Yes, the pop-punk titans are just wrapping up their celebratory summer roadshow, which commemorated 20 years of the band’s 1999 pop breakthrough, Enema of the State. But a few new jams sneaked into the setlist, too, as Blink prepared to release its ninth studio album, Nine, this Friday (Sept. 20) on Columbia.
As the successor to the band’s 2016 comeback LP, California — and its second major project since Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba replaced guitarist and singer Tom DeLonge in 2015 — Nine aims to master the Blink 2.0 blueprint: more dynamic rock melodies, greater reign over the rhythms for virtuosic drummer Travis Barker and a keener lyrical focus that allows one of the most successful guitar groups of the last three decades to remain relevant, even as they’re now eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Gone is the bathroom humor, here to stay are the hard-hitting tunes tackling society’s ills, as well as Mark Hoppus’s ongoing battle with depression. But that’s not to say Nine is solely doom and gloom: There’s plenty of fun to be had here, too — it’s still Blink-182.
Here’s every track on the new, energizing album, ranked worst to best.
15. “Hungover You”
More or less a throwaway track, a mid-tempo rocker aimed at an ex-lover either Hoppus or Skiba — hard to tell who’s lovesick when they both sing verses — just can’t seem to shake. Formulaic, unmemorable. Onward!
14. “Generational Divide”
“Generational Divide” is essentially an interlude at 49 seconds, and while Blink has never been quite punk-rock enough to pull off a bunch of bonafide minute-or-less howitzers, this is still a cool blast that reminds of “Heart’s All Gone” from the largely forgotten Neighborhoods (2011) record. Barker really unloads in the last 20 seconds — one day he’ll score his own extended solo track (we hope).
This is another shorty at just 85 seconds, but “Ransom” is less of a straight jam session and more of a truncated banger that begins with some fancy autotune and a slow-burn verse before the speedfreak chorus hits. The narrative here appears to be two lovers moving to Los Angeles together, being short on cash, and then soon enough, the girl is holding the guy for — you guessed it — ransom.
12. “The First Time”
For a few leading moments on the album’s opener, “The First Time,” it feels like 2003’s “Feeling This” might kick in, but soon enough a hulking guitar blast swoops in to take the song in a different direction. But for an opening track, “The First Time” doesn’t really go much of anywhere. If you’re giving this album a try and you listen to this tune and say “meh,” we implore you to keep going. It gets better!
11. “Run Away”
“Run Away” sounds like two different songs scooped off the cutting room floor and stitched together. There’s a minor-key verse that features touches of digital programming, then there’s Skiba’s simple, shout-rock chorus with classic Blink guitar and drums as Hoppus sings underneath. Kudos at the attempt to freshen up the aesthetic with some studio trickery, but this one falls flat.
10. “Remember to Forget Me”
The album closer “Remember to Forget Me” will play well live, especially if the band sticks to the acoustic Mark-and-Matt duet of the first chorus (before the electric kicks in). The somber sentiment is almost reminiscent of “Stay Together For the Kids.” The digital rhythms here are cool enough, but anytime a drum machine is used over Barker — a human drum machine — it’s hard not to get a little pissy.
9. “On Some Emo Shit”
Considering how melancholy most of Nine’s lyrical content is, “On Some Emo Shit” really could’ve been the album title — and a slew of recovering emo kids would’ve rejoiced. Either way, this is a sturdy album track detailing a lost love and emo tropes like “maybe I’m better off dead.” Also, maybe the album’s biggest surprise can be found on this tune, as Hoppus sings about Brooklyn and Manhattan — the East Coast finally makes it onto a Blink record!
8. “Happy Days”
At first blush, the earworm hook and nearly monotone verses paint “Happy Days” as something of an insipid filler track. But when weighed against Hoppus’s struggles with depression — and given a few extra listens — this tune builds its meaning. The lyric “walls of isolation inside of my pain/ and I don’t know if I’m ready to change,” is particularly telling. By the song’s end, you may even be rooting for Hoppus as he belts “I wanna feel happy days.”
7. “Pin the Grenade”
“Pin the Grenade” may be nothing more than a chorus searching for its verses, but it’s still a wildly fun pop-punk jammer. “If you don’t love me, lie to my face!” is a great line worthy of alone-in-the-car singing. If you miss the old Enema of the State-era Blink, you’ll probably find this to be bright reprisal.
6. “Black Rain”
Gotta love the intensity here, from Hoppus’ urgent verse vocal to Skiba’s gloomy hook to Barker’s innovative merge of live and studio drum bits. Of all the programming flourishes that set Nine far apart from California, the little stutter-stop guitar chug that hides in the first verse is the coolest trick. The lyrics seem to discuss grief and loss of faith, but it’s fairly open-ended as Skiba laments: “Tragedy/ You took my everything/ Oh, now all I feel/ All I feel is pain.”
Blink-182 doesn’t live in a vacuum. Much of Nine reacts to current events, and “Heaven” is inspired by the 2018 Thousand Oaks, Calif. mass shooting that killed 12 people, just a couple miles from Barker’s house. The chorus here hits like a ton of bricks, not only in Hoppus’s dark lyric “Angel wings at the bus stop/ halos left on top of the bar,” but in the hard-drop chord progression that may not feel natural at first, but by the end of the tune you’ll be wondering why Blink doesn’t take more melodic chances like this.
It’s just what every anguished person wishes someone would scream in their face: “I don’t care what you say and I don’t care what you do/ I’m going to the darkside with you!” Skiba’s nearly robotic verse is erased by a booming, punky chorus that lifts “Darkside” to an anthemic chant. It’s one of the few tracks on the album that feels hopeful — a much-needed emotional respite. If only the guys could’ve come up with a pre-chorus that wasn’t simply “and I wait, and I wait, and I wait …” then they’d maybe have an instant classic.
3. “Blame It on My Youth”
Nine does well to galvanize Barker’s relentlessly technical rhythms, shoving them into the forefront to drive several of the album’s key tunes, including the shuffling lead single “Blame It on My Youth.” The narrative is classic punk disaffection and a loose thread on Blink’s formation — “I was bored to death, so I started a band,” Hoppus sings — while Barker goes to work on the high hat, laying a light-treading blueprint. The drummer’s restraint allows some extra space for the blinking and warpy studio tricks that will ultimately define this record.
2. “I Really Wish I Hated You”
The guitars on “Really Wish” are so buried in the mix that they’re nearly invisible — and it works. With Nine, Blink sought to make a record for 2019, something fresh and modern that didn’t totally abandon their bones but also didn’t simply reinvent the wheel. This feels like the right mix for them, with the methodical and hooky pop verse marching steadily toward Skiba’s shouty rock chorus. It’s a biting earworm, a tune that will almost certainly play well live.
1. “No Heart To Speak Of”
The great irony of Nine is that for its modish, pop-leaning efforts, the best track on this album is an old-school, emo-era exploder that could’ve easily appeared on their 2003 self-titled effort. Skiba is given full reign to lay into the towering chorus, a lovelorn gut punch that pop-punk lifers will be screaming before the end of the song. Finally, Blink lets a very capable singer showcase what he can really do. More of this, please!
Sure, if Blink would’ve went and made a whole album of this, dissenters would’ve probably called them stubborn or stuck in the 2000s, but man-oh-man does “No Heart To Speak Of” absolutely rip. Skiba feels in it for the long haul here, and the skittering piano and drum outtro ties a pretty bow. This the most propulsive Blink-182 song in recent memory and it’s even not close.