Blink-182 California review – the band is stronger without Tom DeLonge
Blink-182 are back with their first full-length in five years, California, and a lot has changed for the kings of pop-punk. Tom Delonge, of the whiny but instantly memorable vocal hooks and simple guitar parts, is out. Matt Skiba of melodic punk vets Alkaline Trio, is in. Mark Hoppus’s catchy low-register vocals are back in signature style, as is Travis Barker’s manic, genre-hopping drumming. Led by DeLonge, the band once famed for their dick jokes established a more mature sound over the past 15 years. Blink-182 have now essentially turned their back on that direction. The band has decided to put the punk back into pop-punk for California. But is it any bloody good?
Blink-182 on top of their game with California
California is a huge statement from Blink-182. No one can doubt they’re still on top of their game. Honestly I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. It’s a stronger record than 2011’s Neighborhoods. That album was recorded by a divided band, pulled in different directions. California is a more cohesive effort. The band sound confident and inspired. The memorable songs and big hooks are here in spades.
The essential dynamic of earlier Blink is gone – the contrast between the voices of Hoppus and DeLonge. Skiba’s vocals are slightly higher than Hoppus’s, but overall both sit in a fairly similar range. At first I definitely missed those signature Blink dual vocal parts. However, if you stop expecting it to be the same as the old Blink, and just appreciate for what it is, then there is a kick ass record to be found here.
Hoppus opens album and leads proceedings
“Cynical” is an excellent choice for the album opener. Hoppus’s understated bass chords perfectly complements his melancholy vocal part. Skiba joins with a spot-on vocal harmony, and then the band rush headlong into a thrash-punk attack. It sums up the album as a whole – a fiery desire to recapture the punk days of the band, mixed with song-writing maturity of the later years.
Skiba is one hell of a guitarist, and he brings a new texture to Blink-182’s writing. The subtle guitar parts in the first half of lead single “Bored To Death” is a good example of this. The song has a great chorus vocal hook, but it also meanders a bit with a bridge that overstays its welcome. If that’s your only introduction to the new line-up, it’s definitely worth going deeper into the album.
Aging pop-punk vets still have the golden touch
Hearing 44-year-old Hoppus singing the dark teen love song of “She’s Out Her Mind” is a little awkward the first time around, but it’s just too good not to enjoy. Lines like “She got a black shirt, black skirt and Bauhaus stuck in her head” are cheesy but are still catchy as hell. The reference to the obscure 80s goth rockers is a nice touch, giving a crystal clear image of the type of girl the song is about.
There are dumb joke songs like “Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” included for the first time in many years. It’s a little hard to believe that Blink can still make those songs legitimately funny, but I guess growing up is optional in California.
Skiba’s tight rhythm playing central to the album
“No Future” see the band proving that nihilism is no reason not to make blistering pop-punk. The vocal hooks come thick and fast while Skiba drives the song forward with his razor-sharp rhythms. “Sober” is another tune that mixes a somewhat bleak message with a savage rhythm section. Hoppus’s vocals really shine on “Sober”. He takes the lead more often than not throughout the album, and never fails to hit the mark.
Goldfinger guitarist John Feldmann provided the production for California and also shares song-writing credits for every song. The production is powerful and jumps out of the speakers. Feldmann piled on the compression, so it can be somewhat fatiguing to listen to on longer sessions. Unfortunately this trend is to be expected nowadays with major label releases.
Blink-182 have stepped away from extensive use of synthesisers and unusual instrumentation. However they still use such techniques to add colour on certain tracks, which helps make the record a refreshing listen throughout. “Home is Such a Lonely Place” sees the band breaking out the acoustic guitars along with some minimalist synths. “On Left Alone” they experiment with more prominent synthesiser parts and effects-laden bass lines. We hear Skiba hitting the top of his range vocally on both tracks. His voice takes on a nice timbre even when pushed to the limits to hit the high notes.
Blink-182 is stronger without Tom Delonge in 2016
This may offend a certain part of the fanbase, but Blink-182 is stronger without DeLonge, at least in 2016. It’s been clear for several years that he had lost interest in the band, and his contributions suffered as a result. California proves the band still has something to say and the ability to push forward creatively. Hoppus, Skiba and Barker ooze chemistry as a band. Hopefully they’ll have the good sense to move forward together instead of trying to bring back a nostalgia line-up.