Blink-182 were my first musical love. Over 20 years later, I remember hearing “What’s My Age Again?” for the first time, and the shockwave that it sent through my life, as well as the aftershock of obsession with pop punk. As Blink-182 continue to forge their second identity, it’s easier to see who they are and where they are going. If California (2016) was meant to reassure fans that they were the same band fans fell in love with, Nine is the album that reassures us that Blink-182 aren’t ready to settle on the merits of their past.
What stands out the most about Nine isn’t the new ground that it forges, but how it reaffirms what they have already done. If there is any of Blink’s past albums that this most resembles, it is the often neglected Neighborhoods (2011). Much like their first comeback album, Blink-182 are still searching for an identity years after creating a bedrock for the modern pop punk genre. As much as it takes a step forwards to test the boundaries of modern rock, Nine takes just as many backwards.
Nine suffers from an identity crisis. While a song like “The First Time” calls back to staples such as “Feeling This”, others such as “Happy Days” reflects the mediocrity of rock, and “Run Away” attempts to find a middle ground. Nine isn’t a bad album, it just doesn’t know what direction to lean into. Years after adding Matt Skiba as a permanent member, Blink-182 somehow sound less cohesive than ever. Some songs sound like they were included as an excuse to show off Travis Barker’s insane drumming (“I Really Wish I Hated You”).
Where Nine shines is how well it melds the legacy of Mark Hoppus’ high marks with the new sounds the band have forged over the last few years. “Heaven” provides Hoppus the chance to shout one of the catchiest choruses on the album, or meld so effortlessly into the anthemic verse and chorus sing-a-long of “Blame It On My Youth”. The signature pop of his bass is refreshing to hear, like seeing a family member again after a long time (“Happy Days”).
The effort Matt Skiba unleashes is astonishing on this album. Skiba manages to somehow make his guitar parts sound reminiscent of Tom DeLonge’s crisp style while still creating a sound different than that and of his work in Alkaline Trio (“No Heart to Speak Of”). However, while his vocals are amazing, Nine attempts to cut the difference between him and DeLonge by adding filters over many of his singing parts. These help bridge the gap between Skiba and DeLonge’s vocal pitches, but do not allow Skiba to shine through the way he should given how powerful of a singer he is.
Drummer Travis Barker erupts through each song, as he should, given he is one of the best drummers currently working and Blink-182’s long-time secret weapon. Oftentimes, Nine feels like it is designed around letting Barker shine through more than anything (“Black Rain”). Barker never stops moving and elevates what would otherwise be a mediocre rock song to become something great (“Blame It On My Youth”).
In many ways, Nine feels like a second attempt to make Neighborhoods, complete with a sequel to “Heart’s All Gone” (“No Heart To Speak Of”). Nine is catchy, fast, and melds rock with R&B drumming in a way that seems to stem directly from the Self-Titled (2003) album, but with less cohesion. Where a song like “Black Rain” pushes Blink-182 to the brink by relying on a post-punk guitar riff and near-EDM style drumming, a song such as “Hungover You” relies on tired guitar heavy choruses and lazy vocals to push it to the finish line. However, something like “On Some Emo Shit” works brilliantly by being a callback to songs from the early 2000’s, complete with a guitar solo pulled straight out of a Get Up Kids song.
Blink-182 have never been known for the weight of their lyrics, but rather for the precise catchiness of them. A Blink-182 song should make you want to sing every time you hear it, no matter what the words may be. In that regard, Nine succeeds in spades. However, if there is one song that actually says something of significance, it is the single “Blame It On My Youth”. Hoppus and Skiba reflect on the path that led them to be who they are today (“I was raised on a rerun / I was bored to death, so I started a band / Cut my teeth on a safety dance / My attention span never stood a chance”).
Other times, small lyrics cut canyons the longer you listen to them. This is especially prominent in “Generational Divide”, which uses about 30 unique words over 49 seconds of raging guitars and drums (“Are we better, are we better now?”).
Nine sees Hoppus, Skiba, and Barker testing the waters of what they want to be as a band and how deep Blink-182 fans can swim. The album pushes boundaries beyond past releases, but still settles in patches that feel far too safe. The combined talents of Blink-182 have earned the right to push themselves and forge new ground. However, Nine finds only hints of what is possible. Much like Neighborhoods, it faces the possibility that it will be forgotten in the shadow of brilliance of whatever follows it.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and loves The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yeah, he said it and he’ll say it again to your mother.