What’s left to write about Blink-182? There’s no point to rehash the drama that Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker have with Tom DeLonge, nor is there any point to harp on the incredibly bizarre interviews and statements DeLonge has given the press lately. We’ve all ranked their discography a hundred different ways and chosen sides. I guess all we can really do now is talk about the music, right? It’s a development that I (and many others) will welcome. And, when we talk about the music, we’ll find that band’s seventh full length album, California, is probably the most classic Blink release since 2001’s double-platinum Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
While 2003’s Blink-182 was esteemed as the trio’s Mature Record, it turned Blink into a band they weren’t. Their reunion release, 2011’s Neighborhoods, is evidence of that – an album trying really hard to be important but ultimately having no direction (and very few hooks) and being relatively forgotten. California is a return to form for the band and it’s the most “fun” record the band has put out in over a decade. It was time to discard all the negativity surrounding Blink the last few years and adding Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba has been a colossal boost. His influence on Hoppus and Barker can’t be measured as he fits naturally within the band’s dynamic – never trying to be DeLonge and instead adapting his melodies to work near-perfectly with Hoppus’s earworms.
Opening track “Cynical” is the launching point as Hoppus stares down anxiety over a singular guitar strum before Barker’s maniacal drumming interjects and Skiba screams, “What’s the point of saying sorry now?” while a multiple yelps of “I’m not sorry!” air in the background. It’s a subtle middle finger to the past and it leads into one of the catchiest Blink songs yet — the lead single “Bored To Death.” Mark Hoppus is one of the very best in the pop-punk genre at writing hooks and California is bursting with them. The incredible pre-chorus on “Bored To Death” is one of many things that was missing from the last few Blink releases and it’s stuff like that that sets Blink-182 apart from the rest of the genre.
“She’s Out of Her Mind” feels like the spiritual successor to “Rock Show,” as the chorus blasts off similarly to the early-00s mega-hit and results in one of the most infectious sing-alongs of the band’s lengthy career. In fact, there are bits and pieces of classic Blink littered throughout California. “No Future” features a killer bridge that lifts up an otherwise forgettable track while “Left Alone” may end up being the most underrated track, as it could fit in seamlessly with the untitled album. And then there’s the unabashed fun of “Kings of the Weekend.” Yes, the song has the lyrical depth of a kiddie pool, but damn isn’t that chorus just perfect for summer driving? It’s reminiscent of some of the easy-going jams from Take Off Your Pants and it’s a welcomed moment in the middle of the album.
California also moves forward within the current pop-punk scene. Producer John Feldmann is not shy about pushing the band into the same space as bands like Fall Out Boy (“Los Angeles”), All Time Low (“Teenage Satellites”), and 5 Seconds of Summer (“Home Is Such a Lonely Place”). It doesn’t always work, but the catchiness of “Satellites” is undeniable and “Home” is a nice change of pace. The band also worked with a handful of co-writers such as Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Martin Johnson of Boys Like Girls fame, and former Evanescence member David Hodges. The most notable is “Sober,” the first of two that feature Stump’s contributions. The ;primary idea was “what could Blink be on modern rock radio in 2016?” and the result is a soaring anthem about falling in love, recovering, and being okay with fucking up sometimes. Barker’s drumming provides the track’s backbone (per usual), while the sprinkling in of delicate piano keys sets it apart from the other fifteen tracks. It’s a excellent mix of Blink’s past and present, elevating the track to one of California’s best.
Just like every Blink-182 release, this one is far from perfect. Obviously the last thing we need in this world is a rock-and-roll album dedicated to the Golden State, but those themes are really only relegated to three tracks. The aforementioned “Los Angeles” is more an apocalyptic take on the city, while the Alkaline Trio-esque “San Diego” is a nostalgic ode the band’s hometown. However, it’s the cheese of the title track (co-penned with Johnson) that the album could do without; the band’s love letter to the state induces multiple cringe-worthy moments. And yes, the album is about four tracks too long and the lyrics are more-or-less what you’d expect on a Blink-182 album in the year of our Lord 2016. But that’s not why any of us listen to a Blink-182, so I’m not expecting the lyrical content to be a deal breaker for most (although it may impact the lasting power for some).
Ultimately, California bridges the serious side of Blink-182 with the youthfulness of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. And sure, fans are going to pick sides between the original trio and the new one. But it feels like a true win-win for both sides – DeLonge gets to hunt UFOs and make movies while Hoppus and Barker are back to making fun pop-punk music and enjoy doing it. It’s reflected throughout the entirety of California and there are plenty of “nah-nah-nah-nah’s” and “whoa-oooooh’s” to go around (hell, we even get the first two joke songs since TOYPAJ, including song of the year candidate “Built This Pool”). And even at thirty years old, I’m having a ball feeling 16 again while blasting a new Blink-182 album with the windows down. Thank God for punk rock bands, indeed.