September 28, 2011

Test Spins: blink-182, Neighborhoods

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Neighborhoods, blink-182’s latest album since its self-titled record in 2003, has finally arrived to the elation of dedicated fans. After the band announced its unexpected hiatus in 2005, blink fans were perturbed with speculations and rumors, questioning whether their beloved 90s punk-rock band would ever reunite. But in 2009, the trio arrived at the 51st Grammy Awards to announce that it would indeed come together for its sixth studio album. The much awaited album has arrived, but the fans who expect to hear blink’s renowned juvenile tenor might be disappointed to hear the band’s progression into a melodramatic sound.

Given the series of personal and professional cataclysms that have befallen the trio since their acrimonious split, it is no wonder that the new album has replaced the group’s youthful humor and angst-ridden themes with those of depression and loss. In the past eight years, Travis Barker (drummer) survived a plane crash that killed four and lost his close friend DJ AM to drug overdose, the trio lost its producer and friend, Jerry Finn, due to a brain aneurysm, and the band’s professional solo projects did not gain as much attention as hoped (except for Barker’s). As a result, this album mirrors the band’s musical and emotional growth since their trademark days of the 90s.

The album opener, “Ghost On the Dance Floor,” is a slightly nostalgic anthem with up-tempo chord progressions akin to “First Date” off of blink’s 2001 album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Despite the added synth, it is a typical blink-182 opener, featuring Barker’s impressive drum fills, Mark Hoppus’s vocal melodies, and Tom Delonge’s catchy guitar riffs. The next song, “Natives,” is probably the only song on the album that will satisfy archetypal 90s blink fans. Delonge’s speedy opening guitar riff will remind fans of songs like “Dumpweed,” while Hoppus’s and Delonge’s signature back-and-forth vocals will bring fans back to blink’s 2003 hit, “Feeling This.”

The band’s recent side projects have wedged their way into this album – Delonge proudly infuses sounds from his side project Angels and Airwaves (AVA) throughout. Because of Delonge’s recent struggle with addiction to painkillers, his vocals repeatedly carry undertones of self-seriousness. His airy and emotive voice heard in AVA is noticable on almost every track while his bandmates play the contrasting sounds of their own joint side project, +44. This incongruity is especially present on the album’s first single, “Up All Night.” The song’s ambitious and grungy sound is engaging, but is offset by Delonge’s atmospheric melodies which draw largely from his dabbling with auto-tune in AVA.

Meanwhile, new sounds are continuously introduced in Neighborhoods. The purely instrumental, opaque keyboard in “Heart’s All Gone Interlude” and the series of layered synths in “This is Home” contribute to the album’s versatile sound. “Fighting the Gravity” is indubitably the album’s most experimental track; Delonge’s vocals create another eerie ambiance while Hoppus’ innovative bass lines stand out amidst the song’s supernatural atmosphere.

Lyrically, the band showcases its newfound maturity. The entire album consists of upbeat rhythms juxtaposed against dark lyrics that lament the aforementioned tragedies and the general malaise of middle-aged desperation: “Hold on, the worst is yet to come / Save your money for hired guns / Hold strong when everything you loved is gone / Slow down and stop living in the shadow of a helicopter.”

While about half of the album pays homage to the original blink-182 sound, the other half may be too experimental for some fans. However, Neighborhoods is an achievement in and of itself since it is an album that many fans did not think would happen. So give it a spin — it may bring you back to age thirteen all over again.

Original Author: Allison Vitkauskas