Published Sep 18, 2019After years of uncertainty and a seemingly unthinkable yet inevitable member shakeup, it was a bit of a surprise when Blink-182 — a band more than a decade past its peak popularity and without formative member Tom DeLonge — returned in 2016 with California, a quasi-comeback album that was actually… pretty good? But the deluxe edition and its 11 wisely cut bonus tracks showed just how close they were to total disaster — and with their eighth studio album NINE, they've gone sailing right off the edge of that cliff.
It starts out fine with "The First Time" (following in the footsteps of "Feeling This") and "Happy Days," two typical Blink-182 songs. But soon, "Heaven" tests your commitment with a sappy rock ballad, and "Darkside" takes a turn for the worse, imagining what 5 Seconds of Summer would be like if they were still in middle school. Then they seal their fate with "Blame It on My Youth," which essentially recasts K'Naan's "Wavin' Flag" as a white boy skater anthem for those with Peter Pan syndrome. Like California, the album includes two token "punk" mini-tracks, trotted out like a fun novelty and a reminder that they're still cool dudes. Yet those combined two minutes are more palatable than the rest of the album, which ranges from bland to embarrassing.
Back in 2003, Blink showed that they did have a well-placed artistic vision and the ability to carry out a serious, mature effort. But after the mess of Neighborhoods and the shallow redemption of California, this band is tapped dry of good ideas and is regressing into prepubescent impulses dressed up with glossy, arena-pop production from John Feldmann. It's full of clumsily used hip-hop and EDM elements from the worst instincts of Travis Barker (see "Run Away" and "Black Rain"); the vocal processing on Matt Skiba is glitchy and obvious; Mark Hoppus can't decide if he's writing for the kids or as a kid, churning out corny, melodramatic musings ripped from a high-school diary.
It's not that after 30 years, Blink-182 have nothing left to say. On this record, Hoppus has focused on his struggle with depression, and its exacerbation by the constant connectivity of our times. But there have got to be ways for a 47-year-old to sing about depression and empathize with teens who may be struggling with it themselves without acting like he is one of those teens. These are guys in middle age who are writing like they're 15 years old.
One of the album's worst offenders in both music and lyrics, "I Really Wish I Hated You" chooses as its subject the same toxic, dependent post-breakup man-child from "Hotline Bling," but with twice the earnestness and a fraction of the charm. The stretch from "Pin the Grenade" to "On Some Emo Shit" (which is… a title) ought to be enough to please devotees, but just barely. Presumably, NINE also has an audience with people whose favourite musical groups are Twenty One Pilots, Imagine Dragons and recent Linkin Park, but that is some bleak company to keep. At least fellow ex-pop-punkers Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco had the decency to write a banger or two with confidence and (some) competence.
NINE reeks of adolescence — and not in the goofy, humorous way of Blink-182's past, but in a cringe-y attempt at youthful angst. There are no slyly couched bits of wisdom, no life lessons learned between goof-ups and heartbreak, and it's altogether too earnest and self-serious to even be enjoyed as carefree fun. Blink-182 have always been intentionally juvenile, but in growing up and out of punk rock, they've never been more immature. (Columbia)