Photo Credit: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for KROQ
Back in the mid-‘80s, punk luminaries the Clash attempted to carry on after the firing of guitarist/co-front man Mick Jones, replenishing the line-up with several new members. The resulting album, Cut the Crap, was abhorred by fans, critics, and – in short order – remaining founder Joe Strummer, who shortly after tagged it “a total f*ck-up” and excluded it from future collected releases of the band’s catalogue. While nobody will suggest that Blink-182 have had same the cultural and social impact as the Clash (or at least they wouldn’t suggest it without body armor and a running start), the younger, American band nonetheless did attempt a similar feat after their guitarist/co-lead singer Tom DeLonge split with the band in 2015, replacing him with Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio (in which he remains a member).
It seemed like so far so good with Skiba, since the first Blink-182 album on which he was featured (California, 2016) actually outsold DeLonge’s swan song (Neighborhoods, 2011), a trajectory that the band unquestionably hopes to continue with their new full-length album. By titling this release Nine – yes, it’s their ninth album overall – the band is probably trying to emphasize that this phase of their career is still very much part of the overall Blink-182 landscape.
Unfortunately, as with that act of giving the release a number title corresponding to its chronology, Nine may come off as just a bit too safe for its own good. While nobody was going to mistake California for a Black Flag record, there was at least an underlying rawness to it, reflective of the band’s punk roots that so many deny them credit for. Nine, by contrast, brandishes a production style that many listeners might find too slick or calculatingly targeted towards current radio – featuring countless loops, echoes and all that other stuff you’ll hear on Top 40.
Taken at face value, many of the tracks on Nine are at least an undeniably pleasant listen, particularly “Heaven,” “Hungover You,” and uptempo and deceptively-titled “Darkside.” Still, Nine doesn’t touch anything that could be construed as pure punk until halfway through the record, and even then, at a length of less than one minute, “Generation Divide” comes off mostly as a bathroom break. Bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus remains solid. However, it’s longtime drummer Travis Barker, who’s survived everything from reality shows to a plane crash, who continues to prove himself as one of the strongest and most innovative stick-and-pedal jockeys of his generation (which leads you to wonder about the track “Run Away,” where the intro at least sounds suspiciously like a drum machine).
Unfortunately, Nine does at times seem to find Blink-182 trapped in a musical phantom zone between continuing to re-invent themselves with Skiba upfront and dealing with the inevitable shadow of both the success and divisiveness of the DeLonge years. “On Some Emo Shit,” despite its title (never actually used in the song) opens sounding like Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” (huh?) and is otherwise a fairly routine accolade to a lost love. “Blame It On My Youth” one would think ought to speak for itself: “I got stuck in the thick mud // The flash flood, punk rock and the alcohol // I was raised on a rerun // I was board to death so I started a band.” Too much of this album sadly comes off like more an apology for those same alleged youthful indiscretions than an attempt to argue justification for them.
WRITTEN BY RICHARD JOHN CUMMINS