The Lowdown: To say that San Diego pop-punkers Blink-182 have undergone myriad monumental changes would be an understatement. Following the release of the trio’s 2003 self-titled record, Blink-182 announced a hiatus. Vocalist-guitarist Tom DeLonge founded Angels & Airwaves while vocalist-bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker started +44.
However, the trio made their return to the scene with their 2011 comeback album, Neighborhoods, only to have DeLonge exit the group again to pursue extraterrestrial endeavors. Unwilling to let Blink-182 dissolve, Hoppus and Barker continued under the alias and recruited Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba to replace DeLonge. Now, with two albums under this lineup’s belt, the trio’s eighth LP, NINE, assures fans that Blink is here to stay, for better or worse.
The Good: Although NINE falters in comparison to Blink-182’s more seminal works, such as Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, Travis Barker maintains his reputation as the best drummer in pop-punk. He showcases his rhythmic creativity in the intro of “Pin the Grenade,” making clever use of every facet of the kit. On the album’s punkiest track, “Generational Divide”, Barker’s rapid-fire pace and busy fills recall “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” and “Heart’s All Gone”. Barker aside, Hoppus and Skiba know how to write an infectious chorus designed to never leave your head, sometimes to a fault. Nearly each of the record’s 15 tracks is instantly recognizable after just a handful of listens.
The California trio skillfully combine both pop and punk on “Ransom”, a short track that opens with Hoppus’ Auto-Tuned vocals and a reverb-drenched guitar hook reminiscent of The xx. The dreamy facade collapses in the second half with distortion and Barker’s boisterous drumming. Blink-182 are the poppiest they’ve ever been on NINE, but the way they completely subvert expectations on “Ransom” makes for an interesting blend of genres.
The Bad: Returning from his production work on NINE’s predecessor, California, John Feldmann of ska-punks Goldfinger leaves his signature stamp of hyper-compression. The only difference is that this time Tim Pagnotta is partly responsible, too. Consequently, most of the record comes off as obnoxious and overly bright despite its darker thematic material. This generous use of compression negatively affects some of the singles, such as “Blame It on My Youth”, which more closely resembles 5 Seconds of Summer than it does Blink-182. The track’s saccharine chorus contradicts Blink’s intentions of making a more mature record. NINE is also by far the band’s poppiest effort, nearly eschewing the punkier sounds that established them. Making a pop record isn’t an inherent criticism, but it’s rather the stereotypical melodies and songwriting that make this LP stumble.
NINE also features some of Blink-182’s most forgettable lyrics. The second track, “Happy Days”, centers on Hoppus’ battles with depression and how he overcomes them. Though darker motifs are an interesting change for a band once known for half-baked jokes about blow-jobs and bestiality, “Happy Days”’ lyrics verge on unoriginality (“We faced all of our demons/ We chased all of our dreams and/ Don’t know where it leads us/ We don’t care at all”). “I Really Wish I Hated You” simply repeats “Won’t you say something?” in the chorus, reflecting the most elementary form of emotional intelligence instead of memorable poignancy. The opening track, “The First Time”, sounds like a nearly complete replica of “Feeling This”, complete with flanged drums and octave guitar chords in the same key. But rather than conjuring nostalgia, it’s a reminder of the indelible songwriting Blink-182 were once known for.
The Verdict: Blink-182’s second album with Matt Skiba is ultimately subpar, weighed down by stereotypical lyrics and cloying choruses. Producers John Feldmann and Tim Pagnotta’s heavy use of compression makes NINE as in-your-face as possible, not giving the songs the necessary breathing room to develop without overproduction. With the band currently on tour in support of the 20th anniversary of Enema of the State, it shows that the most interesting thing about Blink-182 right now is their past.
Essential Tracks: “Pin the Grenade”, “Generational Divide”, and “Ransom”