Blink-182 has released a new album called California
This album is the Blink-182‘s first release since their poorly received Neighbourhoods (that’s how we spell it in South African English) in 2011, which saw the band members to scatter to the four corners of the Earth. Well, three corners.
Before I delve into California, I think I should clarify where I stand on Blink-182. See, I am, apparently, a millennial. When Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was released, I was in high school, and the perfect age to enjoy the finely crafted dick and balls jokes that were so expertly delivered by Tom, Mark, and Travis. I was also into guitars and playing music, so I learned a bunch of their songs, as they were easy and fun to play. In the process I took in the raw and relatively unprocessed Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch as well. Then, a couple of years later, Blink-182 released their eponymous album, which I still believe is their best work. It brought a darker, more serious sound, and showed that the three Californians were capable of more than just bubblegum punk. In fact, the 2003 release showed that they could take what they had learned thus far, and craft it into something incredibly beautiful and haunting while still displaying the barely contained anger of their punk roots. I still listen to that album from time to time. 2011’s Neighbourhoods disappointed me, so if you liked it, I won’t be hurt if you disregard this article’s opinion completely.
The band members had several side projects. Mark and Travis started +44 in reaction to Blink-182’s initial hiatus in 2005. Similarly, Tom formed Angels and Airwaves. I was never much of a fan of either band, feeling that the pop rock they delivered was weak and somewhat soulless compared to the 2003 Blink-182 album, as well as the first side project, Box Car Racer‘s only release, Box Car Racer in 2002; Tom and Travis wrote one of my all time favourite albums as Box Car Racer.
I think it’s clear from all this history that I hold the band’s earlier work in very high regard.
On to California. Apparently Blink-182 has been trying to release a new album since 2013, but Tom deLonge wouldn’t commit to picking up the guitar to write and record. Eventually, in 2015, Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and Travis Barker (drums) got tired of waiting and had a festival date to play. They asked Matt Skiba, vocalist and guitarist of Alkaline Trio, to fill in for Tom, and he soon became a full time replacement. It seems like the new trio gelled quickly and wrote a bunch of songs at a lightning pace, because about a year after joining forces, they released an album together.
The album, California, has its ups and downs
It starts off with a handful of songs (including the lead single Bored To Death) that still carry a strong influence of the older Blink-182 sound, even in the guitar playing. I got flashbacks to Take Of Your Pants and Jacket while listening to it. The sharp hooks of these songs immediately pull you in, and promise to earworm for the next month at least. The vocal harmonies immediately jumps out at you; it’s clear that Skiba knows how to sing and harmonize. His own style of guitar playing also shines through in interesting and highly unorthodox (for Blink-182) counterpoints using chords that they previously wouldn’t have dreamt of knowing.
The album then skips for the first time
The track Los Angeles starts off dark and driven, and stays dark throughout. Much darker than the first tracks, anyway. It’s a good song, with its sombre tone emphasised by the contrast of the bright and hopeful, highly melodic bridge. It is followed, however, by Sober, which is a generic pop rock song with nothing really special to offer, and Sober especially doesn’t fit into the tone of the album. It’s not a poor song, but I’m sure that Blink could’ve written something more tonally suitable for the album, as its inclusion is jarring.
The album really hits its stride following a brief joke track (that really might as well have gone on the cutting room floor too. At 30, I’m over the dick and ball jokes, and I can’t imagine the Blink guys really finding it all that funny anymore. Skiba cries “Is that really it?” when Mark finishes the songs, and I feel the same.) The song No Future has clear influences from the Take Off Your Pants era, and while there is a slight attempt at recapturing the feeling of being mad at all adults in the chorus, the harmonies are excellent, the guitar playing is layered beautifully, and Matt Skiba’s vocals really shine. The next track, Home Is Such A Lonely Place, again feels somewhat out of place as a ballad on a rock album, but the rest of the album is a combination of smooth vocal harmonies, good guitar work, Travis’ trademark energetic impossible drumming, seriously impressive vocal harmonies, high tempo songs with a good mixture of Blink and Alkaline Trio influences, and I can’t emphasize how well the vocal harmonies work on this album.
California has its shortcomings. The title track is another ballad-y pop song, which is not suited to the general tone of the album and the final song is called Brohemian Rhapsody… (I was steeling myself for the absolute worst, but it turned out that it is another joke track. Seems that the only way to make me thankful for a joke track is to instill fear of something much, much worse.)
In general, though, California is good, and if the evolutionary trajectory from high-school-Blink-182 to dark-and-serious-and-get-Robert-Smith-from-The-Cure-to-sing-with-you-Blink-182 continues to this Blink-182-with-Matt-Skiba, we can expect some more great albums from Blink-182 in the near future.
Blink-182 is an American rock band started in San Diego, California, in 1992. Their new record, California, released on 1 July 2016, and is available all over the place; I listened to it on Google Play Music. You can buy it on iTunes, or check out the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.