It was a different world when Blink-182 released their last album, either self-titled or untitled, depending on whom you ask, back in late 2003. I myself enjoyed my first listen of that album on my Sony Discman during my lunch period on an otherwise uneventful day of junior high. It’s astonishing to take a step back and realize how much things really have changed since then; for the band, for their fans, and for the music world at large. While a bevy of reality shows and side projects (most notably Angels & Airwaves, +44, and that weird rap album Travis Barker made) have kept the group’s name in the public’s consciousness, the fact remains that this is the band’s first new record in just shy of eight years. Eight years. That’s half of how long it took for Chinese Democracy to come out. It’s been a long time. So with that out of the way, let’s get to the actual music.
The first few tracks on Neighborhoods are energetic, upbeat, oddly danceable numbers. Much like they did on their last outing, co-vocalists Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge both contribute vocals to almost every song, rather than the practice of their earlier albums, which generally featured “Mark songs” and “Tom songs.” Even with this collaborative spirit, Delonge seems to dominate the proceedings here. There’s a lot more Tom than Mark to be found on Neighborhoods. Several of the songs sound closer to Delonge’s Angels & Airwaves. The hard rock riff that band incorporates into their sound rears its head here on songs like “Snake Charmer” and first single “Up All Night”.
Generally speaking, the songs that do feature Hoppus in a more commanding role tend to be the songs that slant more on the side of the band’s earlier work. The most “punk rock” song on Neighborhoods is Hoppus’ speedy “Heart’s All Gone”, and his “Kaleidoscope” is one of the only songs that wouldn't feel out of place on their previous album.
Hoppus has always been my favorite of the two vocalists, but Delonge takes the prize for best song on Neighborhoods with the so-catchy-it-hurts “Wishing Well”, even if some of the lyrics are pretty nonsensical (“I reached for a shooting star, it burned a hole through my hand. Worked its way through my heart, had fun in the Promised Land.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?). The song should make for a pretty big single once radio picks up on it.
The biggest factor that separates Neighborhoods from the rest of Blink-182’s catalog isn't so much the songs themselves (although most of them do see the band trying new things), but rather the production. It’s worth noting that the band recorded the majority of the album separately, with Hoppus and Barker recording their parts in Los Angeles, and Delonge recording his in San Diego. This is palpable when listening to the album. The whole thing has a very distant, isolated feel. However, without the presence of a good editor, namely Jerry Finn, the band seems to throw every possible production trick possible into the mix. I've never been one to complain about overproduction—I love a good, old-fashioned, huge-sounding rock record when it’s done right, but there are so many effects going on here that it actually detracts from the record as a whole.
There are some pretty solid pop-rock hooks buried underneath that wall of effects, but it takes a few listens to fully grasp them. So much so that it might turn off the casual listener. If there’s any record even tangentially related to the punk rock scene released this year that stands a chance of selling one million copies it’s probably this one, though I imagine if this record were released by a new band, or even say, Angels & Airwaves, that wouldn't be the case. There are some pretty enjoyable songs on Neighborhoods, but those weird effects ares so off-putting that on a whole, it can’t really be considered much more than average. It’s worth a listen or two, and it will be listened to by a HUGE amount of people, but I imagine it will be met with some disappointment.