By Mason Kereliuk, Contributor
Key tracks: “Pin the Grenade”, “Ransom”, “Hungover You”
For years I have been telling people that I hate blink-182 and that the lead singer seemed like a real sonofabitch, even though his leaked nudes were kind of hot. It wasn’t until writing this review that I realized I had, in fact, been confusing blink-182 with Fall Out Boy, and occasionally Panic at the Disco— and sometimes The Killers.
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In retrospect, it’s an unfair association to make. Blink has less to do with the Fueled-by- Ramen-Avril-Lavigne-knock-offs of the MySpace-era than it does bands like Green Day and Weezer—the bona fide pop-punk hitmakers of the late ’90s and early 2000s who were able to tap into a certain kind of post-adolescent malaise that would come to define masculinity in the decade of the man-child.
But all boys eventually have to become men. Weezer grew up and recorded an odious cover of “Africa” that gave them their first gasp of relevance since the Bush administration. Green Day grew up and wrote songs about 9/11 for emo preteens to soundtrack their anime AMVs with, and blink-182 broke up in 2005.
Presumably, someone noticed the bankability of nostalgic legacy acts from the ’90s, so a suit at Columbia Records decided to staple the band back together for some late-career hoorahs; minus former lead-singer Tom DeLonge whose iconic nasal yelps have been replaced by the technically competent but instantly forgettable Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio.
How does a band with the defining characteristic of being young and immature handle being middle-aged dads? Skiba and bassist Mark Hoppus mostly avoid maudlin midlife-crisis confessionals of their decrepit contemporaries and instead shift their focus outward. The results are decidedly mixed, with many of the lyrics coming across like a deadbeat dad awkwardly providing advice to his uninterested kids.
Producer John Feldmann seems to have anticipated these criticisms, much of the production shimmers with computerized beats and electronic atmospherics. Late-album highlight “Ransom” opens with reverb-drenched guitars and a skittering drumbeat that sounds like it came off the latest xx album before it explodes into the typical blink-182 pop-punk harmonies.
Many of the album’s highlights come courtesy of drummer Travis Barker, whose quicksilver drum programming acts as a foundation for many of the songs. His influence as a Max Martin-like superstar producer of SoundCloud emo-rap comes full circle on songs like “Hungover You” which is built on a dancehall rhythm that builds into a booming bass sound for the chorus. Similarly, “Pin the Grenade” opens with a drum solo that seems to use just about every part of his drum kit without sounding crowded or disjointed.
While NINE is far from the trainwreck that many people expected (and some probably even wanted), there’s still not much to recommend either. If all pop-punk sounds exactly the same, why do “All the Small Things” and “I Miss You” go so hard while this album falls so flat?