All throughout middle school, Blink-182 was my favorite band. I discovered them in sixth grade, which was well after their break-up. Though I didn’t believe Blink-182 had any chance of getting back together for the kids, I dived deep into their discography, buying nearly every song on iTunes and trying to learn how to play drums like Travis Barker. This was before Barker, (original) guitarist-vocalist Tom DeLonge, and bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus made an appearance at the 2009 Grammys and announced that, in fact, they would be getting back together for the kids. One of my good friends left a voice message on my dad’s landline to relay the news. I was at my mom’s house that night, so I found out that my favorite band was reuniting a day later. What kind of 12-year-old watches the Grammys anyway?
The Blink-182 reunion happened in 2009, and they went on the inevitable Reunion Tour, which was my first concert. I attended the show with my dad and the friend who left me the voice message. Their openers included Weezer, Taking Back Sunday, and Matt and Kim, and I had the night of my life. DeLonge and Hoppus sounded, frankly, bad, but isn’t that kind of the point of going to a Blink-182 show? They didn’t shy away from sexual innuendo either, and my dad told me the next day that I was officially a teenager. I feigned surprise at the song “Feeling This,” shouting loudly at the song’s start that I had “never heard it before” despite it being one of their most popular tracks. I didn’t want my dad thinking I listened to anything inappropriate (sorry, Dad)! My friend looked over at me, incredulous, and shouted back, “You don’t know ‘Feeling This?!’”
In that liminal space between a Reunion Announcement and the subsequent Reunion Album, I waited, ever so patiently. I spent hours upon hours browsing YouTube, searching “Blink-182 new song leak” with the relentless tenacity of someone like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, or a One Direction super-fan. My results were often met with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which sounds nothing like Blink-182 by the way. Somehow, I discovered that the upcoming single was called “Up All Night” years before it released. This was thanks to my thorough Internet investigations that likely started and ended at Wikipedia. I had no idea what it would sound like until the summer of 2011 when it finally came out.
I distinctly remember where I was and whom I was with when the news broke. I was at the now-shuttered, chain-breakfast restaurant called Mimi’s Cafe, eating pancakes with my dad, and we got back in the car and listened to “Up All Night.” I convinced myself I loved the song. It had only been two years in waiting, but two years feels like 20 years when you’re in middle school. I didn’t fully understand how long most Blink-182 fans had waited for this song. Their most recent full-length record at the time was their 2003 self-titled album, the last bona fide Blink-182 album if you ask me. Anything with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba doesn’t count. I listened to “Up All Night” incessantly, figuring that the more time I would spend with it, the more I would eventually come to appreciate it. I taught myself how to play it on drums AND guitar this time. But no matter how much I thought I loved it, I was actually quite disappointed. It sounds like a mediocre Angels & Airwaves song, and the music video features a still shot of graffiti that reads “NO PARENTS.” All three Blink-182 members were parents by this point.
Then Blink-182 announced another tour, the 10th Honda Civic Tour, and My Chemical Romance and Matt and Kim were opening in my city. They even brought Manchester Orchestra for other dates, making it one of the most ludicrous concert line-ups I can fathom. Blink, MCR, and Manchester Orchestra together is bewildering. This was the Neighborhoods tour, and it honestly also felt like the Reunion Tour, but I wasn’t complaining. Of course I wanted to go see my favorite band. So I went with my dad and a different friend, and I had the time of my life once again. Unfortunately, we missed My Chemical Romance, something I think about and regret to this day. As all of the black-clad, eyeliner-adorned teenagers were leaving, we were entering the venue. Blink-182 played four songs from Neighborhoods, and, despite my genuine disappointment with “Up All Night,” I was excited to hear the final product. Maybe this was the worst song on the album.
