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In many ways, Neighborhoods is one of the most controversial Blink-182 albums. Gone were the traces of the carefree, buoyant, anti-boyband sound, and in came a lyrically deep record full of weight and gravitas. It’s an album that regularly finds itself at the bottom of the pile when fans of the band discuss their personal favourite releases from the California natives, but is it something worth ignoring, or is it simply just an album destined to be shoe-horned into the underrated category for life?
As a sell-out response, neither of the two options are wrong per-say. For example, there are a lot of production issues on the album: The guitar tone sounds woeful in places and a clash of styles is painfully evident as DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves influence fails to mesh with Mark Hoppus’s +44 inspired outlook on music. With that being said, tracks like "Heart’s All Gone" and "Even If She Falls" manage to successfully show off a more mature version of the classic Blink sound, with the catchy, anthem-like choruses still as clear as day, and the well-renowned grit and rawness being retained and refined.
It may be glaringly obvious that this is a hit and miss record, but to be honest, despite all of the evident flaws, it’s near impossible for me to dislike it as a body of work. Sure, a lot of the songs are forgetful and seldom find themselves played through my speakers, but there’s something about the record that I just can’t hate. The honesty is there, and as uninspired as track "Up All Night" sounds, it still has some poignant lines, and there was at least some effort to experiment stylistically. The experiments do occasionally work, too, with deluxe edition song "Fighting the Gravity" serving as a perfect gear-shift into this more developed sound for the band. It swaps the trademark fast, soaring riffs and fiery vocals for a much more meticulously produced, dark-sounding track. It’s unconventional, and in many ways, that’s what made Blink popular in the first place—with their now heavily replicated style once acting as a benchmark for modern pop punk.
It was critically well-received, too, garnering an average rating of a 6.9/10. That may seem pretty underwhelming, but it still bests Blink’s most recent release California, and is extremely close to the now heavily-praised punk masterpiece that is 2003’s Untitled album. It’s mostly commended for averting a potential disaster that comes with many reunions (a fair comment to make, look at bands like Fall Out Boy, KISS, and The Who, all of whom found themselves at the helm of negative reviews following their returns), but criticised for the dislocated feel of an album that was recorded in separate locations before eventually being pieced together. They’re all respectable opinions, but most reviews fail to really highlight what makes this album truly dismissible for many fans, and that’s the fact that—for the most part—it doesn’t sound like Blink-182.
Sure the spirit is there in places, Travis Barker doesn’t miss a beat, and the lyrics are above-average, but the truth is that at least half of the record sounds like it could have been composed by anyone. The collective brain of the band isn’t there, and all three members were seemingly on completely different creative planets, a point heavily emphasised by the fact this album didn’t have a producer to pull the strings and steer the ship. In interviews following the release, all members admitted to ‘Neighborhoods’ being forced, and it showed, with the formulaic nature of the album failing to make it a truly memorable or captivating release.
To elaborate further, it’s clear to fans of the band that the heart and energy put into earlier releases just isn’t here. There’s none of the energy of songs like "Feeling This," none of the raw emotion seen in "Stay Together For the Kids," and simply none of the spirit seen back at Blink’s infancy with "Dammit." It may go under the radar and come across as "fine" for music critics, but it’s an album that mostly fails to connect with a fanbase that is passionate and vocal.
In summary, this album is in a strange purgatory between being underrated and completely forgettable. It’s nowhere near as bad as some may make out, with some clear highlights (such as the previously mentioned "Fighting the Gravity"), but it’s still a far cry from the Blink at the peak of their powers back in the late 90s and early 00s.
It should also be considered that it was always going to be a tough ask to follow one of your most inspired pieces of work, particularly after a near eight-year hiatus, but Blink managed to come through without tarnishing their reputation. So, whilst Neighborhoods may not find itself on repeat until the end of time, to completely dismiss it would be doing Blink-182 a disservice.
Highlight Track: "Fighting The Gravity" - As alluded to earlier, this track is exactly what you’d want from a band who aims to keep it fresh after so many years apart. It’s creative, dark, distinct, and well worth more than an initial listen.
Low-Point Track: "Love is Dangerous" - Whilst it’s not a song you’d be ashamed to have on your resumé, it’s generic and mostly uninspired. The chorus does nothing for me, and the instrumentals lack the energy you’d expect from a pop punk outfit. The pacing isn’t quite there, and it’s definitely a low-point in a generally inconsistent album.