California is Blink-182’s first attempt since founding member Tom DeLonge left to search for UFO’s (I kid you not, this is his official reason for quitting Blink!). It’s simply a strange album; definitely Blink, but not as you know them.
Replacing DeLonge with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, the sound was always going to be somewhat different: gone are the delay-heavy, arpeggiated riffs of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. In their stead is a much rawer, power-chord-only approach, though tracks such as ‘Bored to Death’ and ‘Los Angeles’ prove Skiba’s ability to play in a similar style to DeLonge when needs be.
“The place where it really separates itself from classic Blink-182 is in the vocal department”
In terms of drum and bass, not much has changed, aside from Hoppus’ newfound use of bass chords, and a slightly heavier emphasis on hip hop beats from Barker. The place where it really separates itself from classic Blink-182 is in the vocal department. Whilst, as expected, Hoppus takes the lead on almost all tracks, Skiba’s vocal is unique, fresh, and the harmonies delivered are more complex, lending itself perfectly to tracks such as ‘No Future’ and ‘Los Angeles’. In places it’s more reminiscent of bands such as Fun., rather than fellow pop punkers.
California is a great album, but is possibly a disappointment to long-time Blink fans purely as there are only around four tracks that retain the youth, the energy and the cheerful, comedic, skate-punk vibes of earlier albums. 30 second track ‘I Built This Pool’ harks back to the ridiculousness of the old days with the lyrics: “I want to see some naked dudes/that’s why I built this pool”, while ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’ is a classic pop punk love song in the same vein as ‘First Date’ or ‘Rock Show’.
“It is more angsty and more complex, yet darker and older in tone”
However, on the whole this is an album that somehow sounds more mature, a little nostalgic, yet at the same time so obviously has a new, different set of influences. It is more angsty and more complex, yet darker and older in tone.
‘Los Angeles’ is stylistically similar to Good Morning Revival era Good Charlotte tracks – not quite hitting the same mark of Blink ballads such as ‘I Miss You’ or ‘Stay Together For the Kids’. An urban hymn, it is saved, purely by Barker’s drum work, from becoming dull and overly sentimental. On the same note, ‘Home is Such a Lonely Place to Be’ is a fantastic song, but it isn’t Blink. It sounds more like a B side from a Plain White Tees single. That’s not to say that it is a bad album – hard-hitting anthems such as ‘Kings of the Weekend’ and ‘Sober’ are catchy and still have the punch expected (though they wouldn’t sound out of place on a Katy Perry album).
Overall, California reminds me more of Mest, or You Me at Six. Blink originally paved the way for these groups. It feels like the older Blink-182 have come full circle: now, they’re able to take inspiration from these younger groups.
Another triumph of the album is the production and mixing. The vocals are crisp, clean, and perfectly balanced. From a punk perspective, they are over-polished, but they fit the new, more pop styled rhythms and harmonies perfectly.
As for the guitars, they are raw and hefty, never muddy, nor overpowering. Still, they retain a natural punch which is often lost nowadays through over-compression. Similarly, the bass was nicely produced, with plenty of low end, the metallic treble, and a little bit of Hoppus’ signature dirt.
“It comes across as a collection of songs by old punks reminiscing on their lost youth, rather than the fun loving Blink 182 of yesteryear”
The drums are even better. They change for each track depending on where the stylistic emphasis is. The’re not overpowering on blast beat anthems such ‘Cynical’. Neither are they lost in the mix on the rhythmically complex, softly played, hip-hopesque ballads like ‘Los Angeles’. As for the overall mix, it is well balanced, crisp, but not too polished so as to sound synthetic.
To conclude, California is a good album, but due to its sentimentality it’s lost a unique quality. Instead, it comes across as a collection of songs by old punks reminiscing on their lost youth, rather than the fun-loving Blink 182 of yesteryear. Having said that, it is perhaps unfair to expect a band that is coming up to its 25th anniversary to sound as they did in their heyday. I have enjoyed listening to it, but a seminal album it isn’t. If you’re a hardcore Blink 182 fan then this probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re just a fan of the genre in general, California is an album that shows Blink have moved with the times, and shifted their focus. Overall, I’d say it’s better for it. Although it most definitely is not all killer (there is plenty of filler), there are enough gems to recommend it, and Barker’s drumming is enough of a saving grace to recommend a listen. A solid 7/10.
Image courtesy of Blink-182 via Facebook