One listen to Blink-182 and it’s easy to tell that longevity wasn’t in the cards for them. Not to say songs like “The Rock Show,” “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?” didn’t define the genre of pop-punk and the era it came up in, but they didn’t promise a developing journey of growth and maturity. That’s not what Blink-182 stood for, they were about reveling in the stupidity and hyper-emotions of youth regardless of how fleeting it can be. Even the heartbroken love song on their most mature album at the time has a legacy no more vital than the meme it’s now become. So no, there’s not a lot in Blink-182 musical repertoire to indicate they’d sustain interest for very long.
But as the saying goes, “Adapt or die.” So here’s Nine, Blink-182 trying to put themselves into the ever-morphing musical landscape of 2019. As the cover depicts, the 15 tracks on Nine beam with colorful production, electronic effects, layered vocals and anthemic choruses. All those elements come from the various cooks in the kitchen of Nine’s production, including Pharell Williams, Sugarcult-frontman Tim Pagnotta, guitarist Andrew Watt (Justin Bieber, Cardi B) and remix duo The Futuristics (Flo Rida, The Lonely Island). While one would worry that all those hands on the record might block out Blink-182 trying to be themselves, the band is still very present on the songs. “The First Time” kicks the album off with a shot in the arm from guitarist/singer Matt Skiba’s hard riff and “yeah yeah!” background vocals. “Darkside” is a prime piece of chugging 80s guitar pop while “Black Rain” wouldn’t be lost on Blink’s last record California with its emo mood and electronic drums. In fact, the Blink album Nine has the most in common with is their 2003 self-titled endeavor with its glossy production amping up their most emo lyrics. But while that album had an edge Blink hadn’t yet explored, Nine sounds safe and pandering. “Happy Days” and “Heaven” feel like filler despite their blockbuster production of big vocals and clean guitars. Then there’s pandering moments like the overly-pop delivery of “Blame It on My Youth” and “I Really Wish I Hated You” that would both fit a band decades younger than Blink-182. When it’s blatant is when it gets really embarrassing: “Hungover You” sounds like Hit The Lights trying to cover The 1975’s “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” while “Remember to Forget Me” is a schmaltzy guitar ballad more fit for Post Malone or Justin Bieber.
More distracting elements of Nine are the vocal performances. Skiba has a strong presence on Nine, settling in to his vocal duties on “Darkside,” “No Heart to Speak Of” and “On Some Emo S**t.” Other times, it’s obvious that Skiba was brought in be bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus’s back-up singer. Skiba’s voice is so blatantly similar to Hoppus’s, especially on “Heaven,” “Blame It on My Youth” and “Pin the Grenade,” that it feels like an excuse for Hoppus to deem himself the leader of the band. One of the key ingredients to Blink’s success was the vocal dynamic between Hoppus’s lower register and the scratchy yelp of former guitarist/singer/extraterrestrial conspiracy theorist Tom DeLonge. Skiba sounds like he’s just mimicking Hoppus, making the songs more bland. It makes Nine more “functional” than “exciting,” showing the band clearly missing an element that made them memorable. Even the dynamic precision of drummer Travis Barker feels mundane at this point.
There’s certainly nothing all that memorable about the lyrics. Hoppus and co. have seemingly settled into new roles as emo-wisemen educating the youth discovering the genre in the modern era. “Happy Days” borders on being preachy with message on the same level as an afterschool special (“Hey, kid, don’t quit your daydream yet/I know you feel locked out in the cold/Seems like you’re lost and alone/Hey, kid, don’t listen to your head”). Hoppus even talks about the times that have changed, turning an argument between him and his son into “Generational Divide” (“All we needed was your lifeline/We swore we’d be better than the last time/Don’t leave, tell me that you’re all right/I’m not the generational divide”). Not to say that the band has lost their ability to weave emo stories as on the gothic “Black Rain” (“I went and searched for some answers/But all I found were monsters….I feel so hollow now/I’m trapped on this island/This island of regret”). On the other hand, Blink-182 are too old to write about certain things. The jealous, romantic longing of “I Really Wish I Hated You” doesn’t work for dudes inching towards middle-age (“I don’t really like myself without you/Every song I sing is still about you/Save me from myself the way you used to”). Neither does “Ransom” and it’s vague bad romance-turned- kidnapping story (“The phoenix slowly turned to ashes/Hope to broken hearts/Now she’s holding him for ransom”).
There’s nothing outright terrible or even bad about Nine. Blink-182 are still a very tight band and still know how to craft a good pop-punk song or two. But whatever they have to stay or whatever they can do now doesn’t seem impressive anymore. Nine brings nothing new to the table and most attempts by the band to feel relevant are either uninspired or embarrassing. It is impressive that Blink-182 have stayed dedicated for all these years, but new albums from them feel more obligatory than exciting. Doing a music video naked might’ve been stupid, but at least it was something.