No, you didn’t fall into a time warp and end up in 2001; you’re just listening to Blink 182’s newest album.
It’s about that time, boys and girls. Pop Punk prophets, Blink-182 are back in the new release section with California, their first album in half a decade. The difference this time is that Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker are going at it without their charismatic co-frontman, Tom DeLonge. Relationships between DeLonge and the rest of the band have been strained going all the way back to 2003’s self titled Blink-182 with the band taking a five year hiatus after its release due to Delonge wanting more creative and artistic expression than what he had in Blink. The trio reformed in 2009 and released their sixth studio album, Neighborhoods two years later but splintered again in 2014 due to numerous side projects and creative differences. In DeLonge’s absence, Alkaline Trio singer, Matt Skiba has been recruited to take his place on vocals and guitar.
“Cynical” and “Bored to Death” kick California off on a dark note, (as their titles might suggest) with Hoppus screaming at you about both alienation and regret with Barker’s manic drumming matching his intensity perfectly. Songs like “No Future” and “Sober” are when the band gets back in touch with their pop punk roots of capturing the problems of your average suburban teen. “I know I messed up and it might be over but let me call you when I’m sober.” 30 second interludes like “Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” are meant to serve as comic relief to lighten up the angsty tone of the album but end up sounding unnecessary and shoved in only to get a small laugh.
If there’s one thing about California that disappoints me, it’s that the guitar playing is very bland, which is a huge regression from the playing done on 2011’s Neighborhoods. Tom DeLonge’s departure from Blink has cast an enormous shadow over the band and this album specifically, so it’s understandable that as the new guy, Skiba wouldn’t try to fill his shoes right away and would end up taking a backseat to Hoppus. That being said, if you hadn’t known that Skiba was on the album, prior to listening to California, you wouldn’t have a clue he played one note on it. Now I’m not saying that Skiba’s playing is bad by any means, it’s just very forgettable and seems to take a backseat to almost everything else on the album. Hopefully, if the relationship between Skiba and Blink-182 becomes a long term arrangement, we’ll see more of his influence on the music rather than him sounding like a paid studio musician.
With California, Blink-182 does an excellent job of balancing the return to their roots as the golden boys of pop punk with their growth as songwriters. “Whoa Ohh” choruses, lyrics dealing with failed relationships and self-loathing are a welcome throwback to earlier times that longtime fans will love. This, coupled with the added dimension of Hoppus’ more ambiguous lyrics makes songs like “Teenage Satellites” and “Kings of the Weekend” come across as fresh and full of energy instead of contrived or forced. California doesn’t set the world on fire or go into a sea of uncharted territory for the band but what it is, is the Blink-182 album that fans have been waiting 15 plus years for.