Blink-182 – California
The Blink-182 machine’s back in full-swing and coming to a stadium near you. Former guitarist and founding member Tom DeLonge thought they couldn’t go on without him. Big mistake; Blink’s new album California, their first since 2011’s hit-or-miss Neighborhoods, just replaced Drake’s Views’ as the number one album on Billboard’s Top 200 list. Making it Blink’s first Billboard Top 200 number one since 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
As far as the album goes, I wanted to love it. I grew up listening to Blink and new guitarist Matt Skiba’s band Alkaline Trio. And the involvement of producer John Feldmann, who fronts punk-ska legends Goldfinger and pretty much introduced the world to The Used, added an extra air of excitement. Here we go.
Things start well with up-tempo punk rock anthem “Cynical,” which definitely sounds like it could be about Tom. The song reminds me a lot of NOFX classic “Linoleum” – which is a good thing. And Skiba’s backups sound incredible. In fact, it’s probably the best he’s ever sounded, which adds even more emotion to his anti-apologetic “Not sorry… I’m not sorry” lament – perhaps a tongue-in-cheek play on Blink’s 1997 song “I’m sorry.”
Mega-single “Bored to Death” is a classic new-Blink singalong that highlights Feldmann’s work perfectly. The production is unreal. I just wish they’d skipped the second breakdown. Gets me every time.
“She’s Out of Her Mind” kicks off like classic Enema of the State-era Blink. And the girl in the song sounds like someone Skiba must have dated; “…black shirt, black skirt and Bauhaus stuck in her head.” Maybe she should hook up with Rancid’s “Time Bomb” dude. Again, Skiba’s verse sounds potent and alive. Mark’s voice is classic, loveable Blink, but so far Skiba’s stealing the show. Travis, of course, is next level – his drumming could make James Blunt interesting.
“Los Angeles” is easily the worst song on the album. It sounds like they picked it up off the Linkin Park cutting room floor, complete with cheesy early 2000s riffs and vocal effects.
After that California picks up but doesn’t regain the momentum it had before the derailment. Co-written by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, “Sober” is pretty good. “No Future” is terrible; what a weak chorus – have they not heard Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t All Right”? And hopefully Mark’s “life won’t wait” lyric is a reference to Rancid’s 1998 album of the same name.
Track nine “Kings of the Weekend” brings things to the boil again. And “Teenage Satellites” keeps the good times rolling. The rest of the album’s pretty solid, but definitely could have done with some pruning – especially when it comes to title track “California,” which reminds me of The Used, without Bert McCracken.
“Rabbit Hole” is probably my favourite song overall, especially lyrically. Mark sounds pumped. “San Diego” is very Alkaline Trio-like. “The Only Thing That Matters” name-checks Skiba’s Marilyn Manson paintings. And then 30-second closer “Brohemian Rhapsody” gives the Tom squad a taste of what they’ve been crying out for, before its premature end. Sorry, folks.
Blink with Skiba was always going to be different. But in many ways, California sounds more “classic Blink” than Neighborhoods ever did. The production’s mental, it’s got its heart on its sleeve, and it’s sentimental and sincere. But it’s also overweight with a few cringe moments – “She’s not complicated… ated… ated at all” – and cutting a few tracks would definitely have tightened the experience. Then again, according to Mark they recorded around fifty songs, so stay tuned for the deluxe version, with commentary. Interestingly, Feldmann is credited ahead of Skiba on the album’s writing credits.