How do you bounce back after someone has walked out on you for a second time? Well, if you are Blink-182, you get one of the finest men in the American punk scene to help and then put his band on hold for a little while. When Tom DeLonge decided his side projects were more important that Blink-182, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker had finally had enough and decided to carry on without Mr DeLonge and brought in Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio to fill in at first and now he is a permanent member. This is the seventh studio album which also has a change in the production chair as John Feldmann (singer for Goldfinger, producer of Biffy Clyro, Good Charlotte, The Used, Story of the Year and others) who took over from Jerry Finn, so all is change here - or is it? Let us be honest, the self-produced 'Neighborhoods' felt as if the fun had left the band a little. You want to see growth, but you could also sense that everything was not 100% in the band either. You are not wanting an album full of dick jokes, but you are also not wanting the band to become another version of Box Car Racer or Angels & Airwaves. So now that Blink-182 has a change in personnel, it is time to see how 'California' sounds and if it is all dick jokes or there is progress in there as well....
Starting the album is "Cynical" which a lot of people have voiced the opinion that it could be all about the leaving of Mr DeLonge, with this song being about someone leaving and being told it is too late to apologise, it is quite an easy assumption to make that this is a break-up song on many levels. But people could be reading a lot more into it than there is about the song, it really could just be a song about leaving someone. It starts off with a gentle strumming, a lament and then the drums kick in and it erupts into a fantastic 'fuck you' to whoever the song is about; Matt Skiba doesn't even try to match Mr DeLonge previous vocal style and that is something that is followed throughout the album and rightly so - he is his own man, released many fine albums and toured the world in his own right and this has a lot of Alkaline Trio mixed into the Blink-182 sound. It immediately picks your interest from the beginning and it still has that impact with repeated listens, this is important and it will be something that I will get back to as the review progresses. Next is the first single from the album, "Bored to Death". This song is another which stands to the repeated listening test that sometimes is a shortcoming of the Pop Punk genre. Another song about feeling lots, looking for emotional comfort in the form of a stranger in a bar and needing some excitement to stop the boredom from taking over. It is one of those number where they are sounding serious, not being over-grown teenage men boys, but with a little bit of immaturity to the answers at the same time. It has been going down a storm wherever I have heard it being played and will probably be one of the top songs in the end of year polls for the popular press, but there is better on this album. The same cannot be said about "She's Out of Her Mind" which deals with a girl who is loved, but has a few social and mental problems going on and is losing it. It is well played with the standard Blink-riff and harmony underpinning a decent performance by the band, but even by Blink-182 standards it is a little bit too generic for its own good and after the first few listens, it starts to get a little tedious. Anyway, on to the next which is called "Los Angeles"; now this has been compared to the darker sound of "Neighborhoods" and whilst I can hear darkness in this song, it is in no way the same as their previous record. If anything I would say this song represents the perfect marriage of the Blink sound and what Mr Skiba brings to the band. A song about the city of angles and not being able to return home after going there, it is the most striking number on the whole album. It was originally going to be the first single, but they went for "Bored to Death" and I can see why - this is a great song, but it is not the right representation of the whole album. But my deity, it is the best song that this band have ever wrote, in any of their incarnations and it stands up very well whenever it is played - best song of the album, hands down.
"Sober" is a song which is all about being a bit of a dick when drunk, a girl who is equally as much of a dick and the whole self-destructive relationship that will not end well if everyone is honest. Written with Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy, this is radio-friendly noise that has a sound a bit like "All The Small Things" and it just feels a little bit too shallow for me. And when I say shallow, I mean in terms of Blink-182 as it just seems a little too light, even with black-eyes and that massive sing-a-long hook. Plus, it really drags after the sixth or seventh listen - next. "Built This Pool" is a spoof seventeen second song which ends with someone say 'Is that it?' and I feel the same way - wasted and one of the main sticking point of the album. So quickly we will move onto "No Future" which is the seventh song on the album. This was the original title for the album, but they changed their mind about naming it after this track. That is probably a good thing as well to be honest, due to it being one of the most generic songs on the album. Much like "She's Out of Her Mind", it suffers under the weight of repeat listens and any initial enthusiasm is soon lost. So I will swiftly move once more to the following song, which is called "Home Is Such a Lonely Place" and the mood is moved onto the way that families have to move around and sometimes it is a mixture of joy and sorrow when people have to leave the roost. A song which mixes the metaphors, it is also one that feels very deliberate and not quite natural to the band; but after the success of "I Miss You", Blink-182 has to have a ballad-esque song on each album, don't they??? Well, it is not quite as memorable as that song (which is probably always gonna be the case with "I Miss You"), but it is a strong song with a gentle soul, a large sense of love and enough emotions to make a tattooed man in cargo shorts weep gently when the mood suits him (or even a tattooed lady).
