Nineties pop-punk icons seek self-reflection and maturity on ‘NINE,’ band finds new creative space

Written By Matthew Bright, For The Globe

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

“NINE” may not be the album that gains Blink-182 a legion of new fans, but for the diehards that have followed the group through its ups-and-downs, it’s sure to satisfy. The name of the record is slightly facetious and has stirred some deliberation among fans, as the official starting point of the band’s studio releases is often argued over. For those who consider the 1994 demo “Buddha” to be the official start of the Blink legacy, the title of the new album makes perfect sense.

“NINE” continues to build on the success of 2016’s “California” and marks the second record with Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba taking over the guitar and vocals from former co-founding member Tom Delonge. The record sees the boys pushing for growth and maturity and finding it. The band explores new sounds while maintaining the energy and passion that you’ve come to expect from the pop-punk pioneers.

“The First Time” kicks the album off in the haze of a buzzing guitar amplifier and Travis Barker’s flawless drumming. The fast-driving guitar riffs, reminiscent of Skiba’s previous work, enter before the two front men trade verses over an intricate drumbeat. The different vocal styles of Hoppus and Skiba blend well to form a sound that continues to grow as the duo writes and performs with each other. While no one can duplicate the nasally whine of Delonge, it’s respectable to see Skiba find his footing within the new group dynamic.

In addition to its sound, the lyrical themes have also matured considerably. This album is noticeably missing the often crude and juvenile lyrics of the early records to its own benefit. “Happy Days” shines a glimmer of hope through the fog of deep depression. “I wanna feel happy days, happy days/ Walls of isolation inside of my brain/ And I don’t know if I’m ready to change,” shouts bassist Mark Hoppus.

“Darkside,” the first single to be released off the record, sends a similar message wrapped up in all the speed and power of a classic punk rock tune that’s finally reached the legal drinking age. Many of the album’s 15 tracks take on an heir of nostalgia for the old days, most notably on the track “Blame It on My Youth” – a glimpse behind the curtain of the group’s turbulent history.

Even through the electric riffs and unrelenting beat of Barker’s drum kit, the underlying message of the record breaks through like a wrecking ball. Don’t think for a second that the trio has lost sight of its roots and urgency. The 49-second track “Generational Divide” punches with the force that long-time fans have come to expect and love.

Somewhere along the way, “NINE” takes an interesting change of direction. The song “Run Away” brings the pace down and presents an aesthetic that fans of reverb will find pleasing and a chorus that’s difficult not to sing along with.

It’s impossible to listen to Blink-182 and not take a moment to recognize the top-notch drumming of Barker, who once again delivers on his reputation as being one of the best to ever pick up a set of drumsticks. His beats are complex and packed with dynamic patterns, but never drop their momentum. To say that Barker is a bright spot on the record is a drastic understatement. To fully appreciate his contribution to this album, look no further than the unrelenting “Pin the Grenade” and hold on for the ride.

The group successfully incorporates shades of the Blink-182 that angsty teens fell in love with 25 years ago with songs like “Ransom,” which starts off with a slow electronic build that quickly breaks through to a lightning paced finale any fan of punk rock will be able to sink their teeth into. No Blink record would be complete without tales of failed relationships and broken promises, which is what the self-reflective “On Some Emo S**t” communicates with little effort. “The last time that I saw her, she was standing on the edge/ Of a good time, been a long time, tell me how could I forget,” laments Hoppus.

“NINE” does a modest job of paying homage to the band’s roots, but what it truly succeeds in is its fearless effort to push the group into a new creative space and sound. The individual styles are distinct and never feel put-on or inauthentic. This record sees Blink-182 taking a firm step into the year 2019 and sets the stage for what fans can expect as the aging rockers look ahead to their third decade of making records.