Review Summary: Dammit.
There’s something going on here. This isn’t a Blink-182 album as I understood the term. To me, a Blink-182 album always seemed playful. Even the last record, which found maturity cracking through the pop-counterculture artificiality of the Mark, Tom, and Travis show, claimed adolescence. But Neighborhoods
is an album from Blink-182 that, post-divorce and post-reconciliation, escapes the cultural trope of Blink-182. While heyday peers cling to trends that’ve long since died, Blink explore, not so much shedding their image as they are disinterested in reclaiming it. Which isn’t to say this album is a radical departure; the old Blink is still bouncing away in Neighborhoods
, with big crunchy power chords and Travis beating out impeccable pop beats. But they’ve aged. The way they were intimate, the way they invented overwrought relationships and sung them only to us, that’s gone, and in its place is non-committal ambiguity, a request for us to color in sketches of romance and suburbia with our own experience rather than a more direct pandering to nostalgia.
So there’s that; by not rehashing the Blink-182 of yore, they mind the lessons of 21st Century Breakdown
, Taking Back Sunday
, and other interchangeably terrible records from the scores of pop punks riding the coattails of faded glory. Neighborhoods
is certainly the most ambitious Blink-182 album, both musically and politically. Whereas Blink-182 have hitherto written from a very identifiably personal place, here, they turn their sights outward, singing to literally everyone. On lead single “Up All Night,” generalities like “everyone falls and spins and gets up again with a friend who does the same” take the focus, while “you” appears only as a personality-free audience surrogate in the vapid chorus: “let me get this straight, do you want me here as I struggle through each and every year?” How these lines relate is irrelevant; the lyrics succeed in being pleasant sounding clichés whose meaning is obvious, as if Blink crafted the least complicated thing in a misguided attempt to speak for others instead of themselves. (That or it's just lazy songwriting, but giving the benefit of the doubt...)
It’s possible and borderline giving Tom way too much credit to argue that this all-inclusiveness is part of an Arcade Fire-esque reimagining of the band as zeitgeist poets, but should that be the case, Neighborhoods
is less The Suburbs
than it is 30 Second to Mars’ This is War
: superficial and trite, also with the reverb pushing everything to the stars and subsequently to shit
. Tom’s fascination with making songs sound like they’re being performed on a mountain or something carries over to Neighborhoods
, exposing the band's desire to make important
music. This isn't a problem in itself, but it's constantly undermined by his reliance on tactless platitudes. On “This is Home,” over gallons of dream-pop synth ooze, Tom lets out “Let’s dance in perfect harmony,” and on “Love is Dangerous,” he actually sings “Love is dangerous” with a straight face. Unabashedly sentimental, he sounds as he did with Angels and Airwaves: inflated, a base romantic with a huge sense of self importance.
And that’s a little bit how Neighborhoods
feels: super serious, yet always a bit false. Mark brings some crucial levity to the mix with his stronger tracks (it’s a testament to old-fashioned plain-speaking that the record’s most endearing power-pop gem is titled “MH 4.18.2011”), but even his spry pop sensibility gets consumed by the record’s ambition. The reverb that buoys Tom’s comet-riding space symphonies neuters Mark, tempering his energy by moving him far away. Not that the only thing “Heart’s All Gone” and “Natives” needed to be fantastic was some bullshit
-free production, but it sure could’ve helped their hooks stick a little more. It’s true enough that Neighborhoods
is the most musically nuanced Blink-182 record; well-placed interludes and layered song structures are certainly the most positive side effects of their growth. But these songs lack distinguishing characteristics. They all sort of do the same thing to the same end, and the record blurs together into sugary emptiness.
I will grant them this, however: even with the misguided conceit, lyrical drivel and failed sonic bombast, there’s something charming about Neighborhoods
. It still sucks, obviously, but there’s something in how it sucks, how it wants to be something much bigger than it is, that’s endearing. Sure, it’s meaningless. But of all the things they lost in the divorce, Blink-182 didn’t forget how to be catchy. The last song on the album, “Even If She Falls,” takes on Neighborhoods
’ desperate sincerity but applies it to what is traditionally their home-run subject- falling in love- and sells it with an achingly simplistic naivety. It’d be nice if all of the clichés Blink-182 sell nowadays could feel so real. Or they could write something other than sentimental clichés, which would really be awesome, but I doubt we’ll get so lucky. As it stands, we have Neighborhoods
, large and vapid, every bit an inconsistent mess as it is a guilty pleasure. It’s nice to hear Blink-182 hasn’t changed much.