Blink-182 is back with their 7th studio album California, but for awhile the band’s future was up in the air. After guitarist Tom DeLonge “left” the group in early 2015 to work on his other non-musical affairs (DeLonge maintains he’s still in the band and keeps in contact with current members), the group’s next move was uncertain. Nonetheless, after recruiting Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as DeLonge’s replacement, the new lineup finally hit the studio with noted pop-punk producer John Feldmann and delivered an epic-sounding, hook-happy album that has the band returning to their sing-a-long form that made them famous in their glory days.
The first thing to address is Skiba, DeLonge’s fill-in (for now?). Longtime Blink fans fell in love with DeLonge’s nasal-tinged wail that screamed teen angst. His voice was the perfect contrast to bassist/co-vocalist Mark Hoppus’ more clearer vocals. It’s one of the defining characteristics of the band that made them arguably the most popular band during pop punk’s mainstream hayday of the late ’90s-early-2000s. Skiba admirably takes his stab at filling those heavy shoes, and the results are a double-edged sword. Skiba and Hoppus’ both possess a baritone with a tenor range, and while their voices are different enough to be able to tell which one’s singing, that distinct contrast in vocals the band once had with DeLonge in the fold is gone. However, this doesn’t mean that Skiba did a bad job vocally. Songs like “Teenage Satellites,” “Left Alone” and “San Diego” showcase what he can bring to the table, and while it may not be up to par with DeLonge’s cult-like voice, it does the job just fine.
Opening song “Cynical” quickly addresses DeLonge’s much-publicized exit. “You said everything you’ll ever say/There’s a moment of panic/When I hear the phone ring…Is there the slightest trace of what you once believed,” Hoppus asks. The song explodes with punk flavor; urgently gripping the listener with blistering instrumentals and keeping them there with a massive hook. “What’s the point of saying sorry now?/Lost my voice while fighting my way out,” Skiba yells. The rest of the album possesses similar enormous choruses (“Kings of the Weekend,””Bored To Death,” “San Diego,” and “No Future” to name a few). Blink’s at their best when they get everyone singing along, and this record certainly accomplishes that and then some.
John Feldmann (5 Seconds of Summer, All Time Low, Good Charlotte) lends his production skills to this record, and while some songs may sound a little forced, he does a decent job. Songs like “Los Angeles,” “Left Alone” and “Sober” are too theatrical for their own good, and will probably turn off hardcore fans. However, at times Feldmann elicits the brash punk-yet-pop sound that made the band famous back in the day. “Rabbit Hole” is a perfect example. A two-and-a-half minute scalding cut, all three members sound invigorated on their respective instruments. “The Only Thing That Matters” is classic Blink; fast-paced irreverent skate punk that would fit perfectly on any one of their formative releases of the ’90s.
The songs themselves are mostly upbeat, but some deal with more than teenage rebelliousness or that girl who’s so quirky it’s cute. “San Diego” has Hoppus reminiscing about the formation of the band and how certain people being from there make it hard for him to go back. Feldmann even said that Hoppus didn’t want to write it at all, afraid of the feelings it’d bring out. The aforementioned “Rabbit Hole” deals with fighting off those depressing thoughts that can creep up late at night. Not all the songs are energetic though. “Home Is Such A Lonely Place” has the band dreading the day when their children head off into the world. “I love the lightening but hate the rain/Tomorrow’s frightening but not today/Wish I could slow down time but not enough to slow you down,” Hoppus aches. The title track is an ode to the Golden State and how fortunate the three were to grow up there. “Let’s take a walk out on the pier/Watch the shoreline disappear/It’s what I’ve always wanted.” Hoppus sings. However, they certainly haven’t forgotten their origins. “Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” harken back to the days of their patented potty-mouth humor. “I wanna see some naked duuuuuudes/That’s why I built this pooooooool” Mark explains on the former; all 15 seconds of it. The latter again features very punk-ish instrumentation, with Hoppus declaring “There’s something about you/That I cant quite put my finger in.”
Whereas Blink’s past three releases, 2003’s eponymously titled album, 2011’s Neighborhoods and 2012’s Dogs Eating Dogs EP were more serious sounding and tackled more mature subject material, California has the band returning to their happy-go-lucky pop punk roots. Sure, an album with 40 year olds singing about their teenage years is a little corny, but isn’t being corny what Blink (and pop punk in general) is all about? Instead of the band urging for the listener to take them seriously, this record is all about having fun. Though some longtime Blink fans may be turned off by the new lineup/pop-heavy production, they really shouldn’t be complaining. Even with Blink’s status as rock legends having already been established, they came back amidst personal turmoil for the fans, and that should be the only thing that matters.