Typically, we here at AP review albums based off of advance music provided to us by the band, their label or their management company, either physically or digitally. This ensures that the reviewer in question is receiving the album exactly as intended, instead of potentially lossy sound files that are mislabeled and out of order. However, we feel it's important to admit the following: This review of Blink-182's comeback album, Neighborhoods, was reviewed off the leak of the record, which we downloaded last week. Normally, we wouldn't even note this (because trust us, this isn't the first time we've had to rely on internet pirates to do a publicist's job for us), but we mention it only because this album was under such a high level of security—and the band members spent such a long time tweaking the songs—that it's entirely possible what we (and you; don't lie, you know you downloaded it, too) are listening to actually isn't 100 percent complete. If there's one thing that the entirety of Blink-182's fanbase has had to come to grips with since their 2009 reunion is that these three guys are nothing if not perfectionists.
Remember, Blink are a band from a different era, one where massive studio budgets were the norm, not the exception, and where creativity wasn't disrupted by having to tweet your followers about today's lunch options. There's a danger inherent in being this huge of a band and being out of the game for so long; today's musical climate is adapt-or-die, and seeing as how neither of the bands birthed out of Blink's initial breakup really set the world on fire, it's fair to say the odds were stacked against Blink in terms of even completing an album, let alone a good album. Time will tell as to how well the album holds up in the band's canon (especially if more new music is to come), but as it stands, Neighborhoods is good. In fact, we'd say it's very good at times, and damn-near perfect at others. But it's not without its faults, either.
The album delivers immediately with the first four songs, ranging from airy, uptempo rock (“Ghost On The Dance Floor”) to fast, noodly punk (“Natives”) to midtempo tracks both aggressive (“Up All Night”) and anthemic (“After Midnight”). While bits and pieces of the band's back catalog can be heard in these tracks (the guitar lead in “Natives” especially seems like a slight homage to “M+M's”), these songs definitely sound new and fresh, with some truly exciting musical ideas worked in (the chimes in “Ghost On The Dance Floor” is a nice touch). A big reason the other three songs are so enjoyable, too, is because both bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge sing on each. The interplay between the two humanizes the both record and the band themselves, since so much of Neighborhoods was recorded in separate times in separate studios. In fact, only four songs on Neighborhoods were written as a group: “After Midnight,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Wishing Well” and “MH 4.18.2011.” It's no surprise that these four are among the album's strongest tracks, as they don't feel too complex or cluttered. “MH 4.18.2011” is a great slab of mid-'90s pop-punk that could've been lifted from a Gameface or Seaweed record. “After Midnight,” especially, is one of the finest moments of Blink's career, a song so simple, catchy and geniune that it's amazing it took them nearly two decades to write it.
One of the biggest challenges Blink had to tackle with Neighborhoods is deciding whether or not to try and push the experimentalism of 2003's untitled effort even further. There are less risks on this album overall, and typically the risks that are taken fall tremendously flat—the DeLonge-led “Love Is Dangerous” wouldn't be up to par for Angels & Airwaves' worst album, and the Hoppus-fronted “Fighting The Gravity” is the disc's biggest dud. An odd bit of bass-heavy, grunge-influenced experimental rock with strange electronic flourishes, the track stretches out over a seemingly endless 3:42, with the bassist singing, “This makes no sense” repeatedly. Granted, these two tracks are considered part of the “deluxe edition” of Neighborhoods, and will not be on the more widespread, 10-track retail release,but for an album this anticipated, it would be silly to overlook these songs as mere bonuses, especially considering they leaked alongside the album.
What we can successfully ascertain from Neighborhoods is this: Blink-182's members are still capable of writing good songs, but without a strong outside influence (i.e., a producer) and no real desire or effort to consistently work in the same room with one another, the amount of truly transcendent, classic material is minimal. Ultimately, Neighborhoods is a slightly awkward entry in the band's catalog that shows as much potential as it does flaws. But just as Taking Back Sunday struggled a bit with their comeback album earlier this year, you can't help but think that this album had to sound like this in order for the band to be able to move on and grow together again. Let's just hope Mark, Tom and Travis will deliver the follow-up sooner than 2017.