“Up All Night” is definitely one of the worst songs on the album, but that’s not saying much, because I was outright disappointed when Neighborhoods released. This was an album I passionately waited for, and here it was in all its unassuming, underwhelming glory. The songs simply didn’t click with me in the same way that songs like “Obvious,” “Anthem Part Two,” or “Dumpweed” did. Shortly after Neighborhoods released, I exited my pop-punk phase and entered the world of Big Indie. Long gone were Blink-182, All Time Low, and We the Kings, and in were bands like The Shins, Arcade Fire (more on them later), and M83.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, French electronic artist M83 had released their magnum opus, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, a month before Blink-182’s Neighborhoods. It wasn’t until I heard “Midnight City” on alternative radio shortly after its release that I discovered M83 for the first time. I had limited iTunes money, so I didn’t get the chance to buy Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming until February 2012. In the meantime, I listened to the record, track by track, on YouTube. To say the least, my mind was blown. This was music. This was art. I was freshly 15, so forgive the embarrassing recounting of my initial reactions. I loved the swift urgency of “New Map,” the sincere poignancy of “Wait,” and the colossal splendor of “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea.” M83 was my new favorite band, and, once I bought the album, I listened to it on a daily basis. I fell asleep listening to it every night during my freshman year of high school. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming resonated with me in a way that is still unprecedented. It has remained my favorite album since I first heard it.
After listening to the record hundreds of times, I went back and listened to M83’s other records, such as Saturdays = Youth and Before the Dawn Heals Us, finding myself infatuated with all of it (except the instrumental self-titled debut and the ambient Digital Shades, Vol. 1). I was falling in love with M83 and Anthony Gonzalez in the same fashion that I was with Blink-182 just a few years prior. I had attached myself to this music on an incredibly fervent level. I was a teenager, and M83 was my teenage musical obsession. I loved how emotional M83’s music was, and I’m sure it was probably because I still loved emo music but had relinquished my “phase.” It’s OK though because now I listen to emo again un-ironically.
Gonzalez wouldn’t release the follow-up album to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming until 2016, so I spent my time waiting and waiting, again. What could M83 be working on for five years? It ended up being Junk, something of an ‘80s-tribute record in a much different vein that its predecessor was. This was straight-up corny, and it felt like something of a statement. It was a complete departure from the shoegaze-esque, grandiose, IMAX-sized music Gonzalez had become known for. At my college radio station, it seemed like I had become the resident M83 fan, so some people asked for my thoughts about Junk when it came out. I had repeated myself as I did with Blink-182’s “Up All Night.” I had spent five years waiting for Junk, so I told myself, and others, that I “enjoyed it.” This took plenty of convincing because there are some songs on Junk that I actively dislike, even though there are several others that I still like (“Do It, Try It,” “Walkway Blues,” and “The Wizard” to name a few).
In the same fashion that I attended both Blink-182 reunion shows in Bonner Springs, Ks., I went to the Junk tour with my now-fiancée in Kansas City, Mo. Similar to both Blink-182 shows, I immensely enjoyed myself. We ended up in the front row, and my now-fiancée was magnanimous enough to buy me an Anthony-Gonzalez-signed drum head from the merch stand. We also met multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lawlor, whom I approached and awkwardly asked for a picture. Despite that M83 dedicated a sizable chunk of the setlist to Junk, it’s still one of my favorite shows I’ve been to. They opened with “Reunion,” so of course it was fun. I realized that I didn’t like Junk until a few years later. I knew I was disappointed with it on a subconscious level. Now, that disappointment is very much conscious. I enjoyed 2019’s DSVII, especially as a The Legend of Zelda fanatic, but I’m still waiting for that proper follow-up to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Blink-182 and M83 are like two sides of the same coin for me. I developed a deep admiration of both of these artists after their last truly great albums, and then I tried to convince myself that I enjoyed their new music even though I was heavily disappointed with both. Looking at both of these experiences led me to wonder about what exactly constitutes a disappointing album. This is an album that fans have been anticipating for a while, generating excitement, only to be dismayed with the final outcome. Examples of this include Arcade Fire’s Everything Now, Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys, and, contentiously and somewhat less so, Radiohead’s The King of Limbs. Everything Now is universally disliked. Codes and Keys is definitively the worst Death Cab album, even though there are some songs on there I actually enjoy, such as “You Are a Tourist” and “Underneath the Sycamore.” The King of Limbs is the only album of those three that has grown on me since its release.
