Blink-182 opted to title their seventh record ‘California’, named after the state this pop-punk trio met and formed in, but at over 160,000 square miles is also the same size of Tom DeLonge‘s ego. Yet, as soon as the former guitarist/vocalist parted ways with the band, remaining members Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker wasted no time in replacing him with Alkaline Trio‘s own Matt Skiba.
‘California’ opens like a shaken up can of cheap beer that explodes with the nostalgia-quenching, punchy, pop-punk, awesomeness of ‘Cynical’. But don’t let that 2 minute opener trick you into thinking Blink are going back to basics, because the oh so familiar sound of drum machines and distortion-less guitars from lead single ‘Bored To Death’ just screams +44. Before you know it, we’re back to the more recent (and frankly a bit too safe) sounds of 2012’s ‘Neighbourhoods’ with ‘She’s Out Of Her Mind’.
So, three tracks in and things are sounding pretty good, really good in fact, but also notably light on a certain Skiba factor. That’s when ‘California’ throws the curveball that is ‘Los Angeles’, which is nothing like what Blink have done before. This dark, murky, angst-ridden number is all Skiba laying the foundations for the scream-your-lungs-out chorus akin the ‘A Beautiful Lie’ era 30 Seconds To Mars. It’s so far out of left field it genuinely blindsides you, but as you pat yourself down and adjust to this bold new sound Blink‘s signature powerpop crescendos through the bridge in a seamless transition between Alkaline Trio and Blink-182. This is Skiba‘s welcome anthem to the band, leaving behind one sound and completely immersing himself in this one.
From this point on, the rest of the album is a wonderful amalgamation of these four tracks. The boyish-charm of classic Blink (‘Rabbit Hole’), the alt rock of +44 (‘Left Alone’), a pinch of innovation (‘Home Is Such A Lonely Place’), and a clear, coherent step forward all make ‘California’ exactly what the fans want and deserve. Sure, some of the tracks are a tad polished and have a Goldfinger and MxPx vibe to them (which makes sense, John Feldman did produce it after all), but all is forgiven with a cheeky Reel Big Fish reference (listen to ‘All I Want Is More’ by RBF then check out ‘The Only Thing That Matters’).
‘California’ is a solid album, and a refreshing one at that too. You can tell that Barker and Hoppus are happy to be making music again, especially with someone who’s not dragging their feet. It may not be the career landmark that their 2003 self-titled album was, and many will undoubtedly miss the presence of DeLonge‘s peg-on-the-nose vocals, but it’s a definite return to form, and the most invigorated they’ve sounded in over a decade.
Written by Andy Roberts (@Sassesquatch)