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Blink-182 – NINE Review

September 28, 2019 | Posted by David Hayter
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Blink-182 – NINE Review  

The idea of putting Blink-182 and maturity in the same sentence inevitably invites an array of scoffs and eye-rolls. Yet, for all their knowing idiocy and self-deprecation, Blink have always been chroniclers of a deeply teenage maturation process. Whether on their knowingly more thoughtful eponymous LP or even on 2001’s Take Of Your Pants and Jacket (yes, that’s crudely veiled masturbation joke of an album title) the band have always sought to deal with aging and heartache on distinctly adolescent terms. After all, they might be older and wiser, but they sure as hell weren’t when they went on their first date or sat upstairs as their parents screamed and fought.

The joy of their most thoughtful music lied in the snarling bitterness of the emotion (“Stay Together For The Kids”) or a sorrowfully warmth that suggested the band were capable of growth (“Miss You”). NINE, Blink’s unimaginatively titled latest, is less subtle. It’s the kind of album so overwrought and dour that it practically screams: TAKE US SERIOUSLY. Severity, seriousness and maturity are the order of the day. Racked by bad break-ups and a lingering heartache Mark Hoppus takes the lead as the band dive into a world of anthemic naval gazing.

In many senses this is a shrewd move. Blink don’t’ sound forced or false, Nine is a believable representation of a perennial screwball having to confront the confusion and loss of middle-age. The issue is not so much the concept, as the execution. Hoppus and Skiba are routinely reflective as they pen some of the most intricate and craftily composed lyric sheets in the entire Bink oeuvre. The same cannot be said of the arrangements, which feel like hollow echoes of former glories (“The First Time”) or strange takes of post-Swiftian pop (“I Really Wish I Hated You”). The bigger worry is not so much the naff experimentation – “I Really Wish I Hated You”, for all its indebtedness, really is a bold attempt to tackle long term rejection from the former punk’s pov (“I don’t really like myself, without you”) – no, the trouble really lies in the sameness of it all.

Hoppus and Skiba are baring their souls and the best they can muster for a backdrop is a never-ending beigeness. The guitars rarely jag or jut, they are instead eternally upward facing, designed to match a conveyer belt of woah-oh style choruses. This is eerily reminiscent of The National’s latter period output. The bands couldn’t sound any more different, but both have become beholden to a slow, serious and ultimately plain brand of arena-ready catharsis. The gap between the Blink of old and this modern incarnation isn’t particularly large. Much of NINE feels eerily reminiscent of “Adam’s Song”, but where that track was full of self-deprecating cheek (“I never conquered, rarely came”) and dynamic instrumental contrasts, modern offerings, like “Heaven”, are happy to meander at mid tempo.

Part of the trouble lies in the overwrought lyrics. Blink are dwelling on their sorrows and, as such, there is little room for humor or defusing irony. This is fine of course, but it requires dark, haunting and powerful instrumentals to really hit home. Instead of offering brutality and bleakness, Blink have opted for a sense of wistful drift. This tonal choice might position them as thoughtful elder statesmen, but it adds very little excitement. Still, it’s better than their clumsy concessions to 21st Century rock: “Blame It On My Youth” is driven by a staggered stadium ready chorus that feels pandering and false coming from Blink-182.

It’s sad but necessary to dwell on NINE’s flaws because, beneath its uninspired choruses and messy attempts to fit in with the kids, lies a heartfelt and sporadically powerful collection. From “Run Away” onwards Hoppus and Skiba, backed by Travis Barker’s savagely infectious rhythms, delve into isolation and misery. There is no blame, no rage, no hatred, just an acknowledgement that a relationship has come and gone. On the wonderful “Black Rain”, a track whose intensity and venom grows subtly, Hoppus is left wallowing in pain (“I feel so hallow, now I’m trapped”) caught between the urge to scream and temptation to simply crumble.

The craftily stacked melodies are full of delightfully macabre lines. On “Pin The Grenade” Mark cries, “If you don’t love me, lie to my face…if your gonna kill me, baby do it slow”, while Skiba is paranoid and hopeless on “No Heart To Speak Of”, singing: “feel the birds of prey circle over our home”. Sadly, the latter track, which is brutally heavy by Blink standards, is somewhat ruined by a “woah-oh” chorus that feels less like a howl of anguish and more like a forced sing-along. It’s a shame, because so many of these potentially brilliant and gruelling little tracks are ruined by slight misjudgements and concessions to a mainstream audience that is unlikely to be listening in 2019.

It’s easy to sympathise with the band, they are clearly trying to reconcile old styles with new emotions and modern influences. “Ransom” has a wonderful needling pop-punk chorus rife with snotty petulance, but it’s attached to a sweet and straight-faced verse. A decade ago Blink would have milked this contrast for comedic effect (think “Reckless Abandon”), but there’s little in the way of comedy here. Luckily, when Barker is unleashed on the track’s back end, he papers over the cracks with a vicious onslaught. “On Some Emo Shit” (which, let’s face it, should have been this album’s title track) is another effort that threatens brilliance without ever quite coming together. There are some pleasingly broody guitars tones and a resentment-ridden verse, but after a dramatic and genuinely effecting build, the crescendo underwhelms. The grand finale is a mess of slamming bigness that fails to either overawe or impress.

NINE closes with a wonderfully teenage howl of desperation: “Hey mum, I’m on my own, scared to death and far from home”. Backed by an acoustic guitar and some light keys Hoppus conjures one of those awkward-but-tender sentiments that Blink once specialised in. The track is needy, juvenile and overwhelmed, but that’s exactly why it’s so endearing. On an album where Blink try to process heartbreak like serious adults and largely lose their edge, it’s thrilling to hear them embracing a rawer and less polished outpouring. Fittingly, it is far from plain sailing. “Remember To Forget Me” is blighted by the kind of clumsy try-hard chorus that the band would have mercilessly parodied and subverted in their youth.

Therein lies the problem. Hoppus and Skiba have more than proved that Blink can tackle weighty and severe subject matter with a straight face and lyrical sensitivity. Sadly, with the exception of the odd Barker showcase, the band cannot find ways to pair these sentiments with interesting or impactful arrangements. Blink have succumbed to meandering, middle of the road blandness and predictability. There is a bloody brilliant record hidden within NINE, I’m convinced of it, but in somber search for meaning Blink have forgotten how to have fun and hit home.

The final score: review Average
The 411
NINE is the kind of severe, overwrought and middle of the road rock album Blink-182 would have parodied and pilloried in their youth. That's not to say NINE is bad, far from it. Blink's latest is a thoughtful and heartfelt reflection on rejection and being left bitterly alone. The lyrics and concepts are intriguing - the arrangements, concessions to modern arena pop and underpowered choruses are not. There is a great record lurking within NINE, but Blink have quite managed to unearth it.

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Blink-182, David Hayter