Blink-182 have never been a band in danger of going down in history as purveyors of high-art. Not that the group ever had any such pretence about them, after all this is the group who gave us Family Reunion – a song composed almost entirely of expletives – and whose most successful album was titled Enema of the State. They were too clean-cut and polished for the punk-purists, and too crass and out there for polite society, which made them the perfect pop-punk poster boys. They mixed three-chord punk energy with catchy and quirky melodies, while deftly shifting the lyrics between the comical and the poignant.
After their day in the sun in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the band went on an ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2005 as creative tensions grew amongst the members. A reformation occurred in 2009, which lasted until 2015 when Tom DeLonge left permanently. With recording and touring commitments already made, remaining founding member Mark Hoppus – along with long time member, Travis Barker – decided to keep Blink-182 going, and so enlisted Alkaline Trio frontman, Matt Skiba, to replace DeLonge. Replace isn’t quite the right word as on California, the group’s first release with the new line-up, Skiba is confident enough to not seek to replicate DeLonge’s vocal or guitar style at every turn.
There is plenty to tie California to the Blink-182 that came before, unsurprisingly not the least of which is Hoppus’ vocals and bass work, which feels so familiar on opening track Cynical. Cynical starts off as a nice confessional about anxiety and depression, but veers off before things get too serious. This is territory that is revisited with Rabbit Hole, which manages to blend mature content with a juvenile twist that rendered early Blink so charming. While Skiba steers clear of copping DeLonge’s style, he does make a decent showing on Bored To Death and Sober, with the melodies feeling very much like those fans from the ‘90s would be familiar with.
Los Angeles features a tension within the music that is worthy of further exploration, and verges on being something extraordinary despite the lyrics being a little pat. Kings of the Weekend feels stale, like a remembrance of past glories, and Teenage Satellites and the titular California are just plain bland; a blandness that many are attributing, and perhaps justifiably so, to John Feldman’s production and writing input. Old school Blink skits get a look-in with Built This Pool and Brohemian Rhapsody, but these feel like an attempt to reassure the listener that this is Blink-182 and not some other, lesser, pop-punk band.
And really, that is California’s fault; it feels like it was released under the Blink-182 name because that name brings an established audience. If California were released by a lesser known band it would hardly get a look-in, because it really doesn’t pass muster. There a glimpses of Blink-182’s past charm and brilliance, and hints of new, powerful, band waiting to start out, but none of it fits with the Blink-182 nameplate.