The departure of a founding member would usually be the beginning of the end for most bands without a doubt, and after losing Tom DeLonge last year, blink-182’s future looked uncertain. Luckily, blink-182 aren’t most bands, and remaining members Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker recruited Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba to stop their legacy from coming to an abrupt end. And new album California is exactly what they needed – a record with the right balance of quintessentially blink throwbacks and innovation to set them on a new path.
Having taken a more experimental turn on 2003’s self-titled record and 2011’s Neigborhoods, fans will be delighted to see tracks reminiscent of every era of blink on California. Rabbit Hole could fit right into Enema Of The State’s tracklisting with its fast-paced, summery pop punk, while Los Angeles or San Diego might be easily mistaken for something from that experimental era. And fantastic lead single Bored To Death’s homage to Adam’s Song’s riff speaks for itself. There truly is something for every blink fan here, and it’s probably something the trio have aimed for to compensate for losing Tom. Speaking of which, of course all ears are focused on Matt Skiba, and his performance here is utterly stellar. He doesn’t try to impersonate Tom (definitely for the best), and his flitting between the desperate, gritty “what’s the point of saying sorry now?” on Cynical to tender, soaring harmonies on Home Is Such A Lonely Place. His contributions complement Hoppus’ perfectly, even outshining him on more than a few occasions.
What California stresses most, though, is that this is not the same blink-182 that released Neighborhoods in 2011. Of course not, as they’ve replaced a member, but Hoppus and Barker seem to have found a new lease of life because of it. Neighborhoods explored darker territory lyrically, which translated musically, too. California still dabbles in similar lyrical themes but blends them with blink’s trademark grin-causing pop punk. She’s Out Of Her Mind is a tongue-in-cheek account of being “in deep” with a mentally ill girl, while highlight Sober, perhaps the most sugary, arena-ready cut on California, practically bleeds optimism asking someone for another chance and overcoming addiction. There are subtle digs at Tom sprinkled throughout the album too – the majority of which delivered by Skiba – most notably San Diego’s “can’t go back to San Diego” refrain (San Diego being where DeLonge lives). But more importantly, this is a blink who have rediscovered their love for their own music. While Skiba is definitely the focus of this record, Travis Barker still shows that he is one of, if not the best modern drummer out there throughout. While there’s subtle experimentation collectively in the synthy, lush title track and slight ska interlude in Teenage Satellites, but the audible glee in dick joke ditties Built This Pool and closer Brohemian Rhapsody is all the evidence needed.
Despite a handful of tracks like Kings Of The Weekend and The Only Thing That Matters falling below the bar set by the more sparkly cuts on this album, and some of not so straightforward pop punk needing a couple of listens for the clouds to clear, this is the strongest body of work blink-182 have released in a long time. And based on what’s here it’s set for stadiums, more so than the happy-go-lucky pop punk written on a whim in the ’90s. The potential begging to be unleashed on in the last ten years has finally seen the light of day thanks to the Matt Skiba shaped catalyst, and the heart and soul Hoppus and Barker have put into their career is the reason blink-182 have had the longevity they do, and this album is why that will continue for a long, long time.
For fans of: Green Day, Alkaline Trio, Sum 41
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘California’ by blink-182 is out now on BMG Rights Management.