Review Summary: Sounds like Neighborhoods, but exceeds it.
When 'Neighborhoods' was released more than a year ago, there was a feeling that Blink-182 had, in their half-decade hiatus, transformed completely from brat-punk heroes to polished pop-punk musicians. Some heralded the transition as the maturation of three extremely talented musicians, others as an unnecessary move away from what people knew and loved from Blink-182 on 'Dude Ranch' and before.
'Dogs Eating Dogs' is, without doubt, a continuation of Neighborhoods' trend both sonically and topically. There's only five tracks, so there's little in the way of a narrative or theme and the EP ends up being a collection of some rather good songs and nothing more. 'When I Was Young' essentially begins the record in the same vein that 'Ghosts on the Dancefloor' began 'Neighborhoods'. It's upbeat and poppy, and the chorus injects a certain drama into a fairly fun song. Even here, there's an indicator that Delonge might just dominate this record. Unfortunately for many Blink fans, it's the new, serious, refined Tom. 'When I Was Young' and the rest of the Tom-driven parts of this EP are good in an epic, unsurprisingly AVA sort of way, but it certainly isn't the same Tom that was so prominent in the 90s.
However, as has always been Blink's strength, the best parts of this EP come when Delonge and Hoppus are quite obviously working together harmoniously in terms of vocals and songwriting. 'Disaster' combines soaring Delonge verses with near-sinister refrains that sound unmistakably Hoppus. 'Disaster' is a very good 'new-Blink' song, but there are few of the classic trademarks from 'TOYPAJ' and before.
The first three tracks on 'Dogs' are good, but not great. Fortunately, the final two songs are some of the best that Blink have released in many years. There seems to be no better exponents of stripped back power-pop-acoustic-harmony songwriting than Blink 182, and 'Boxing Day' is possibly the most accessible and genuinely likable song that Blink have offered since before their self-titled album. It's non-threatening but original with deliciously melancholy lyrics that seem to be a better-written version of George Michael's 'Last Christmas'.
Similarly, 'Pretty Little Girl' is a wonderfully constructed song, and sounds like an Angels and Airwaves song that's been given just a bit more of an edge through Hoppus' and Barker's input to capture a catchy and spacious mood. Undoubtedly, the rap verse is Barker's influence, but it almost fits. It certainly leaves a worringly Linkin Park-esque taste in the mouth, but the emotion captured in it means it nearly works.
It's true that 'Dogs' sounds a bit too much like 'Neighborhoods', but its strength is that it's less produced, less polished and more heartfelt. Where 'Neighborhoods' felt pressured and rushed with turbulent struggles between side-projects threatening to derail the album, 'Dogs' fits them all in place nicely. Delonge's space-rock is perhaps too evident and feels overdone, but Hoppus and Barker (who delivers a typically excellent drumming performance) offset this with imaginative musicianship and songwriting. There's little for a classic 90s Blink fan to enjoy, but the direction that 'Dogs Eating Dogs' signals for the future of the band is very, very positive. They're clearly winding up for an epic follow-up. Hopefully they get it right.
Pretty Little Girl