Blink-182 isn’t a band well-suited for maturity; they’re at their best when their tone is bratty and juvenile and their pop hooks are polished and massive. And like many rock acts who have awkwardly attempted to step into adulthood, Blink-182 leans too heavily on “prog” and gloomy images as substitutes for depth on Neighborhoods, their first studio album in eight years.
It’s not that the members of Blink-182 haven’t had opportunities to grow up over the last decade, given the series of difficult personal and professional catastrophes that have befallen them. It’s just that Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Travis Barker have never proven themselves particularly adept at writing songs of real introspection or insight: “Stay Together for the Kids” is the exception for Blink-182, not the rule. That deficiency makes the songwriting on Neighborhoods more than a little shallow at times. Lead single “Up All Night” finds DeLonge singing of “demons [that] keep me up all night,” but the song lacks specificity; at no point on the album does the trio give names to any of those alleged demons.
As a result, the dire tone of the album just reduces to strident posturing. The narrative of “Ghost on the Dancefloor” is dictated more by its rhyme scheme than by a purposeful story (“The kids are in a hurry/But I’m just full of fear/The lights make bodies blurry/It’s getting hard enough to hear”), while “Heart’s All Gone” turns on a kiss-off line (“You say you speak from your heart/But your heart’s all gone”) that has absolutely no impact whatsoever. While there’s something to be said for the fact that Hoppus, DeLonge, and Barker aren’t just trying to recreate the escapism of their youth, the songs on Neighborhoods speak to navel-gazing, adolescent angst rather than actual adult experiences. Because there’s none of the band’s trademark humor to temper the dead-serious approach, the album is just leaden and uninspired.
The risks that the trio takes in their performances don’t always help their cause. The layering of sounds in Barker’s percussion on “Ghost on the Dancefloor” is impressive, but the fact that his drumming is actually foregrounded in the mix both obscures the song’s melody and detracts from whatever effect the band was trying to achieve with the heavy reverb on DeLonge’s vocal track. The prog-inspired, arrhythmic instrumental bridge on “Kaleidoscope” simply sounds awkward and doesn’t cohere with the song’s otherwise straightforward three-chord structure. Even worse is “Love Is Dangerous,” which, with its bombastic lead guitar riffs, recalls the U2-aping bloat and suffocating sense of self-importance of DeLonge’s Angels & Airwaves side project.
When they try to add relatively ambitious elements to the things they actually do well, Blink-182 is more successful. “Snake Charmer” boasts an appropriately slinky bassline and a thundering drum section, and its refrain has the album’s catchiest hook. The arrangement of “Natives” is considerably heavier than what the band recorded on their earlier albums, but its bluster is still grounded in three-chord punk conventions, so it doesn’t exceed the band’s grasp. It’s admirable that Blink-182 tries to challenge themselves over the course of Neighborhoods, but their growing pains don’t make for a particularly good album or a welcome comeback.