After many years of public fall outs with founding member Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker have decided to keep Blink-182 alive, with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba attempting to fill DeLonge’s Converse trainers. Older age potentially makes it tricky to continue a band who have always been associated with immaturity; although they are among the pioneers of pop punk, meaning it would be equally tricky for them to leave it behind. The burning question is, can you have Blink-182 without Tom DeLonge? The West Coast trio seek to answer that question with their latest offering, California.
Cynical opens proceedings with some promise – a gentle intro is sung out by Hoppus, before a typically high tempo riff kicks in, with Barker’s drum fills as impressive as ever. Towards the end of the song, Skiba announces his arrival with some very strong vocals that sound right at home. Bored To Death is the album’s lead single, and deservedly so: the chorus is quite excellent, with its driving riffs and some very pop-punk lyrics – “Lost and cold and fading fast / life is too short to last long.” Sadly, that’s more or less the extent of California’s high points, with following track She’s Out Of Her Mind being a fairly clear sign of the downturn. The lyrics are quite unforgiveable: “I’m in deep with this girl, but she’s out of her mind (whooooaaa) / she said ‘babe, I’m sorry but I’m crazy tonight”. It’s difficult not to wonder if this isn’t massively beneath Matt Skiba.
Los Angeles offers a more daring piece, a darker song with some nice production touches – it has a big Alkaline Trio flavour to it, which was always going to happen when Skiba joined the group. The seventeen-second Built This Pool offers a nice comic interlude, but next up though, despite a wholly unnecessary trap bridge section, is Sober - a drudging, uninspired song. As No Future plays out its ‘na na na’ chorus, the absence of DeLonge begins to hang heavily. Not only his unmistakable Californian accent (which gave the band so much of its character), but vitally, his songwriting.
Song number nine’s title, Kings of the Weekend, tells you everything you need to know about that song – a painfully obvious ode to getting trashed. I was just left thinking, ‘you’re in a band, surely you’re not restricted to doing that just at the weekend??’ By the time Teenage Satellites rolls around, the post-chorus ‘whooooooooas’ are beginning to grate. Rabbit Hole isn’t bad, despite being pretty formulaic; and San Diego is among the more powerful numbers here, allegedly being aimed at Blink’s former guitarist and singer, DeLonge himself.
As the end approaches, California offers some late promise with some very decent melodies, but sadly more total shockers in the lyrics department: “living in the perfect weather / spending time inside together”. Unless I’m missing some profound metaphor here, that really is quite terrible. Lastly, Bohemian Rhapsody mercifully doesn’t turn out to be a cover of Queen’s great opus, rather a thirty-second, witty closer.
Blink-182 post-DeLonge isn’t a travesty, it just lacks the wit and great songs that made albums like Enema of the State classics. Not to mention the ability for reinvention that we saw in 2003’s self titled Blink-182. California is decent at best, perhaps as good as it could have been in the circumstances. With the knowledge that Tom DeLonge has already rejoined the band once, it remains to be seen how long this current outfit will last, or if they will at some point revert to the original threesome. Headliner will be watching with interest.
Listen to: Bored to Death, Los Angeles, Built This Pool
Review by Adam Protz