New Album Brings An Unfamiliar Sound And Suggests More Grown Up Themes Than Its Predecessors
The notorious pop-punk band Blink-182 has released their ninth album—appropriately titled “NINE”—and based on everything we’ve heard so far, it seems promising that the new record will take the band in a new direction, one that is perhaps lighter on the punk and heavier on the pop aspect of their distinctive musical genre.
“NINE” includes fifteen new tracks from Blink, and they pre-released five of them to give listeners a taste of what is in store. The first song they put out, titled “Blame It On My Youth,” met mixed feedback from fans and critics for its somewhat synthesized sound. Subsequent releases—the explosive “Generational Divide,” the sing-along “Happy Days” and “Darkside,” and the gloomier “I Really Wish I Hated You”—are a bit more familiar sounding, but they still retain large traces of new-age music.
Of course, this is not the first time that Blink has changed-up their style. Since the San Diego band’s conception in 1992, they have gone through three different lineups and several different musical phases, each one bringing new influences into their unique sound.
The original lineup of guitarist Tom DeLonge, bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Scott Raynor played together on the band’s first three albums: “Buddah,” “Cheshire Cat,” and “Dude Ranch.” These records had a very raw punk sound with perverse lyrics. At the time, Blink sounded like kids making up dirty songs in their parents’ basement. It was fitting because, quite frankly, that is exactly what they were.
The band replaced Raynor with current drummer Travis Barker in 1998, and their subsequent albums had a new intensity. Because post-grunge had found a mainstream fanbase in the late 1990s, Blink also found more commercial success at this time. Their 1999 record, “Enema of the State” put them in the spotlight with hit songs such as “All The Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?” dominating radio and MTV. They continued with a similar pop-punk sound on their next album, “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket” before dabbling in more hardcore, introspective, and emo tracks on their following untitled album.
The band then had a hiatus and each member got involved with their own side-projects—Angels & Airwaves for DeLonge, +44 for Hoppus, and a slew of collaborations for Barker. When the group reunited in 2011, they brought these outside influences and experiences together in the studio, recording their versatile sixth album, “Neighborhoods.”
Sadly, “Neighborhoods” was Blink’s final collaboration with DeLonge—not including the short 2012 EP “Dogs Eating Dogs”—before the signature lead-singer took off to focus on Angels & Airwaves and form a paranormal investigation company called “To The Stars.” From this separation, however, emerged Matt Skiba, lead singer of Alkaline Trio, who stood in for DeLonge on guitar and vocals at Blink concerts and recorded the 2016 album “California” with Hoppus and Barker.
Despite the switch from DeLonge’s unmistakable nasally SoCal voice to Skiba’s milder Chicago vocals and clean-sounding guitar, “California” was very much a retro-album, recapturing the early 2000s punk rock vibes of “Enema of the State” and “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.” Most of the songs were energetic, simple, and familiar. All experimental material was left to the bonus tracks on the album’s deluxe version.
Blink highlighted “California’s” retro aspect with the album’s accompanying tour, where they shared the stage with other pop-punk bands from yester-decade such as The All-American Rejects, All Time Low, and A Day To Remember.
As soon as Blink returned to the studio, however, they claimed that their next project would be playing it far less safe and that they would be trying out some new tricks. This was further confirmed when Hoppus released the EP “Strange Love,” which was the product of a side-collaboration called Simple Creatures with All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth. The EP featured highly alternative tracks, which perhaps foreshadowed the direction that Hoppus would take Blink in.
Meanwhile, Blink also announced that their next tour would be featuring rapper Lil Wayne, whose music has a strikingly different and more modern appeal than that of the “California” tour’s opening acts. Recently, the band even released a remix of “What’s My Age Again?” meshed up with verses from Lil Wayne’s “A Millie.”
At the same time, though, this tour also marks the twenty-year anniversary of “Enema of the State.” Thus, Blink has been performing the album cover-to-cover at every show, displaying a huge respect for the old and a ray of nostalgia persevering into the new.
Perhaps this temporal mixture paints a picture of what we can expect from “NINE”—a strained attempt at balance between Blink’s past and the future. This is evident not only from the new songs’ styles, but from their lyrics and themes as well. While the songs from “California” suggested that the band was reliving their glory days, on “NINE” so far, Blink seems to be writing from an older perspective, looking back on the past and attempting to digest how things have changed.
“Blame It On My Youth” vaguely tells the story of the bands origin. Meanwhile, “Generational Divide,” ends with Skiba jadedly belting out, “I’m not the generational divide,” in a way that seems all but defensive. Then, “Happy Days” feels like Blink’s love song to the past, yearning in the chorus, “I wanna feel happy days… walls of isolation inside of my pain, and I don’t know if I’m ready to change.” While the song is upbeat in tempo and structure, its lyrics certainly suggest a touch of emotional uncertainty when it comes to the band’s rocky relationship with the ticking clock.
Some might argue that this new sound is not punk rock enough for Blink, and that they are straying too far from their roots. However, the paradox of punk rock is that it is a genre built upon generic defiance. Therefore, once conventional punk has become the expectation—as is the case here—perhaps the most punk thing a band can do is veer off in an entirely different musical direction. Blink becoming more alternative and entering a nebulous zone of unanticipated and genreless music is the ultimate break from any semantic constraints that may attempt to label and therefore restrain punk.
Then, of course, there is the absence of Tom to consider. Although DeLonge refuses to say that he is permanently gone from Blink, this is the band’s second album without him, showing that “California” was not a fluke and that there is no sign of a reunion in the near future. While most fans have come to accept Skiba as an addition to the band, for many, it is simply not Blink without Tom and his bratty, angst-filled pipes that distinguished the group from day one.
While the current lineup has come around to at least acknowledging Tom’s existence—Mark Hoppus now gives him shout outs before certain songs at shows—his absence on stage and in the studio remains an enormous elephant in the room. Tom’s inexact place in the band’s past and present will be one more detail for fans to consider while reading into “NINE,” as the band wistfully glances back in the rearview mirror, seeing how their family has changed over the years and doing their best to come to terms with this open-ended relationship.
It was twenty-two years ago when Blink released the hit song, “Dammit.” It its chorus, Mark Hoppus sings “Well I guess this is growing up.” At the time, Hoppus and DeLonge were in their early twenties. They were still playing alongside Scott Raynor and their rise to stardom was just beginning. Now, over two decades later, it seems that Blink-182 is still working to decipher what it means to grow up. From the five tracks we’ve heard so far, we reckon that “NINE” will be a testimony to this phase in the aging band members’ lives and careers. We look forward to what the album’s other ten songs have to say in that regard.
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