Nine's Place in blink-182's Legacy
blink-182 have had a dramatic past. Their initial lineup was disrupted when original drummer, Scott Raynor was replaced due to (rumoured) alcohol-related issues. Communication problems then led to an “indefinite hiatus” that only ended after current-drummer, Travis Barker, nearly lost his life in a plane crash that killed four others. A cautious reformation lasted one album before founding member, Tom DeLonge, was ousted from the band and replaced by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. These days blink’s name appear in headlines almost as often in relation to Tom’s alien-related shenanigans (he hunts UFOs now) as they do for blink’s music.
Yet through all this drama and intrigue, blink have managed to do something that many popular bands of the '90s and '00s have failed to do; stay relevant in the mainstream consciousness of the 2010s.
Their latest offering, Nine, is the second album since the departure of DeLonge, and the follow up to what was arguably one of the most successful albums in their history, by chart success if nothing else. But it’s left some fans scratching their heads over what to make of it.
This article is not a critical review, but rather the perspective of a long time fan of the band on album’s place in the blink-182 legacy.
Nine's Lead Single, Darkside
blink-182 made their name with catchy, fast paced pop punk riffs and childish humour, and while they started off very rough around the edges, they quickly became a polished, radio-friendly juggernaut that is often credited as one of the most influential bands of its time. After arguably perfecting the quintessential “blink” sound in 2001 with the cheekily titled Take of Your Pants and Jacket, the band started to yearn for more than what Tom DeLonge has since referred to as pop punk “nursery rhymes”.
Their next album, which was untitled, was a departure for the band. There were no jokes, no childish humour, and a more experimental sound. Indeed the band brushed aside their usual frantic recording process and opted to rent a house in which to record the album. While their previous album had taken a few weeks to record, and earlier albums mere days, untitled took over nine months!
The next album followed the aforementioned indefinite hiatus. Neighborhoods is a tortured affair, dark and almost sinister. It would later come out that the relationship between the two singers, Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, was still strained, and that Tom was recording his parts from a separate studio to Hoppus and Barker. This tension seems to come through in an album that, at times, sounded like the three members are all pulling in completely different directions. But for all its faults, Neighborhoods continued blink’s new flair for experimentation. While there are many songs I’m luke warm on, this album did produce one of my favourite blink songs overall in After Midnight.
This album was followed by an EP called Dogs Eating Dogs which, in this writer’s opinion, showed a promising future. The demons of the hiatus had been exorcised on Neighborhoods and now the band were ready to settle into a new groove, and it was a groove I liked.
But that wasn’t to be.
New Lineup, New Album
Reluctance on DeLonge’s part to commit to extensive touring and restrictive recording deals lead to Hoppus and Barker kicking him out of the band replacing him with Matt Skiba, guitarist from Alkaline Trio.
What followed was an album that sounded more like a successor to Take of Your Pants and Jacket than it did to Neighborhoods, or even untitled. Fans of Alkaline Trio will have recognised little of Skiba’s touch amongst the signature glossy blink sound. In short, it felt like a step backwards.
California is, at the time of writing, one of the most successful albums in blink’s catalogue, but it felt like a step backwards artistically. Perhaps it was intentional; a statement from the band letting their fans know that this was still blink-182, regardless of the line-up change.
So where are we now? First let’s acknowledge two things; Firstly, there are a number of fans for whom this version of blink will never be good enough. Not without Tom. Those people should probably accept that, regardless of how justified they might be in their feelings, this is what blink-182 is now, so if the lack of Tom is a deal breaker, they should probably move on. But secondly, everyone else should acknowledge that those people are justified in their feelings. It’s not a matter of who is better out of Tom and Matt, the fact is that Tom has a very unique style and sound and that sound was part of blink from the beginning, so it’s not unreasonable to think of this incarnation of blink as a different animal. That doesn’t make it bad, however.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s look forward.
The first thing to say about Nine is that it sees Skiba come into his own as a member of blink-182 in a way that California did not. For better or for worse, the Alkaline Trio frontman’s influence can clearly be heard in the music of this album, and his growling vocals ring out loud and proud. For the most part, California felt a little like the Mark and Travis show with Matt Skiba being little more than a session musician through the recording process. However harsh that critique may seem, it’s certainly not the case this time.
The second thing to note about this album is that it feels more like a progression from previous albums. Where California felt like it should have come from the Enema of the State/Take Off Your Pants and Jacket era of blink, Nine can comfortably sit among the more mature sounds of untitled and Neighborhoods.
There are no joke songs on Nine, a blink staple that had made a comeback on California. There are also no out-and-out pop songs in the vein of She’s Out of Her Mind. The general tone of the album is darker, even as the content itself is largely rooted in the same girl-trouble-centric rut.
I Really Wish I Hated You
An argument can be made that blink are trying too hard to appeal to a young audience. A risky move for a band who is often criticised for not acting their age (and, indeed, write songs about not acting their age). If blink were hoping to avoid that criticism on Nine, they didn’t do themselves any favours in the music video for Darkside. The video features a school full of children in matching outfits performing various Fortnite dance moves as the band, dressed in the same clothes, play their instruments among them. The song is one of the better tracks and the video is well shot, but the whole thing comes across like video version of the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme. But overall, Nine does feel more grown up than California.
Nine's Place in blink-182's Legacy
This album feels less like the next step in blink’s evolution, and more like a kind of rewriting of history. Or an alternative reality. Rather than moving on from Neighborhoods, blink went back to their 2001 selves and picked up where they left off after Enema of the State, this time with Matt Skiba instead of Tom DeLonge, and seem to be following the same roadmap. In this alternate reality, California sits in place of Take off your Pants and Jacket, and Nine, in turn, replaces untitled.
Given that blink would go onto take a six year hiatus after untitled, one could hope that the band don’t intend to completely repeat history with their new lineup, but it certainly feels like they’re at least trying to prove that new blink can do anything old blink could do.
As to whether they can, I’ll leave that up to you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 John Bullock