Album Review: Blink 182 – California

“There is a cynical feeling saying I should give up” is the lyric that opens California Blink 182’s seventh studio and first since Tom DeLonge made an untimely and rather messy departure from the band. It drips with self-doubt and reflects, to some extent, the state of mind that the band must have been in when heading into the studio to record this album. However, “Cynical” quickly veers sharply away from the ballad-style melody that gives the song its gloomy intro and launches into a blistering piece of pop punk with Blink 182’s signature guitar riffs and Travis Barkers frantic and precise drumming. The lyric of “what’s the point of saying sorry now / lost my voice while fighting my way out” closes off “Cynical” – giving the song a rather spiteful and sneering tone. It is Blink 182 confidently claiming that they don’t need DeLonge to be Blink 182 – and California seems to support that statement.

There was a lot of anxiety that surfaced when Blink 182 announced that Matt Skiba, the frontman for emo-meets-punk outfit Alkaline Trio, would be replacing DeLonge. For many, DeLonge and his garish nasal drawls were a vital part of Blink 182’s sound – nasal drawls that only ever really featured on their self-titled album and ones that turned Neighbourhood into an anxiety-ridden train wreck that saw Mark Hoppus and DeLonge creatively opposing each other in every single way possible. This didn’t stop people from criticising the addition of Skiba, but criticism quickly faded away when lead single “Bored To Death” was released. Hoppus and Skiba share vocal duties on this particular song and many others on the album, but this was the first that displayed a new dynamic to Blink 182’s sound. Hoppus and Skiba share similar vocal tones, but they are easily told apart as Skiba has a much rough and smokier quality to his vocals while Hoppus fully embraces the vocal style that made +44’s debut a signature piece of mid-2000s emo.  “Bored To Death” comes off as a much more energetic version of +44 tempered by Blink 182’s fondness for massive singalong choruses. To some extent, the song seems to suggest that the band is pretty annoyed with the drama surrounding DeLonge’s departure but that they are also tired of people constantly insisting that they should return to their earlier sound.

This is where California is interesting as it pretty much opens on this idea that the band are frustrated with people asking them to return to albums like of  Enema of the State or Dude Ranch – albums where they were much younger and didn’t have families to look after and children to raise. However, as you work through the album – you can see noticeable attempt to recapture the energy and magic that turned Blink 182 into hulking pop-punk legends. “She’s Out of Her Mind” seems to loosely draw on influences from “The Rock Show” and “Stay Together For The Kids”. This makes perfect sense. These are songs that defined Blink 182’s sound and career – songs that can be played at an Emo Night and people will belt them right back at the DJ. Recapturing the energy, and emotion, that was present on these songs and others from the same time period is exactly what fans wanted from the new Blink 182 album, but there is a degree of maturity present in the delivery of these songs. It is tempered by the realisation that the members are dads and can’t be sprouting dick jokes every 20 seconds or singing about divorce and having sex at rock shows. Thus,California is tempered by a dad-like sense of maturity – the kind that allows for moments of immaturity such as on “Built This Pool” or “Brohemian Rhapsody” – short-lived bursts of noticeably punk rock energy combined with lyrics dumber than Donald Trump’s hair.

However, even with these throw-away joke songs – California is a mature effort at the best of times. “Los Angeles”, with its nu-metal styled bass riffs and hip-hop influenced drum work which point towards Barker’s involvement in the hip hop scene, drips with lyrical maturity and a kind of punk attitude. It puts me in mind of 30 Seconds to Mar’s “City Of Angels” – Jared Leto’s love song for Los Angeles. Except, Blink 182 writes more of a hate-song for Los Angeles. It is fuelled by the desire to point out much of LA’s flaws while clinging to the ability to be radio-friendly enough to be cast as a single. It is also a song that shows just how easily it could have been ruined with DeLonge on vocals especially for the drawn-out notes in the chorus.

“Sober” is the embodiment of modern pop punk. It also happens to give some indication of the role that John Feldman played in creating the album. Piano melodies, half-time handclaps and “nanana’s” are tossed about the song like hand grenades in a Call of Duty free-for-all. It turns “Sober” into a song that 5 Seconds of Summer could have written, but it is saved by the old-school pop punk energy that Blink 182 exudes on the song. Hoppus’s bass riffs are chunky bursts of swaggering energy and Skiba thunders out the gate with hook-laden guitar riffs to accompany Barker’s almost ferocious drum work. It may be the weakest song on the album, but that is by no means an insult as it is still an incredible song that sees Blink 182 fusing modern pop punk influences with their gritty and less production-heavy sound.

