So, the new Blink-182 album NINE dropped today, and to be blunt and straight to the point, this album is absolute fire personified. I know that I’ve derided a lot of the decisions they’ve been making creatively as of late but I have to say that my fears as a longtime fan have been assuaged and then some. This is an album of vitality and energy by a band that is old enough to belong in the rock and roll Hall of Fame. This is an album that is dripping with the raw punk rock energy of their earlier work (not unlike the album they’re currently touring the 20th anniversary of) with the glossier production value of their last few albums. NINE is the perfect amalgamation of every era of the band coming together while also incorporating many modern sounds and melodies. It’s a lot of different influences combining in a rather large melting pot but it never feels forced or rushed. This is a natural evolution of Blink-182 that started with their 2003 self-titled album though 2011’s Neighborhoods and all the way to the more recent 2016 release of California. The melodies and beats and compositions have all become way more nuanced and layered than a standard 2-minute pop punk arrangement. Gone are the days of writing songs about girls and sexual encounters in football locker rooms and joke songs about wanting to see naked dudes in swimming pools. These are all more serious songs about very real-world topics that we all deal with on a daily basis. This is easily the most relatable album that Blink has put together in a very long time.
The whole album kicks off with the lead track The First Time. It’s hard not hear echoes of the song Feeling This but once all the instruments kick in together the identity becomes all its own. Blink-182 is known for their energetic album openers and NINE has yet another in a long line of classic opening jams. The next track Happy Days has a more “classic” or “vintage” Blink sound layered around some really pointed lyrics about feeling isolated in the prison of your own mind shrouded in depression. The words do point to some light at the end of the tunnel with the repeated chorus. The buoyancy of the music is a great antithesis for that rather stark and nakedly depressing words. Heaven is the next song and it is the first real super clear taste at this more modern and rather pessimistic version of Blink-182. It has possibly one of my all-time favorite lines ever featured in a Blink song, “angel wings at the bus stop; halos left on top of the bar; heaven doesn’t want me now.” It’s a mid-tempo somber reflection on the current state of school shootings. Blink-182 is not known for being a “topical” band in terms of current events, but songs like this prove that stretching their wing span into unknown territory for them has paid off in spades.
The same could really be said about the rest of the album in general. From this point forward every song further drives the point home that while this is in fact very much a Blink-182 record, it’s a different kind of Blink record. The lyrics are much more challenging and not as primed for Top 100 billboard charts. The production values while still super shiny and perhaps over processed and auto tuned, still service the feel the band was trying to accomplish. There is a lot new ground the band is traversing musically, but there’s also an equal measure of refining what they’ve done in the past. Songs like Generational Divide and Ransom are about blending those modern sensibilities lyrically and sonically at the same time. Ransom is a perfect example of this new hybridization of sound they’re looking to adopt. It starts off with some really sludgy and dark synths and then crashes into a full-blown mind melting old school punk rock jam that manages to get a rather complex and emotionally complicated message across in a song that lasts less than 90 seconds. Only a band of Blink’s caliber would be able to do so much with such a little amount of time frame.
Another thing I would like to make note of is the contributions of newish member to the Blink-182 family, Matt Skiba. On their previous album, California, one could get a sense that much of that album had been charted and written before Skiba came on board and that it was re-worked as a result of his becoming a permanent replacement for Tom DeLonge. I know that’s not actually the case, but his voice and contributions to the song writing felt very cursory and sidelined on that record. Here you can clearly hear him come into his own as a full-fledged member of the band. There are Alkaline Trio references aplenty all over these 15 songs and it’s a beautiful thing to see him take ownership of a lot of these tunes. Those who are familiar with Trio’s career can tell that he definitely has a much heavier hand in writing these songs and I for one couldn’t be more ecstatic about that. I love a good sunny jam that gets my feet tapping, but I can also appreciate a song that challenges me to look inward and really drive at the emotion of what the singer is trying to convey.
NINE is an album of many different types of sounds and ideas collaborating together to create a genuine masterpiece without ever making it feel disjointed or too crowded. This is Blink-182’s White Album or Sgt Peppers for sure. It is a complicated and multi-faceted work that contains something for every type of Blink-182 fan that exists in today’s world. It’s a hard rocking, joyously catchy, and very serious look forward into the great beyond. This album is good and purely excellent that it makes me retroactively feel like shit for all the crap I’ve talked recently. Blink-182 has never sounded better and I really hope that NINE gets the widespread reach and acclaim it so readily deserves. No matter how hard life can be and no matter how much stress you might be under, all it takes to turn your whole day or week around is one really good tasty jam lodged in the lining of your brain to give you the type of energy you need to turn it all around. Blink 182’s NINE is packed with 15 songs that trade in just that. This is what mainstream rock music should strive to sound like and Blink-182 should be proud of the work they put in here. Not only did they possibly just save the current state of rock n roll music but they also have firmly cemented themselves as one of the all-time great rock bands as well.