Sometime around 2003, Blink-182 decided it was time to tack their dirty joke doctorates to the wall (presumably in their respective offices, which is where everyone's degree eventually ends up) and press on as a more serious-minded outfit. The reasons behind that decision were many — the new perspective that comes with fatherhood, a decade spent on the road, recording with Robert Smith — though, truth be told, their somber new suits never seemed to fit, mostly because, at that point, they were best known for putting porn stars in their videos and giving their albums titles like Take off Your Pants and Jacket and Enema of the State.
Of course, in the eight years since their last album, a whole lot has changed. Blink-182 splintered in 2005, subsequently sparred in the press, attempted to conquer the world with non-Blink projects, endured the deaths of longtime producer Jerry Finn and close friend Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein, and in late 2008, drummer Travis Barker was seriously injured in a plane crash that killed four, including two of his associates.
Needless to say, they've earned the right to be serious. And on their long-awaited Neighborhoods album (due September 27), they take full advantage, cramming the past 96 months of doubt, darkness and death into just 49 minutes — that's the running time of the deluxe edition — and doing so quite convincingly. For the first time in their career, Blink seem comfortable in those somber suits. Sadly, it's because they've worn them to so many funerals.
Lyrically, Neighborhoods is the bleakest thing Blink have ever done, haunted by specters both real — depression, addiction, loss — and imagined. Death is a near constant, showing up in songs like the thundering "Natives" ("Maybe I'm better off dead"), the crunching "After Midnight" ("Standing close to death"), and the snarling "Hearts All Gone" ("Let's drink ourselves to death"). Shoot, even first single "Up All Night" is highlighted by a corker of a chorus: "All these demons/they keep me up at night." There's a reason the first song on the album is called "Ghost on the Dancefloor": Neighborhoods feels less like a rock record than it does an exorcism.
Sonically, it's practically nocturnal, melding the electronic flourishes of Mark Hoppus and Barker's +44 project and the laser-light grandeur of Tom DeLonge's Angels & Airwaves into a sound that recalls nothing so much as dark streets and black expanses, mostly of the suburban variety (the field behind the 7-Eleven, the cul-de-sac illuminated by the single streetlight, etc.). Even the chords — and there are a lot of them — are dark, as if DeLonge has dipped his Epiphone in ink. Hoppus' bass booms ominously and Barker's backbeats are skittering, scraping and downright scary in parts.
That said, it's not all doom and gloom. Blink still know how to write a walloping chorus, and, much like the chords, there are a lot of them on Neighborhoods. In most instances, they provide brief respites from the general bleakness: "Wishing Well" has DeLonge going "la-da-da-da-da," the hook to "Love Is Dangerous" is practically buoyant, and, of course, there's the aforementioned "Up All Night," which booms and crunches like the Blink of old.
And speaking of the old Blink, well, they're largely gone here (the synthy, star-smattered opening of "Ghost on the Dancefloor" serves notice of that fact). But given everything that went into Neighborhoods lengthy gestation — it's the rare album that took so long to come out that it actually contains a song, "Kaleidoscope," about how long it took to come out — you can certainly understand that transformation. Blink have grown up, mostly because life forced them to, and willing or not, that maturity fits.
Neighborhoods is a deep, dark, downright auto-biographical effort, and when Hoppus sings "Hold on, the worst is yet to come" (on the bopping "MH 4.18.2011"), you don't really believe him. The worst is over. It's all good from here on out.