Words by Maddy Howell
Following a 5-year stretch of uncertainty surrounding their future, Poway pop-punk pioneers Blink-182 return with their eagerly anticipated 7th album, California. After the messy departure of lead guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge in early 2015, explained mostly via a shroud of insults and alien-related statements, the band found their replacement in Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba.
With a line-up change of these proportions, it seems understandable to greet California with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Especially following 2011’s Neighbourhoods – an album in which the band tried and often failed to expand their sound to the darker side of punk. However, after the tragic death of Jerry Finn, the producer who guided Blink-182 through their career since 1999’s Enema of the State – it was time for someone new to try to recapture the essence of the band. Enter John Feldmann.
With writing credit on all 16 tracks, Feldmann has reverted Blink back to what they do best. It’s a return to the light-hearted and loveable vibes of 15 years ago, with the darker elements of 2003’s self-titled album still making a welcome appearance throughout the record.
The album is a reflection of the optimism and opportunity of California from the get-go, with opener ‘Cynical’ taking Mark Hoppus’ trademark pop-punk vocals and adding the boisterous and uplifting melodies of Blink-182 that have been missing for a decade. But it’s Skiba’s screams that truly cement the track as a highlight of the album, with his strained whines of “what’s the point of saying sorry now?” instantly proving his capability of filling DeLonge’s shoes.
Lead single ‘Bored To Death’ is a rampant summer anthem, packed with Travis Barker’s signature powerhouse drumbeats, heavy guitar and a chorus so massive all doubts about the “new” Blink-182 seem to leave as soon as they arrive.
However, on the track’s debut there was always the fear that Hoppus and Skiba’s voices would somehow just be too similar. In a band so invariably celebrated for the distinguishable contrast in vocal styles, the danger of them blending into a bland forgettable abyss was quite real.
Luckily, ‘Left Alone’ demonstrates the unique vocals Skiba is capable of, and begins to further reinforce his sense of belonging in the band. With his voice in such a high register, scratching to get to the notes of the chorus, the desperation and passion that DeLonge failed to bring to the table in his later years make a triumphant comeback.
In a band so often renowned for its comedic value, one of the things missing from the last decade of Blink-182 were the joke tracks. Sure, maybe a trio of 40-somethings playing songs about dicks isn’t as authentic as it was back on 2001’s Enema of the State, but it’s somewhat refreshing to see the band back to a more jovial and goofy form on tracks such as ‘Built This Pool’ and ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’.
Skiba- driven ‘The Only Thing That Matters’ pays an incredible homage to Reel Big Fish’s ‘All I Want Is More’ in a track resembling a bizarre mash up of Green Day’s ‘St. Jimmy’ and Alkaline Trio’s ‘Mr. Chainsaw’, ultimately forming a 2 minute masterpiece reminiscent of everything enthralling about Blink-182.
The references to musical inspirations don’t stop there, with ‘No Future’ sneaking in a quick mention to Rancid’s 1998 album Life Won’t Wait, in the same manner that ‘Kings of the Weekend’ does for Bad Religion’s No Control. The entire record is an exultant celebration of Blink-182 as a whole: their influences, their hometown, their journey and what’s still to come.
In a way, it’s potentially best to hit reset on Blink-182 following this line-up change, much in the same way it was after drummer Scott Raynor’s departure. California doesn’t regurgitate “DeLonge’s Blink” in any way, but the spirit of the band is kept alive in every note. The premise of the album is carefree but so precisely careful, they knew the direction they wanted (and potentially needed) to take and they took it. Whether it was intentional or not, Blink-182 have put pop-punk straight back on course.