Yesterday, I asked people on Twitter what albums they were excited about but were ultimately let down by. Answers ranged from Pearl Jam’s 2013 album Lightning Bolt to the most recent Tame Impala effort, The Slow Rush, which was also the most common response. The Strokes’ Comedown Machine was mentioned, but, strangely, The New Abnormal wasn’t. Chance the Rapper’s first non-mixtape The Big Day was mentioned a handful of times, and rightfully so. The 1975’s Notes on a Conditional Form came up, and this was expected, considering its polarization and indulgent length. Ariana Grande’s Positions was another interesting one, and one that I have to agree with, as it didn’t come close to matching the compelling songwriting or immediacy of its two predecessors, Sweetener and thank u, next. There were even some surprising inclusions, such as Rina Sawayama’s eponymous debut and Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, both of which I love. Of course, however, someone had to bring up Everything Now. The Carters’ Everything Is Love was mentioned, and it was an album I forgot about and still have yet to listen to all the way through.
I wanted to write this piece because this is a subject I’ve wondered about for a while, both as a music writer and a music-maker. How can The Strokes go from writing something like “Take It or Leave It” to something like “Why Are Sundays So Depressing.” How does Arcade Fire go from making “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)” to putting out “Signs of Life?” Songwriters can assuredly get worse at their craft, but that also leaves room for new artists to enter the conversation with their own material. For every bad, new Blink-182 album, there’s a band like Dogleg or Oso Oso. With every new batch of mediocre Strokes music, you get exciting new indie bands like Dehd or Porridge Radio. I know Dogleg doesn’t sound like Blink-182, and I know that Porridge Radio doesn’t sound like The Strokes, but you get the gist.
Trends are called trends precisely because of their ephemerality. No creative style is fixed; they are all fluid and change overtime. For instance, my fiancée and I, deciding on the colors for our wedding, are using an emerald green, which some people have said will look dated in a decade. But of course it will. There’s no such thing as a timeless wedding photo, and that’s because all artistic choices are redolent of their own time. Led Zeppelin sounds like the 1970s, just as Attack Attack! sounds like 2009. Throughout this process, artists can struggle with their own sense of relevancy and attempt at innovation while falling short. It’s completely banal to say this, but no artist wants to make “the same album twice.” Yes, it’s incredibly trite, but that’s how music evolves in the best of ways, and it’s also how we end up with something like Everything Now.
There’s also a point at which artists become the ill-desired legacy act, like Smashing Pumpkins relying on its early catalogue to sell arena tickets. No one goes to a Smashing Pumpkins show to hear something from Oceania. Fans are mostly buying those tickets to hear Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and maybe a little bit of Gish, too. Even slightly more contemporary bands, such as The Strokes, are now classic rock, and that officially happened with 2013’s Comedown Machine. If it sounds like I’m rambling at this point, it’s because 1. There’s no editor here, and 2. Disappointing albums arrive in many forms.
In M83’s case, it was an unequivocally significant departure from the sound that had garnered them a fanbase to begin with. For Arcade Fire, it was that Everything Now resembled lukewarm, uninspired Reflektor B-sides. Blink-182’s Neighborhoods disappointed me because, after all of this waiting, here was a batch of mostly forgettable songs. That same case can be applied to The Strokes’ The New Abnormal. Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush was divisive mainly because of how incredible Kevin Parker’s previous three albums were and that he’s at his cultural zenith. Tame Impala has never been bigger, but we got The Slow Rush. There’s a less compelling argument for The 1975’s Notes on a Conditional Form in the same vein as Tame Impala, and it’s less compelling because The 1975 have been massive since their 2016 sophomore album.
It’s difficult to point to one of these larger implications and cite it as The Big Take. There’s no conclusive statement or consensus here. Albums can be disappointing for myriad reasons, and this was simply a way for me to explore my own relationship with some of my favorite artists and records. Disappointment is an impossible emotion without anticipation, and that’s partly why I’ve been so interested in this subject. We’re often excited about a record because the artist has previously released music that was great, but that doesn’t indicate that the new album will be undeniably good. Tastes change. Trends change. Everything changes, and those same changes are reflected in the art we consume.
Ending note: If you made it this far, I want to genuinely thank you for reading! I know this was long and a bit rambly, but that’s half the fun of newsletter writing, isn’t it? It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a newsletter piece. I haven’t landed a freelance pitch in a few weeks, and I had an urge to write something. So, here we are. Thank you!