With newest member Matt Skiba writing and singing, and Tom Delonge exiled to Angels & Airwaves (& aliens), blink-182’s newest album brings the completely band into a new era. This is not the same artist that was one of the biggest bands at the turn of the millenium, and here’s the thing: they’re not trying to be.
Don’t go into this album expecting the next Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. You’re going to be disappointed. Like I said, that time is gone. NINE takes off largely where their last effort in California left off. My inability to remember anything from California says everything I need to know about that album. Blink saw the route Fall Out Boy went down with Mania and followed plenty of synths, plenty of production, vocal layers for days. Of course, Blink doesn’t go all the way down this road.
For the good, some of the experimentation the band does pays off. The mix in “Black Rain” is intense, driving, and the slightest bit nocturnal. The choruses in “Run Away” and “Hungover You” are some of the best they’ve done since 2011’s Neighborhoods. “Generational Divide” and “Ransom” have some great energetic and pulse-pounding outros, making the entire album almost worth buying. In those songs, you can still hear Travis Barker beat the drum set into submission, his personality bursting with every fill. He has not lost a beat (pun completely intended) through these last twenty odd years.
Mark and Matt should be so lucky. Honestly, Matt sounds like Mark’s understudy. If you listened hard enough to Blink’s hits, you could tell who wrote the songs. Mark and Tom had distinctive songwriting tropes, and NINE sounds exclusively like Mark songs. It doesn’t help that their names are almost the exact same too.
Production wise, it’s more than they ever needed. To quote a wise man, “don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless”. Compared to an album like Dude Ranch where it sounds like the album was made in a basement from a couple takes, NINE has so many elements that it’s hard to hear anything. Every song sounds as if someone put all the tracks in a bucket, shook them, and dumped them back into ProTools. The guitars and vocals are devoid of any imperfections. I can’t imagine how many takes the band must have went through in each track. Everything sounds so artificial, which is sad, thinking about the production from the older tracks. Now, don’t get me wrong. Blink’s self titled effort had plenty of experimentation, but you could hear all of the little lines and melodies; you cannot defend the autotune in “Ransom”. Every verse started slow. Virtually every chorus has whoever’s singing hitting the very top of their register. The melodies use the same notes in the same order and over and over again.
I’m willing to let all of these critiques go, however. NINE is the album that’s going to get the next generation into blink-182, and that’s really important. Say all you want about how it doesn’t compare to the other albums. Kids now don’t care. You want to show them NINE because that’s the album that sounds the most like the music they already listen to. If they like it, work your way slowly, grow progressively more towards “true blink” and then just sit back and watch their reaction to the beginning of “Dumpweed”. It’ll be worth it, and you’ll be grateful for NINE. Be grateful for NINE now.
LOVE THEM: Generational Divide, Run Away, Ransom, Hungover You
LEAVE THEM: Blame it On My Youth, Happy Days, Darkside
Review by Gabe Straight