The not-so-secret wish of every man-child is to grow up: Do the sex, get a girlfriend, make a mark. Two of Blink-182’s contemporaries embraced quite different versions of adulting some time ago: Weezer traded irony for radical sincerity with future-classic Pinkerton in 1996, while Green Day went political — and found a new generation of fans — with American Idiot in 2004. Weezer quickly, and permanently, receded behind irony again; they’re promoting their coming tour alongside Green Day and Fall Out Boy with a single that references, and somehow sounds like, air guitar. Green Day, meanwhile, announced the dates with yet another song about riots goin’ on.
Blink-182, strange to say, may have matured more organically than either of those two. The intent was obvious enough when they chose to self-title their 2003 follow-up to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. But they only polished away the turd jokes, and that album’s standouts (“I Miss You, “Feeling This”) remain peak Blink: lovelorn, anxious, irresistibly singable. The band went on hiatus in 2005 when singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge quit to try his hand at Serious Rock with Angels & Airwaves, then reunited in 2009, only for DeLonge to depart again (and go on to generate recent headlines like “U.S. Navy confirms Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 was right about UFOs” — grown-man shit, to be sure).
This is the band’s second excellent album with singer-bassist Mark Hoppus at the helm and Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba as skipper. (Travis Barker, returns, thankfully, on drums.) Skiba sounds nothing like DeLonge. Matt is cool, even suave, as a singer — the greased pompadour to Tom’s spiky bangs and Mark’s dorky faux-hawk. Hoppus remains endearingly awkward as the star, earnest without the naked neediness of so many other emo men. It goes without saying that they keep the double entendres in their pants, but the album’s not without a sense of humor. “On Some Emo Shit” pairs its dad-joke title with a chopped-up lo-fi sound that that a teen fan of Soundcloud sad-guy nothing,nowhere could get down with. “Run Away,” one of the best songs here, manages a similarly unlikely feat, with Hoppus and Skiba rapping over a Barker beat that sounds in the best way like a Linkin Park homage, then launching into a Linkin Park-sized, Blink-182-flavored chorus.
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It’s not merely the nods to emo’s evolution that wins the guys big-boy points. Some of the breakup songs here are positively nuanced, like “Hungover You,” which unfolds into a portrait of two codependent alcoholics. (The chorus actually goes too hard, but Skiba’s delicate pre-chorus is a balm.) It’s “Blame It On My Youth,” though, that tackles the enema in the room: Blink’s dickhead years. And when Skiba comes in, the song zooms out to take in the larger scene. “I got stuck in the thick mud,” Hoppus remembers, “the flash flood, punk rock, and the alcohol”; Skiba explains that “tough breaks are the only kind I know.” But instead of self-pity in their voices, there’s something more like self-awareness. When they veer from “Can you forgive me now?” to “You could never kill my high,” it’s no coincidence that the latter is past tense, and the former spoken in the present.