Review Summary: That awkward moment when Blink's new album actually turns out to be good...
Anticipation for its release may have surpassed fever pitch, but Neighborhoods still arrives as one of 2011's most unexpected triumphs. Lets be honest, we all thought that this would suck, and not without reason; the three members haven't exactly covered themselves in glory since parting company six years ago, and as with the majority of reformed bands there was always the nagging question as to whether anyone would actually still care. The response which met the various taster tracks unleashed earlier this year confirmed that Blink do indeed remain a relevant force, but the general feeling among fans was that this album would prove a dismal failure rather than a jubilant return. It didn't bode well.
Somehow, though, they've managed to pull the whole thing off. In fact, listening to Neighborhoods, it's difficult to believe that it's an album made by three individuals who have spent six independent years exploring their own musical passages, such is the seamless nature in which they've rebooted. Yes, Tom Delonge's voice has deteriorated to the point where some of his vocal parts are cringe inducing, but that's really the only noticeable difference in a band who sound remarkably functional and as a result have produced a record which has their established blueprint stamped all over it. It picks up precisely where they left off with 2003's self-titled release, the point where they finally abandoned the juvenile toilet humour which had clogged their earlier releases and adopted a more melodic musical pallet - a sensible move from a band whose members are rapidly approaching their fourties.
Maturity hasn't concealed their writing nous, though, and as ever it's their knack of delivering hooks that provides this album with it's primary strength. In fact, they even show forward progress in that particular area, with this being perhaps the most consistent set of songs they've laid down in their entire career. True there aren't really and unifying moments of unanimous brilliance like 'All The Small Things' or 'Feeling This,' but there are nevertheless a handful of tracks which wouldn't seem out of place alongside those classics on a best-of compilation. 'After Midnight' for instance is typical of latter period Blink, with a wonderful riff reverberating during the verses and a chorus which is lit up by one of Mark Hoppus' distinctive vocal lines. Really, the only obvious misstep is lead single 'Up All Night,' which in truth would probably be a highlight were it not dragged down by the wild bursts of aggression which seem completely out of place.
The fact that that perfectly passable song represents Neighborhoods least advisable moment does, however, display just how far the record has exceeded expectations. No, it isn't the best Blink album ever, but not even their most fanatical followers expected that, and the fact that it nestles in nicely alongside the rest of their discography quality-wise represents a depth which many dared not hope for. Their best years may be well behind them, but it's refreshing that a band many thought lost can still pull the stops, and although 2011 has seen better pop-punk releases, Neighborhoods surely comes as the year's most pleasant surprise.