Today is September 20, 2011, and there is a new Blink-182 record in existence.
1,096 days. That’s exactly three years and one day.
That’s how long it’s been since Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and close friend Adam Goldstein managed to escape a flaming Learjet 60 crash site in South Carolina with severe injures. They were the only survivors of the crash.
That incident is credited as the event that brought Blink-182 back together. For the first time since 2005, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Barker were communicating with each other. Much larger and prominent than the sequence of events that tore them apart, the tragedy held enough weight for them to realize they wanted to spend time together, rather than stay apart with bad blood between them.
“We used to play music together,” Barker declared on stage at the 51st Grammy Awards, “and we decided we’re going to play music together again.”
Blink-182’s website had more to say about the most hyped reunion of the last decade: “To put it simply, We’re back. We mean, really back. Picking up where we left off and then some. In the studio writing and recording a new album. Preparing to tour the world yet again. Friendships reformed.”
That was two years, seven months and 12 days ago. For those who are curious, that’s 956 days and somewhere around 22,946 hours depending on what time you’re reading this.
There will probably be people who are angry because it took Blink-182 that long to make a record. Those people will probably say that the band “did the reunion the wrong way,” or something along those lines. Here’s what I know: Right now, it’s September 20, 2011, and a new Blink-182 record exists.
The result of the group’s turbulent half-decade is Neighborhoods, their first full-length release since the famed 2003 self-titled record. “Turbulent” may be an understatement – perhaps we should employ “disastrous” or some other adjective to convey the fact that life hasn’t been easy at all for the Mark, Tom and Travis Show. On that 2003 self-titled album, Blink ditched the dick jokes (kind of) and the pop-punk-centric sound that brought them millions of fans and immeasurable success. The sonic leap in sound between Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and the self-titled record is not something that I need to document.
But after the band parted ways in 2005, Hoppus and Barker formed a dance-y pop-punk group and DeLonge formed a space-y, grand rock band. It’s safe to say that no one had any real idea what Neighborhoods would sound like. We never knew whether the self-titled was just a departure from Blink’s normal pop-punk, or if they would have progressed more in the direction of their 2003 release.
The words that people will use to describe Neighborhoods most will be “dark” and “bleak” and other similar adjectives, and those are all accurate. Now, much more than in 2003, the dark lyrics and serious faces make sense for Blink-182. Certainly, the band will still make jokes about genitals. They will still entertain the masses. Life goes on, after all. But they have been through tragedies – deaths of close friends; near-death experiences of band-mates; friendships that were torn apart and suddenly stitched back together. Just the name of opening track “Ghost on the Dance Floor” sets the mood fittingly – Neighborhoods isn’t a pop-punk record, it’s not a space-age rock record – it’s an expulsion, it’s a form of release, it’s a destructive outburst, and it is an absolute gem of an album. On that opening song, DeLonge takes over and sings with his strained vocals, “I saw your ghost tonight / The moment felt so real” … “I felt your ghost tonight / And God it felt like hell / To know you’re almost mine.”
The next track, “Natives,” despite its upbeat tempo and flickering guitar line, chimes in with more of the same in the lyrical department. This time, Hoppus takes the lead with his familiar tone when he delivers, “I’m just a waste of your time / Maybe I’m better off dead.” From the ominous first single “Up All Night” (“And all these demons / They keep me up all night”) to the most pop-punk track “Heart’s All Gone” (“Let’s drink ourselves to death”), almost every track on Neighborhoods is burdened with some form of sadness.
Musically, the record is perhaps the most ideal mix of +44, the electric-tinged, catchy pop-punk side project of Hoppus and Barker, and the space-age time-continuum vortex-rock of DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves. Surely, there will be people who hate some of these songs before they even hear them. They will say that “Up All Night” is too AVA and “Heart’s All Gone” or “Kaleidoscope” are too +44. Where is the Blink-182?
Well, let’s consider again that we never confirmed how Blink actually left us. Were we supposed to hear more of the self-titled, or expect “a return to form?”
As Mark, Tom and Travis (gulp) grew up, they each explored their own various forms of musical expression. What we’re hearing is not Angels and Airwaves or +44 or anything Barker did in his solo work – we’re hearing the sum of those wholes. We’re hearing thenew Blink-182, and it is decidedly a better version of the band that wrote the self-titled album. Neighborhoods, if played right after the self-titled record, doesn’t seem like a huge leap. It seems like a fairly logical progression, and we’re lucky enough to witness the combined efforts of three men who explored different forms of expression, then came back to create something together again – each improved in their own right.
“After Midnight” is instantly a classic Blink-182 song, while the sequence between “Snake Charmer,” the interlude and “Heart’s All Gone” is a triumph in the musicianship department. Those few songs mark the end of the first half of the 14-track deluxe version. The first half of the album is, predictably, laden with the first single “Up All Night” and soon-to-be single “After Midnight” as well as the instantly accessible “Heart’s All Gone.”
Meanwhile, the next sequence is where the record cements itself as a home run for the group. “Wishing Well” and “This Is Home” feature Tom DeLonge sounding like he is having more fun singing into a microphone than he has had since “First Date.” They sandwich “Kaleidoscope,” which is the sort of song that fans who prefer Hoppus’ vocals will swoon over. “Heart’s All Gone” is the high-energy pop-punk track we all wanted – and probably needed – on this album, while “MH 4.18.2011” is another Hoppus-led banger. In the case of this oddly sequenced deluxe version of the record, it’s probably the only way to go. The sequencing is much more impressive, while the 10-track normal version leaves out “Fighting The Gravity” and “Even If She Falls” – a pair of impressive, slightly offbeat tracks.
Whether it was “the right way” or not, all of the days that we have waited for Neighborhoods have been well worth it. It’s been seven years and 10 months since Blink-182 released its self-titled record. If every nearly eight-year absence will spawn a great record like Neighborhoods, I think it’s safe to say that I’d be willing to encounter the wait again.