Fart jokes have long been a part of blink-182’s persona, a juvenile yet iconic mechanism for assuring that even when they convey heartfelt emotion, the band can’t quite take themselves too seriously. They couldn’t even wait to release their ninth studio album, appropriately named NINE, without putting this knee jerk reaction to sentimentality on full display. In a Reddit post a couple of months ago, singer and bassist Mark Hoppus discussed the meaning of the album’s name, writing that nine is the number of universal love—and of Uranus. By that logic, NINE is a double-edged sword, but its sincerity is sharp and cuts deeper than some of their older music on albums like Neighborhoods (2011) and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001). NINE starts out as a classic blink-182 record, and while it retains its defining pop punk sound throughout, it veers into a darker, more alternative realm with a shocking lack of butt jokes to counteract the album’s cutting candor.
By calling their latest album NINE, blink-182 calls explicit attention to how far they have come. Yet despite the unspoken pride that the title exhibits, it does not recount blink’s journey so much as it yearns for the past. The album embarks on a nostalgic note with the opening track “First Time,” a longing look at an earlier era, reminiscing that there “ain’t nothing like the first time.” The following track, “Happy Days,” carries a similar yearning for different and better days. With a solidly wistful backdrop, the tracklist begins to transition from vague memories into a story of heartbreak that starts to unravel on “Heaven.” “Heaven” is one of those enigmatic songs like “I Miss You” or “Adam’s Song” that begs the question of how blink-182 can perform ridiculous tracks like “Aliens Exist” and still write lyrics as moving as “Angel wings at the bus stop / Halos left on top of the bar / Heaven doesn’t want me now.”
While NINE mostly preserves the band’s classic sound, there is a marked tonal shift from sadness to rage during the 49-second sixth track “Generational Divide” in which Hoppus stops just short of screaming, “Are we better? / Is it better?” With no answer to the band’s pleading question, the album continues to darken, sinking to depths that are not experienced in blink-182’s other work. The energy from “Generational Divide” spills over into the gut-wrenching chorus of “Run Away,” a track so electric that it is impossible not to physically react to every languished drum beat.
Yet following this irate transition is a deep plunge into the despairs of a shattered love that begins with “Black Rain” and its gloomy opening line, “Tragedy erase my memory.” This song is the most experimental on NINE, ending in a heavy metal breakdown that vibrates with sorrow and ends just as abruptly as the relationship it aims to express. Misery clouds this half of the album, including songs like “No Heart to Speak of” which paints grief as “Dying on the bathroom floor / Thinking of a life that we had before” and climaxes into a scream, a rare feat for the band. Although just as grievous, the following track “On Some Emo Shit” ushers in some of the band’s sense of humor, slipping the phrase “Sunrise always gives us the creeps” in-between otherwise morose lyrics.
The heartbroken narrative climaxes with the penultimate song “Hungover You.” While the song’s metaphor is obvious—it’s in the title—it does not seek to be poetic. It errs on the side of a shared ambiguity, describing a feeling most listeners will sadly know, the misery of slowly forgetting a loved one and watching the signs of their presence fade into ghosts. But unlike blink-182’s previous album, California (2016), there is not a goofy closing track like “Brohemian Rhapsody” to act as the butt joke that cushions the fall after an emotional exposé. Instead, the band chooses to end with “Remember to Forget Me”, which leaves listeners to process the bitter aftertaste of fear and loneliness.
If there is even a moment of pause after “Remember to Forget Me,” NINE will restart, bleeding right back into the rosy-eyed opening track, “First Time,” just as the devastating end of one relationship fades into the beginning of something new and beautiful. And so the cycle continues. Although blink-182’s latest album is imbued with the band’s traditional punk rock spirit, it is tie-dyed with bolder splotches of emotion than their previous work. NINE is truly on some emo shit.
Voices’ Choices: Heaven, On Some Emo Shit