It’s the end of 2012, my friends, and you know what that means! It means lots of best of… lists, which I love. I lose hours discovering albums I missed and if there is any time of the year to be a Spotify subscriber, this is it. It also creates a problem, however: very few full-length album releases of note. Why release an album after all the year in review chatter? So, we are teased endlessly with released tracks of upcoming albums. Great, but I like albums, not singles! What to do?! How about an EP from Blink 182, who had a pretty damn good album only a year ago after quite the hiatus?
Blink’s offering, Dogs Eating Dogs, seemed pretty harmless to me as Blink has never required too much mental investment to listen. Blink’s beauty has always been their fairly simple, fast paced tunes and generally accessible lyrics. When it comes to music I want to listen to, if there is potential rock out and chance to raise my heart rate, I’m most likely good to go. So I went. What I did not expect, was to spend the next two days repeating Dogs Eating Dogs ad nauseum, watching a two and a half minute long YouTube video 50 times, re-watching Rush concert DVDs, and reading back issues of DRUM! Magazine because of it. Why did I do that? Because this is a very good EP, and Travis Barker really is as great as I thought.
Dogs Eating Dogs’ first track, “When I Was Young” starts off with a funeral organ backing up a plodding piano pinging away, not quite what I was expecting, but ran with it for a moment, long enough for Barker’s fast-paced pitter patter of drums to fade in and really start this thing off. The speed was here, Tom DeLonge‘s voice was spot on and the time changes mid song were happily present. The chorus slams on the brakes and has this wicked deep bass kick that will blow out your listening device and explode your heart; really an outstanding start to this little EP. It’s here I thought these guys might actually have a few good songs in their belt that didn’t just remind us of the past, but made us eager for the future. There is a lot of depth here, more than expected, and it is nicely engineered.
The follow-up is the title track, “Dogs Eating Dogs,” and honestly the main reason I wanted to write about this whole EP. I love this song, I love the pacing, and I even love the lyrics. There’s just so much drama, and I don’t mean that in a TNT-produced courtroom thriller kind of way, more like how the time changes combine with the poppy hooks and the way Mark Hoppus and DeLonge’s singing plays off of each other. It’s very classic Blink, but it’s very mature at the same time. There is more sound exploration, and I can’t say enough positive things about Travis Barker’s drumming. On a normal day I feel that Barker is a highly underrated drummer, and too many folks get caught up in the painful memories of his miserable reality TV show with his overly-napped ex-wife, but without a doubt this album is nothing without Barker, absolutely, completely nothing. Blink has never been known for sick individual fret-work, and being a punk-style band the spazzy drumming is completely taken for granted, but I really want you to pay attention to what Barker is doing on this EP. In fact, below is a short video of his studio work for this album and it’s outstanding, that guy rips so consistently, I just keep replaying “Dogs Eating Dogs” to absorb the wonderful drum work. In the immortal words of the great John Gruden, “I love this guy!”
“Disaster” continues the familiar Blink sound with what I believe to be an increased influence by DeLonge as “Disaster” has a slightly airy feel more familiar in his Angels & Airwaves work. There’s a more processed vocal track and overall a fuller sound than most Blink songs from the past. It’s certainly Blink, but may be described better as Blink+ (I’ve been watching too many commercials apparently).
“Boxing Day” slows everything down by bringing out the acoustic guitar, throws in some sad-sack breakup lyrics, and feels a lot like a Barenaked Ladies song, oddly enough. For me, it’s the most skippable song and for the sake of time I’m going to fire right into mentioning the last song on the EP, “Pretty Little Girl” cannot be skipped. Barker must have been asked to take a quick break when Blink wrote “Boxing Day” so he could be ready to go for this track. He has some of the most competent drumming of the album right here.
When it comes to talking about drumming in music, it’s probably worth noting that “competent” is a high compliment. If there is one section of a band that has unwaveringly strict requirements for being on time, it’s the drums. If you are not on time, you’re useless. If you’re dull, robotic and overly simplistic you’re the White Stripes or Def Leppard (was that a low-blow?). There’s also an argument against overly-flourished drumming compensating for a lack of competent time-keeping, but when you hit that medium where you can keep perfect time, manage complex sounds and mid-song time changes, flourish at the right time and dial it back when necessary you are a legend like Stewart Copeland or Neil Peart. I feel confident placing Barker closer to Copeland, or even Peart, on these measures than Meg White or countless background drummers. Watch the video below around the 50-second mark and note Barker’s left arm flourish on the way to the snare. It’s an incredibly subtle indicator of an intangible looseness, a groove. Barker has it. All the greats have it. Even the legendary Neil Peart had to learn this looseness from the famous Freddie Gruber after decades of stiff play. “Pretty Little Girl” showcases Barker’s skills, from the high hat work to the snare buildup, there’s such a range of sounds and that’s what makes this song so great. In fact, it’s the kind of drumming that asks to be the star of the song, not just a backfill metronome. It’s an indicator of greatness in him, and surprisingly enough puts Hoppus and DeLonge in the supporting role for this EP, which seems to work out perfectly in my opinion.
Check out the entire album below courtesy of Blink’s own Youtube channel. Hit playlist to scroll through the tracks.