadoff single, delivered a taste of Neighborhoods that whet the appetite of both casual fans and seasoned Blink veterans (like myself, I confess) that no paltry sideproject could transmit.
And so here it is: the history vs. the new chapter. Is it as legendary as the pop-punk gods forecasted, or is it just a thorn in the side of blink’s relatively flawless discography?
(Note: This is a comprehensive review of the ‘deluxe’ edition of the album that features different artwork, three bonus tracks, and a re-ordered track listing.)
Neighborhoods marks the first album of new material from our friends clad in beanies and boardshorts since the maturity showcased in the untitled disc. That’s almost a decade of silence from pop-punk’s flagship trio – but Neighborhoods wastes no time with an exposition.
Track by track breakdown
The opener, “Ghost on the Dance Floor” channels Angels & Airwaves’ spacey synths and the simple, clean guitar downstrums. While DeLonge heads the vocals for this song, the harmonies that served as contagious earworms in blink-182’s battalion of battled energy are intact.
”Natives” serves as a hormonally-muted sequel to 2003’s single ”Feeling This,” with the unbridled force of the predecessor coalescing with a heavily-catchy, yet dark chorus that showcases Hoppus’ polarizing vocal range in comparison to DeLonge’s abrasive yelps.
“Up All Night” – the single – showcases Barker’s powerful drumming caliber with a beat that is more ska that skate-punk, and the instrumentation sounds more off a Fireworks release than anything else, with hardcore roots that mirror the angst and power of a fellow trio – of the Alkaline variety.
“After Midnight” – released free to the Internet given success at a remarkably frustrating online game – has one of the strongest choruses on the album. ”We’ll stagger home after midnight / Sleep arm-in-arm in the stairwell / we’ll fall apart on the weekend / these nights go on and on and on.” Coupled with Barker’s hip-hop-infused backbeat and DeLonge’s consistent guitar chugs similar to Green Day’s radio-rock staple ”Brain Stew,” it’s easily peggable as the second single.
“Snake Charmer” is a dramatic retelling of the fall of Eden. It’s unlike anything else on the album, with an overreaching narrative that rivals the storytelling of The Wonder Years – but the absence of Mark Hoppus’ influence on this track leaves me a little on the disappointed side, despite the heavy but welcome reliance on a heavily-effected electronic interlude.
“Heart’s All Gone” receives an interlude that totally contrasts with the energy of the track. This isn’t necessarily a poor choice, as its juxtaposition next to a skate-punk standard is jarring and unique, but at the same time, holding a tone that mirrors everything that preceded it, the interlude is almost an unnecessary addition to the tracklist. The song, however, a punk-rocker from the playbook of Pennywise is something that hardcore fans can truly appreciate, with Mark Hoppus’ rapid-fire pacing and ‘girl-gone-bad’ lyricism is reminiscent of their first record, Cheshire Cat, a 1996 underground CD.
“Wishing Well” could very well have found its way on an Angels & Airwaves album, but its pop-rock structure and sing-a-long chorus is more Simple Plan than Smashing Pumpkins and more Bodyjar than Bloc Party, and its inclusion on Neighborhoods is welcome for those who miss the charming innocence of their earlier releases.
“Kaleidoscope” is my favorite song on the album (although by reviewer bias, you could say I love every track). The lyrics were leaked in early form by Hoppus on his Facebook account, and their poetic earnesty channel the urgency of emo pioneers Lifetime but DeLonge’s warranted wailing on the uptempo chorus transports the listener back into familiar, yet far-reaching territory with the continuation of the theme of remaining true to your gut – and not anyone else….which everyone at Tuscarora could take a hint from.
“This Is Home” is yet another radio-friendly rocket, launching off with the melodious texture of modulated synths and a vocal melody that Man Overboard wishes they could pen. It’s an uptempo song perfect for summer….a little too late on the timing, guys. But, good job nonetheless – you’ve got me tapping my foot.
”MH 4.18.2011” hides some deep prose within a shell that even fans of My Chemical Romance can appreciate (it seems fitting that MCR and blink are co-headlining the annual Honda Civic Tour together). ”Stop living the shadow of a helicopter,” Hoppus suggests, fighting off the consistent themes of alienation and conformity that plague the record thus far.
“Love Is Dangerous” is a shiner as well. (This is where the regular edition of the album ends, in case you were wondering.) With a drumbeat that’s similar to ”Up All Night,” Hoppus and DeLonge handle vocal melodies perfectly, while spacey synths a la ”Always” lull the listener into a tale that the title forecasts. The track ends with Travis pumping out a military-style beat with a symphony of pre-programmed drum machines and downtuned guitars closing out the ethereal Neighborhoods.
Bonus Tracks – ”Fighting the Gravity” is sluggish and weird, reminiscent of a deep cut from Depeche Mode’s back catalog, but ”Even If She Fails” is straight from 2001, with an opening riff that screams summer drives….or hoodie weather, depending on your preference. A definite charmer.
THE VERDICT – although it’s probably obvious
Neighborhoods was worth the wait. Granted, the bespectacled handsome columnist wears the blink-182 wristband from Hot Topic more than a smile, and his proudly-worn band tee has shrunk to the size of a six-year old’s favorite top; I’m a huge fan of blink-182 – all aspects of the band make my day. I was a little apprehensive reviewing this album because Angels & Airwaves wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and their influence shows liberally on the record. That unfortunate truth aside, it’s refreshing to know that the trio never abandoned the roots that made them so fantastic. Welcome back. It’s a great day in the neighborhood.
 
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