By Luigi Sibona
Grab your cut-offs, high-tops and baggy tees and get ready to ‘Whoa’ like its 1997, Pop-Punk powerhouses Blink 182 are back with homecoming effort, California. Dick jokes and teen angst see a virile return with the trio’s seventh studio album, marking their first without conspiracy theorist/bit-of-a-douche, Tom DeLonge. It manages to be both somewhat a stylistic departure and an utterly regressive indulgence in Blink’s fundamentals, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
California, weighing in at 16 tracks, is certainly a mixed bag. Fellow Pop-Punk group Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba fills DeLonge’s shoes, sharing vocal duties with old hand Mark Hoppus. For the most part Skiba’s inclusion is welcome, lending vocal harmonies to the likes of Home is Such a Lonely Place that the band haven’t made work since Miss You. Skiba’s better voice was a known commodity to those familiar with his previous outfit, and it’s well suited to California’s glossy production. With Goldfinger’s John Feldmann overseeing, it’s, if nothing less, Blink’s best produced album.
Fortunately there’s more to it than that. California has a spikey energy that’s been sorely missing from Blink for many a year, their last album, Neighbourhoods, being a sodden bore. Because, really, that energy is all they ever had going for them. The thing about Blink in the early days was they should never have been a good band; they couldn’t play, couldn’t sing, and didn’t have the writing chops of their elder punk brethren… Somehow through sheer adolescent vim and an infectious pop sensibility they became (along with Greenday’s breakout Dookie) the soundtrack of every disenfranchised, middle-class 90s kid. California’s first single, Bored to Death, is vintage Blink and sounds like the kind of summer anthem to be played on repeat that All the Small Things was in ‘99 and Feeling This was in ’03.
California opens well, Cynical easing you in with Hoppus’ comfy slippers of a voice and when the drums explode onto the scene, Travis Barker is quick to remind you why he’s been Blink’s MVP since ‘99s Enema of State. They follow up with the aforementioned Bored to Death and the radio-friendly She’s Out of Her Mind that again, could have sprung straight out of Enema’s track-listing. It’s with track 4 that the cracks start to show. Los Angeles is the first of three whole songs about the Blink’s home of the titular sunshine state, followed up by San Diago and California. None of them are any good. Los Angeles shows where the angsty, emo-inflected style brought over from Alkaline Trio may not sit totally well with Blink’s disposable sugar-pop aesthetics. The song’s awkward composition has it coming out more like the clawing emo bilge of Fall Out Boy.
Blink are quick to pull it back with the first of their classic gag numbers, Built This Pool, a comforting reminder that jokes about naked dudes are not a thing of the past. The album peaks in the middle with No Future. As the strongest track, it manages to merge Hoppus and Skiba’s vocal styles and song-writing flare to create the balance the whole album threatens to achieve. It has all the na-na-na’s and Blink tropes you could want while making it easy to forget DeLonges’ whining tonalities. From here on out California loses steam and at 16 tracks it’s too long. Songs like Teenage Satellites and Rabbit Hole fall pretty flat and the penultimate title track, California, is really, irritatingly bad. ‘Here’s to you California’? Maybe not this time, guys… A sour note to end the album on but wait, what’s this, a 30 second track about fingering? We take it all back…
Here’s what we’re left wondering, these fellas are in their 40s now and have, in their rotating line up, been going for over 20 years. From the pop punk explosion of the 90s, to their brand name recognition through the noughties, Blink 182 are now in a position to produce something more introspective and vital. That’s not to say there isn’t something to be said for the kind of zesty, never-growing-up sound on show here, not every album has to be about something or burdened with self-importance (we don’t need another American Idiot).
Ultimately, it’s a fun and very listenable return from the Peter Pans of punk-pop with a handful of genuine zingers, California harks an, albeit slight, new direction for the boys.