Dogs Eating DogsThe very existence of blink-182′s new EP, Dogs Eating Dogs, might be surprising for several reasons. For one, it was rather quietly released online the week before Christmas. For another, it’s the band’s first independent release since splitting from longtime label DGC/Interscope several months ago.

But most surprising is that, in five songs across 19 furious minutes, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker have finally delivered upon the promise of their most mature and affecting album, 2003′s self-titled effort. Their last full-length, 2011′s Neighborhoods, was hobbled by a lot of factors, most notably its bifurcated nature; DeLonge recorded his parts in his own studio, while Hoppus and Barker recorded theirs separately. What resulted was a record that was listenable but disjointed.

Dogs Eating Dogs, by contrast, was recorded together – and the vast improvement is obvious. The most unique elements of each member’s musical personality shine through at times; the atmospheric keyboards on opening track “When I Was Young” are right out of DeLonge’s Angels & Airwaves playbook, and it was clearly Barker who invited alt-rapper Yelawolf to drop a verse on closing track “Pretty Little Girl.” But this is a blink-182 project through and through, with killer drum tracks, singable melodies and – finally – the combined vocal prowess of both Hoppus and DeLonge, who’s finally found a sweet spot between his sneering blink-era voice and his airier present-day tenor.

There are some odd moments on the EP; the mostly-acoustic “Boxing Day” sticks out like a sore thumb among the other four rockers, and Yelawolf’s brief lines on “Pretty Little Girl” are a tad incongruous on the DeLonge-led love anthem. But those are minor missteps, particularly when songs like the title track remind you why you played the hell out of those early albums in middle and high school. They may have grown up and largely passed by the dick and fart jokes of their early works, but blink-182 still know their way around a punchy, peppy melody better than most of their aging pop-punk contemporaries.

Bottom line: if Neighborhoods only made you cautiously optimistic about the future of the band, Dogs Eating Dogs does a superb job of dropping the safety net out from under you.

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