This is an album, I, and many other fans of Blink-182 and all things Pop Punk never thought we’d so much as see, let alone hear. Following a highly publicised indefinite hiatus and ensuing break-up in 2005, a reunion in 2009, and the departure of founding member Tom DeLonge in 2015, it was most certainly a rigmarole to reach this point. “California” is the band’s first release since 2011’s massively disappointing, child of divorce, “Neighbourhoods”, which being so inconsistent in its themes and sound was rather underhweleming and forgettable. It’s also only the third in the last 15 years, with the incredulously divisive, and bizarrely experimental “Untitled” hitting shelves back in 2003. In essence, this is perhaps the first real Blink album since 2001 when we as listeners were graced with the hilariously named “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket”.
Following the departure of DeLonge, the band took on Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba as their new permanent member, and began writing once again; something founding member and bassist Mark Hoppus, and drummer Travis Barker had been attempting to do for some time. The addition was met with the expected mixture of praise and criticism, though it’s now safe to say that Skiba was not only the right decision, but also a dramatic improvement. Working alongside legendary producer John Feldmann, the trio began the highly delayed creative process, completing some 30-40 tracks in the studio, 16 of which made their way onto the finished album. These are easily some of the 16 best songs we’ve heard from Blink-182, and I’ll do my best to explain how and why.
“California” pulls no punches from the get-go, with three of the album’s strongest tracks taking up the first three slots. Opening with some introspective vocals from Mark, before we’re dragged kicking and screaming into proceedings by an always amazing Travis drum solo, before we’re treated to the first taste of Matt’s vocals in the chorus, as he shouts, sings, and screams. It hits close to home, with some of the nasally inflections of long forgotten Tom’s present, but it’s so much less produced, so much more raw and passionate. It’s not even 2 minutes long, but the track is enough to have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
The lead single Bored to Death is equally excellent, sounding enough like the band we know and love, with a little bit of +44 and even Alkaline Trio mixed in there too. It’s new, and fresh, and exciting, with the lyrics continuing themes all too well known for fans of the band. You can’t help but sing along, and we’re treated to some more of Barker’s phenomenal drumming towards the end.
She’s Out of Her Mind very quickly became my favourite track on the record, and is slowly working its way towards being my favourite Blink song period. It all just feels so comfortable, so nostalgic, so fitting; and I haven’t heard anything quite like it since The Rock Show. It’s not clever, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a simple punk anthem for a new generation, with all the catchiness you’d expect. Los Angeles makes up one of three tracks on the album named after locations, and it’s perhaps one of the most unusual. The song is heavy, it’s dark, and carries with it a real gritty, and grimy sort of sound. The effects are laid on heavy, but to good use, and the perfect harmony of the two vocalists is showcased even further.
Fans of the classic “na-na-na” need look no further than Sober and No Future, a pair of classic, rocking Blink tunes. No Future was also released as a single, and understandably so; seeming to take the best parts of “Neighbourhoods” and piling it into one track, but it could easily fit in with any song from “TOYPAJ”. The riffs are scintillating, the instruments blend so seamlessly, and the chorus along with the breakdown are as good as it gets. Home is Such a Lonely Place slows things down with acoustic guitar and piano melodies as Mark and Matt’s harmonisation is showcased once again through emotional driven vocal performances on heartfelt lyrics. Meanwhile, Teenage Satellites, Kings of the Weekend, and Rabbit Hole provide a trio of excellent teen anthems, loaded with Pop Punk goodness, featuring catchy riffs, and catchier choruses.
Towards the later tracks, the album continues strongly, with Left Alone and San Diego proving to be two of the more different, as far as what we expect from the band, sounding tracks on the LP, but they experimentation pays off in a big way, as these are easily two of the strongest songs, featuring fantastic vocal performances and quality instrumentation. The titular track California wraps up the album nicely, starting off in a slow, dreamy manner, before building into an anthemic chorus of roaring percussion and distorted guitars, as Hoppus and Skiba sing an almost ballad-like ode to the magical state which gave rise to so many beloved artists and musicians, especially of this particular genre.
Overall, the album is undeniably one of Blink-182’s greatest to date, bringing together the best aspects of all their previous projects into one grandiose display and celebration of the band, the genre, and youth. Skiba’s replacement of DeLonge cannot even be questioned, and is without a doubt a significant improvement, in both writing and performance. Whilst other bands of a similar nature struggle to come to terms with the changing scenery of music, and their age, Blink-182 have not faltered, striding confidently through the musical process and creating the same magic they did in the late 1990s. “California” hits each mark it intends to with quality and precision, featuring some of the group’s best tracks, and will live on in the annals of Pop Punk history and remain a constant feature of any fan’s music library for years to come.
– Kieran Griffiths