For all intents and purposes, one must look to the breakfast cereal aisle for an apt comparison to Blink-182. Before the breakup, the band was Lucky Charms: multitudes love the sweet, youthful product and just as many despise it. But nobody could deny that the colorful pieces hyped on the packaging were vastly better than any of the bland mush included just to fill space. For a while, that approach worked — nobody cared about songs like “Wendy Clear” or “Mutt” when “All the Small Things” could be heard just a few spots over. An eight-year recording hiatus is a tough mountain to summit, however, and Neighborhoods unfortunately comes off as just a typical Blink-182 album missing its Charms.
The average Blink-182 fanatic will likely be ecstatic upon diving into the inaugural “Ghost on the Dance Floor.” Drummer Travis Barker launches into one of his signature rapid-fire beats before the riffs start and that middle-school nostalgia sets in. Tom DeLonge can still sing, if that was ever a question, but the track is less a joint effort than an Angels and Airwaves creation toned down ever-so-slightly. “Up All Night” is the peak of Neighborhoods (and accordingly was released as the record’s first single), and finds singers Mark Hoppus and DeLonge sharing the mic in equal proportions. The song is an intriguing transition from the light-hearted material of their past — Hoppus seems to ignore the upbeat infectiousness as he sings, “Everyone lives to tell the / Tale of how we die alone some day.”
It’s no secret that Blink-182 is a bit older than it was in its heyday. The adolescent angst that once asked, “What’s My Age Again?” has been replaced by maturity and poise — after the somber realization that the answer is rapidly becoming “in their 40’s.” “Wishing Well” is a transparent attempt to recover some of that juvenile vitality, but it ultimately serves as a testament to how the bandmates have changed — regardless of how many “da da da’s” they throw in the chorus. “Heart’s All Gone” is similarly its own type of throwback, with a mindlessly fast tempo and a simple (if addictive) chorus. The track is an homage to the band’s persistent fan base, and while it may fall short of its hopeful glory day reminiscence, most Blink-182 diehards will find it a welcome effort.
Even though the band fails to achieve its lofty ambition of recapturing its once-timeless sound, the musicians’ separate skills are still improving. Travis Barker, already a household name among the best drummers of the modern era, continues to vary his diverse rhythms (see “Kaleidoscope”). DeLonge and Hoppus still have their signature voices, though they are a tad more developed than in Blink-182’s last release — and logically so. The real triumph here is that the two manage to share the main vocals relatively equally, despite their feud being the causal aspect of the band’s breakup. It’s strange to say, but there is potential for even more success from this previous punk juggernaut.
For many fans, Neighborhoods is a response to previously unanswered prayers. It has enough hooks and charm to satisfy the loyal legion of devotees, and there’s no doubt that the trio still has some semblance of chemistry. The fundamental flaw is there simply aren’t any standout hits ready to take the radio waves by storm, and for that, the listener will have to remain hopeful for one more release.