Hello, and welcome to “Hunter is forced to revisit his youth, in the worst way possible.” For any of you who are unaware, for a large portion of my adolescence, Blink-182 was one of, if not my favorite band. Fast-forward to now, and while I still garner a lot of appreciation for some of their earlier stuff (ending around 2001), my self-awareness has brought me to realize how mediocre a lot of their music is. So coming into this album, I had no expectations whatsoever, and the lack of excitement was not helped by any of their lead singles, one of which featured a bunch of children doing various Fortnite dances… But still, I felt the need to do a review, at the very least, in memory of my old, emo self.
The direction they took with this album is no surprise, following their last release, California. The initial release of the 2016 album was filled with a lot of nostalgia for the band, reliving specific memories growing up in the San Diego area, but the deluxe edition saw an addition of several darker, more serious tracks, like “Misery,” or “Last Train Home.” They follow up on these added tracks, and it’s pretty easy to see. While the beginning of Nine is decently-happy and upbeat, it descends into more of a serious tone the further you go into it. Songs like “The First Time,” and “Happy Days,” turn into other tracks like “Darkside” and “Black Rain,” along with the decently-emotional “I Really Wish I Hated You.” They do include the previous reflections onto their past as well, with tracks like “Blame It On My Youth,” but it’s more of a brief side-track than anything.
I’m personally not a fan of many of these topics, for Blink. I don’t need old Blink-182, where every track is incredibly immature, and entirely made-up of low-brow humor, but they don’t really have the songwriting and lyricism necessary to actually dig into darker issues, to me. Many publications over the past two releases have praised them for taking this more mature approach, and they’ve honestly been doing this since around 2003, when Blink first took this large shift, but I don’t think you can praise a change of tone when it’s handled so poorly. An amazing example of this is found in the song “Black Rain,” when it’s sadness is immediately broken up by this awkward line “We quiver and quake / We shiver and shake.” It has no place in the narrative of the story, it’s placed in a way that gives it a lot of attention, and it sounds like a fourth grader wrote it. Any potential the song had is immediately lost in that unnecessary bit, and a lot of these tracks feature these, which brings me to the lyricism of these tracks.
The quality of the lines on this album bounce between standard, generic, 2019 rock, and just simply god-awful writing. The past example does a pretty good example of this, but for the sake of illustrating just how vast this issue is, let me pull a couple more quotes out of Nine. “Blame It On My Youth,” which is for the most part one of the more standard songs, talking about the origin story of their pop-punk, includes an incredibly-meta “I was raised on the Ritalin / Ever since I was a little kid / No one ever seemed to give a shit.” Another example is the entirety of the song “Hungover You,” which is just one big wordplay on a time where you’ve spent a night incredibly drunk with someone, and miss them in the morning, therefore being both “hungover,” and “hung over them.”
Perhaps even worse than the writing on this album are the compositions. Blink-182 was never the most technical band, the most unique band, or the best in any way when it came to instrumentals, but so many of the ones on Nine make me want to get sick. They’ve been on this more electronic-focused kick since their self-titled release back in ’03, but it seems to have gotten worse, to the point of putting electronic beats in just about every song. This could be perpetuated by the fact that rock, with bands like Twenty-One Pilots and Imagine Dragons, has quickly turned this direction, but I think it ruins a lot of the band’s identity, as well as the feelings some of the songs are trying to create. Moreover, one of the few advantages Blink has as a band is Travis’ fantastic drumming skills, which they take a huge dump on by featuring these artificial creations instead. Even the places where he’s legitimately drumming aren’t the greatest, because it’s often thrown in the back, and not highlighted at all. There’s almost a film over the percussion, which immediately catapults it behind everything else, and it irritates me to no end.
The production mistakes don’t end there. My biggest complaint is one that I had on their last release as well, and it’s that Matt and Mark both have almost-robotic voices. I imagine it’s something that happened in the editing process, but they don’t sound real. Mark was never the greatest singer, and I always enjoyed that. He had decent pitch, but his range wasn’t very dynamic, and it wasn’t beautiful either. Now, everything is oddly perfect, plastic somehow, and there are even moments where you can just straight-up hear the filter, particularly over Matt’s voice, on some of his higher notes.
Finally, there are just weird decisions made on pretty much all sides when it comes to this release. It’s really hard to pinpoint one exact decision that’s causing these, and I don’t really have a way to generalize the issue, so once again I’ll just spout examples. In the songs “I Really Wish I Hated You,” and “Blame It On My Youth,” there’s a section of the chorus at the end where all the backing on the track goes away in favor of weird, distant, acoustic guitars before going back to the more powerful sections. And this is obviously used elsewhere, and sometimes effectively, but instead of making it an intense, intimate moment, to bring out emotion, it just sounds like they’re singing and playing from the end of a hallway with bad acoustics. It’s not good. And I don’t know why they’d make it sound like that, but it almost makes me laugh half the time. Tracks “Hungover You,” and “No Heart To Speak Of,” both end in this entirely unfitting, distorted bass that sounds like something from an experimental hip-hop album. It’s most prevalent in “No Heart To Speak Of,” and just confuses the hell out of me.
As far as positives go, there aren’t very many. I do think that “I Really Wish I Hated You,” is probably the best written song. It deals with the idea of losing someone, going back and forth between still loving them and hating that they’re gone, recognizing you’re probably not good for them, but that you still wish you were there, etc. There are some pretty complex emotions going on there that aren’t the most cliche ever. Honestly, aside from that, I don’t have much to compliment them on. The hooks are catchy. After being trapped listening to this album for a while, the songs get stuck in my head even if most of them are agonizing. But that’t it. It sounds like a very poorly-executed attempt to copy a lot of more current pop/rock bands, like Imagine Dragons, Twenty-On Pilots, and even Panic! at the Disco, only with maybe a bit more nostalgia thrown in. It could always be worse, but not much worse. I’m thinking a 1 or a 2 on this one.
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