Blink-182’s Secret Seriousness

The brattiness has dimmed. Their influence is wide. Their new album is very, very catchy.

Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 in 2017
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Nine, the new album from Blink-182, a band forever associated with adolescence even though the members’ mean age is now 44, arrives haloed in that great teenage emotion: embarrassment.

This summer they kicked off a tour with Lil Wayne, and the hope that it would hit upon a yummy PB&J combo of potty-mouthed-and-past-their-prime performers from different genres was immediately dashed by the horrifying mash-up track they released. Ticket sales flagged, and the late-breaking announcement that the band would, rather than focus on new songs, play all of Blink’s 1999 dumb-ass classic Enema of the State seemed like a bid to lure the masses. It didn’t work well enough: Wayne threatened to quit once he saw how empty their arenas were. “The crowd was among the small things,” went the excellent subhead on the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s review of the tour.

One other thing: In this, the week of the band’s new album release, if you Google Blink-182, the top news results are about the U.S. Navy “confirming” the ex-member Tom DeLonge’s claims about the existence of UFOs. Dammit.

Maybe it’s fundamentally awkward for Blink to soldier on at all in 2019. These are the perma-horny bros who streaked the L.A. streets and vowed to never act their age. Yet they’ve faced down the seeming ridiculousness of their dadly decades already with 2016’s California, which sold well and earned some positive press. The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh in 2016 noted that they’d spawned “more imitators than any American rock band since Nirvana.” In the years since California, Blink’s influence has only grown more inescapable, with breakout rappers like Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert copping their nauseated inflections and wavy, candied melodies.

Nine also marks the band’s second album since the departure of DeLonge, whose utterly distinctive yap has been replaced by the more generic emo voice of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. The flame of brattiness no longer flickers in their sound: Nine has no joke songs, no sex songs, and no homoerotic hijinks. What it does offer is a bumper crop of high-grade, ultra-processed, huff-it-and-grin punk singalongs that find a middle place between re-creating the TRL days and nodding to what works on radio now.

The first blast of feeling that the album delivers is, in fact, nostalgic. “The First Time” flames out of the speakers with a two-chord riff as rocket fuel, and the chorus offers a lovely reminder of Blink’s almost-Gregorian ear for arranging vocals. Skiba and Mark Hoppus harmonize in rounds about highs and hangovers, but the effect is more like that of listening to “Carol of the Bells,” which was also the effect of the chorus of “All the Small Things.” Indeed, the tones and tricks used across the album are so recognizably from the Blink playbook that Nine will get the band’s old hits stuck in the listener’s head along with the new material.

But the band members do push to territory that’s new to them, even if it’s not really new to their contemporaries: “Darkside” jitters with Killers-style disco choruses; “Blame It on My Youth” has a military-march lurch familiar to Imagine Dragons; and the depressed-kindergartner melody of “Really Wish I Hated You” recalls the songwriting of Spotify-friendly divas such as Halsey. These may not sound like the coolest reference points, and pro producer-songwriters including John Feldmann and The Futuristics buff every bass line and call-and-response vocal until it gleams like a brand-new lip ring. Yet Blink in their heyday were always pop par excellence, and accusing them of selling out is ridiculous. There’s a frenetic, Blink-y energy throughout in Hoppus’s pseudo-naive singing style and the crazed, mercurial drumming of Travis Barker.

Listen through the 15 tracks, in fact, and the whole of this band’s often-silly-seeming career gains a certain improbable seriousness. Blink-182’s great strength all along has been in nailing the emotional ambivalence that comes between the sugary highs, heard in the band’s old meditative standouts like “Adam’s Song” or “Stay Together for the Kids.” By 2019, they’re able to apply that highly specific bummer—feeling on the precipice of losing something forever—to grown-up burnout, like on “Happy Days,” a searching diagnosis of how it feels “when enough doesn’t cut it.” Touring with Lil Wayne and revisiting Enema of the State creates the impression of kegger-party clowns who never evolved. But they shouldn’t have to run from sobering up and being “On Some Emo Shit”—that’s one of Nine’s song titles—when the results are this catchy.