The second half of the album is started with "Kings of the Weekend", this is more about the riff than the lyrical content here; the lyrics are shit, a party song and all about the weekend - sorry, but been there and done that with that one. However, the riff is a huge one and drags you back each time as it is a fantastic riff from Blink-182 here. If this was an instrumental, it would have been much better and rivalling "Los Angeles" as song of the album; but those lyrics knock it down slightly and it is onto the next song. "Teenage Satellites" is a song about wanting to say something to someone, not quite getting it right and the way that teenage loves can sometimes feel bigger than everything that is going on in the world, you know - it is all harmonies and that sort of thing. It was the last song to be completed for the album, but it does not feel as if it is an add-on to this record. To be honest, it is one of the better songs on the record that takes all the good things that Blink-182 do, keeping it short and to the point with a fantastic hook that is perfectly matched with an interesting set of lyrics. It is basically everything that "Kings of the Weekend" could have been with a different set of lyrics. Next we are introduced to "Left Alone" which is a very heavy song for this album. It contains a vocal performance by Matt Skiba and Mark Hoppus that is equal to many songs on this album, with a passion and drive that will make people stop still. This song about being lost and trying to stand up to the world, it is inspiring and not just a joke to be laughed at. This is the side of the band (and this album) I appreciate and it is another song which stands up to repeated listens. As we head towards the final quarter of the album, the band unleash "Rabbit Hole" which deals with self-doubt and how it can be so easy to drag yourself down with anxiety and self-loathing. It is a song that I have gone backwards and forwards on so many times; when it is on for the first time, the monstrous riff and biting vocals are breath-taking. However, (and this is a big however), it falls down slightly with those repeated listens and after a while that wondrous initial impact is lost and you have to step away from it to make it special once more. A strange song which is still in flux in my mind's eye and I reckon it will be many moons before I finally make a decision on it.
The final section of this album starts with "San Diego" which is about the band's original hometown, how it is sometimes hard to write about somewhere that was once home, but ultimately you need to move on to something new. It is filled with bitter-sweet sentiment and it is another song that features the writing talents of Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, but this time the emotional release of this song is overwhelming. It is probably not going to make them popular back home, but it is a song that a lot of people will identify with in so many ways. "The Only Thing That Matters" is a fast-pop punk number that feels as if it is half completed, it is a decent number, but it is over so soon and from reading up on the album, it was one that the band were not too keen on before a change in the bassline. You can sort of tell it is not quite loved by the band, it does not have the passion that other songs do on this album - maybe it should have been left off. The penultimate song of the album is called "California" and the band have gone post-punk on this number, with lots of synths, minimal guitars until the end and a song about their adopted home with a lot of love coming out of this song that has not been there in some of the other songs of the album. It is a serious moment, maybe not by design but it has defaulted into that sort of moment. It has a strange tone in comparison to the rest of the record, but there is something else to this song and it is another that I am not quite certain about. Sometimes, that means it will be a lost classic in years to come. The same cannot be said about "Brohemian Rhapsody" which much like "Built This Pool" is designed to remind you where this band were all dick and fart jokes, basically it sucks and ends the album on a shit moment after such a good (if somewhat strange) number.
Ok, I will get the bad stuff out of the way first - enough of the dick and fart jokes, it is old hat and the band can be so much more if they let this go. I am not saying you cannot be light hearted in places on a Blink-182 album, in fact that is something that should be mandatory on one of their records. But sometimes it is like the TV show Jackass, sometimes the joke goes too far. Next is the law of diminishing returns, a curse for all Pop Punk albums and this one is no different. Some of these songs just do not have longevity and it shows under repeat listens to the point where you could condense the song into a solid eight to nine song which are top quality and the rest are dispensable. Ok, now the good stuff - this is the best Blink-182 album I have heard, seriously when the band get it right, it is so good that it makes you forget (albeit very briefly) the knob jokes (sadly not for long). The addition of Matt Skiba is very good and you can hear his influence on the album, also it is good that he does not try to be Tom DeLonge part II. That would have been horrible to hear, but they stay away from that one thankfully. You also don't miss Tom DeLonge during the album and this can only be seen as a good thing, to be honest it is as if he was not here at all and that is a strong position for the band to build from. Overall, the good moments are brilliant and yet there is some much I would change that it just falls slightly short due to durability failures. I have hope for the future and I might regret this mark, but this is much more than I would give some of their other records - shame about the dick jokes.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Top track - Los Angeles
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You can stream California on Deezer here
You can stream California on Tidal here