What does Blink-182 have to prove in 2023? Near the end of their new album ONE MORE TIME…, Tom DeLonge broadens the question further: “2023, who the fuck are we?” Twelve years since they last released an LP with the classic lineup of DeLonge, bassist Mark Hoppus, and drummer Travis Barker, they know they’re not the same group yet are all too aware of their legacy and place as elder statesmen of a genre they not only helped create but that’s entered back into the cultural mainstream (thanks in part to Barker’s role as hip-hop’s favorite drummer). The new record doesn’t try to stake their claim or push pop-punk forward in any significant way, which has the positive effect of not sounding self-serious or overly precious. At best, it captures the pure joy of three friends having fun making the sort of music that propelled them to stardom while acknowledging the challenges they’ve faced along the way, namely Hoppus’ recent battle with cancer and the 2008 plane crash that nearly killed Barker. But despite the growth they’ve experienced and display on ONE MORE TIME…, and as earned as the sentimentality feels, the trio lean so hard on nostalgia that they neglect to answer the question they ultimately direct towards everyone.
One way this nostalgia manifests is through references to the band’s past work, which some fans will find exhausting and uninspired. For others, it’s the thing that will draw them into it. On an album that reaches for the anthemic more than the personal, ‘You Don’t Know What You’ve Got’ sees Hoppus opening up about his diagnosis in relatively grim detail (“Long weeks of impending doom/ Stuck in life’s waiting room”), but it stumbles in combining the haunting echo of ‘Adam’s Song’ with a more spirited chorus. ‘Anthem Part 3’ calls back to 2001’s ‘Anthem Part Two’ and 1999’s ‘Anthem’, but it’s more focused on simply completing the trilogy than adding anything of value beyond serving as a musically satisfying intro. Even paying homage to their 2004 smash ‘I Miss You’ as the title track draws to a close, heartfelt as it may be, sounds obvious and obligatory. “My old shit ends here tonight,” DeLonge and Hoppus declare early on, but ONE MORE TIME… is all about the old shit.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the music is too clean to embrace the messiness that comes with trying to grow up without distancing themselves from the adolescent impulses that fired up their early output. Existential despair and juvenile humour go toe to toe, and while sometimes the band strikes just the right balance (‘Turpentine’), it’s mostly a mixed bag – a song titled ‘Edging’ that includes the line (“She tried to pray it away, so I fucked her in church”) wouldn’t work in any context, but certainly not sandwiched between two of the record’s most earnest cuts. One of those is ‘When We Were Young’, which shares its name with the emo nostalgia-fest that Blink-182 just headlined and would have made for a rousing sing-along if the chorus wasn’t so lyrically clunky (“Nothing’s too fast cause we explode together”). The album is overstuffed at 17 tracks, and it sounds less like Blink-182 have a lot to say than trying many different ways to say the same thing. However palpable the chemistry still is – and noticeably elevated rather than watered down by Baker’s crisp production – the songs are too cloying and by-the-numbers to stir up too much new excitement.
Maybe you wish the band would transfer some of the raw, youthful energy of the interludes onto the rest of ONE MORE TIME…, as they effectively do on ‘Dance With Me’. Or maybe you wish there were more songs like new wave-inspired ‘Blink Wav’, which is a more invigorating tribute to their influences than the song that actually interpolates the Cure’s ‘Close to Me’, ‘Fell in Love’. But that’s not the album Blink-182 intended or have made. The song that comes closest to encapsulating it is in fact the title track, an acoustic ballad that references the band members’ near-death experiences yet sounds stripped of all its power. You don’t doubt the emotion when DeLonge sings, “Do I have to die to make you miss me?”, and you never question what it’s taken for the band to get back together. But its adherence to a certain formula leaves you feeling, like much of the record, that it’s meant to soundtrack their lives instead of really capturing them. Even in its immature moments, it’s all a lot little too neat and almost cinematic. There’s nothing wrong with looking back on and honouring the past, but that’s only one way to go about it.