“No Future” is yet another dollop of maturity tempered by the youthful energy off pop punk. It is a song that highlights the vocal abilities of Hoppus as he sings about creating a career in music and rebelling against that statement of “are you really going to make money from music?” The song is a clear middle finger to the statement as it cycles between soaring melodies and frenzied bursts of drums and guitar. It is a song that highlights the amazing dynamic between Skiba and Hoppus as it fades from gang vocals the chorus to Skiba’s chills-inducing vocal bridge that sees him unleashing the full range of his vocals. “Home Is Such A Lonely Place” is the token semi-acoustic love-ballad that has to present on every Blink 182 album. Melancholic synths curl themselves around delicate acoustic chords as Hoppus and Skiba dramatically sigh about losing someone they love. It is a refrain from the energy of the rest of the album that is broken by the ode to punk rock that is “Kings of the Weekend”. Gritty bass riffs give the song a mean-sounding intro before exploding into a frenzy of guitar and catchy hooks as Hoppus sings “thank god for punk rock bands”. It is a song that looks on the youthful search for music through the lens of adulthood and drips with gratitude for the bands that would ultimately allow for Blink 182 to come into existence. It is strange to see a band like Blink 182, at this point in their career, paying homage to other bands for influencing them, but it is also endearing to see Blink 182, who spawned an entire generation of pop punk, acknowledging that they also started out as kids attending punk shows.

“Teenage Satellites” is another foray into combining modern pop punk with old school pop punk, but with less of the pop punk gimmicks beside the necessary “woah-oh” and handclaps. It doesn’t really add anything unique to the album but it serves a necessary purpose of being a catchy and infectious song that sets the listener up for a series of songs that delve into darker lyrical and musical territories. “Left Alone” is a vague stab at the energetic side of Neighbourhood, but that façade quickly drops when the chorus kicks in along with snarling guitar hooks, up-tempo drum work and simultaneous vocals by Hoppus and Skiba. It is a throw-back to the mixture of energy and melancholy that came with songs on the self-titled album. There are moments of refrain that are quickly whipped into a frenzy by the rest of the song and there is something glorious in that. It harks back to a time where Blink 182 were in an almost similar emotional place after the first hiatus and projected the emotion and frustration that felt during that hiatus onto notions of romance and loss within romance.

“Rabbit Hole” is the dark, snarling side of Neighbourhood. It is everything the album should have been but could not have been due to DeLonge’s desire to make a sappy emotionally stunted album. Hoppus and Skiba deal with issues surrounding anxiety and mental illness in this particular song, but it is Hoppus that turns this song into a means by which he can deal with some personal demons. In a way, he confronts the problems that DeLonge’s departure must have created and cuts himself off from the toxicity of DeLonge’s departure by proudly stating “I won’t fall down that fucking rabbit hole”. The album immediately transitions into “San Diego” – the song written about DeLonge and the bond that Hoppus had with DeLonge with regards to their roots in San Diego. It reflects a mindset in which Hoppus was and is clearly still dealing with DeLonge’s departure and perhaps even clinging to the hope that he and DeLonge may be able to rekindle their friendship, but he still acknowledges the damage that DeLonge did in the wake of his departure. It is an emotionally charged and tragic song and is possibly one of the most powerful songs on the album. So much so that the band needed to follow it up with a throwback to the earlier days of Blink 182 with “The Only Thing That Matters” – a song that would be perfect on an Alkaline Trio/Blink 182 split. It is a high-octane piece of pop punk frenzy that really sees Blink 182 returning to their roots. Bringing up the rear of the album is the title track “California” – a slow yet melodic song that sneers about the idyllic Californian lifestyle and, to some extent, mocks the state and its overbearing celebrity status.

At the end of the day, California is a 16 song album that clocks in at just over 40 minutes but manages to capture everything great about Blink 182 while still reflecting their new-found maturity. It reinvents modern pop punk and confirms the band’s relevancy to the genre while still being a piece of pop punk gold. Album of the year, for sure.

9/10

 

2 Comments

  1. Frost

    July 7, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Amen bro.
    Great review.
    100% agree with everything you said about everything ever.

  2. Smith

    July 14, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Album of the year? Holy shit!
    There have been some pretty incredible albums released this year. This is not one of them.

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