blink-182 – ‘Nine’

By Tom Walsh

There was almighty curiosity when Matt Skiba became blink-182’s long-term replacement for Tom DeLonge in the spring of 2015. The decision looked to be a masterstroke. The handful of early shows saw a band rediscovering its mojo, as baseball-capped, basketball shirt-donning Skiba brought the energy and fun to all those songs you forgot how much you adored.

Gone was the frosty, failing relationship vibes of DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, and each show became a celebration of a beloved band that some considered to have lost their way. Lessons had been seemingly learnt from the overambitious, genre-confused misstep of 2011’s ‘Neighborhoods’, and as new material began to filter out from the trio’s new look, there was cautious optimism.

‘California’ saw Blink embrace their pop punk sensibilities and with Skiba’s trademark rasping vocals and desire to write material that would be the day to Alkaline Trio’s night, it resulted in one of their most popular and commercially successful records in 15 years. Now, four years into the blink-182.0 project, it feels as though ‘Nine’ is yet another misstep.

Much like ‘Neighborhoods’, ‘Nine’ is ready to challenge its listeners but, unfortunately, it finds the same struggles that the 2011 effort encountered. It’s an incredible slog of a listen, dipping between ballads, auto-tuned vocals, ill-thought out rap tracks and the occasional cleansing tonic of 60-second blasts of ferocious punk (see ‘Generational Divide’ and ‘Ransom’).

Starting in very much the nostalgia-laden motifs you would come to expect from blink, both ‘The First Time’ and ‘Happy Days’ tell tales of those carefree teenage days. While it’s not quite ‘First Date’ and ‘The Rock Show’ territory, all the hallmarks are there, from stealing kisses off girls at drive-in movies to that first swig of beer on endless sunny days.

There’s an enormous juxtaposition between the starry-eyed yearning for yesteryear in the achingly boring, try-hard-anthem ‘Blame It On My Youth’, and the dark, masochistic ‘Heaven’, in which Hoppus strains the line of “heaven doesn’t want me anyway”.  There are moments of heartbreak in the lyrics of ‘Hungover You’ but it is underscored by a shopping centre rap track and a chorus that could have been on absolutely any low-rent drum n’ bass song of the past five years.

That is the overwhelming frustration with ‘Nine’ – there is a good record in there, but it has been swamped with autotune, synths, and unnecessary blast beats. There are some excellent moments, such as the dance-punk-fused ‘Darkside’ and the massive chorus of ‘No Heart To Speak For’, but these are few and far between. 

While once blink were the pioneers and innovators of pop punk, ‘Nine’ seems to have been influenced by too many of their 2019 contemporaries in the genre. Musically, there is nothing that really sets it apart from the other faceless bands that clog up pop punk on both sides of the Atlantic, and while there are moments of dark and delicate storytelling, it is not enough to carry the full album.

It is hard to quite pinpoint who ‘Nine’ was written for. It has a sound that will feel alien to hardcore Blink fans and doesn’t really capture the imagination for newer pop punk fans, while those with a passing interest will probably just pose the question “wait, this is what blink-182 sounds like?”.

Perhaps it wasn’t written for anyone. Maybe it was a cathartic experience for Hoppus, Skiba and Barker (and the other 17 collaborators), but it just feels like another stumble in the post-DeLonge blink world.

TOM WALSH

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