Blink-182 – California
Release Date: 7/1/16
Written & Performed By: Mark Hoppus, Matt Skiba, & Travis Barker
Produced By: John Feldmann
Review by Mike DeAngelo:
Blink-182 has never been the most talented, creative, or respected band in music or even their own genre – but, if you were a teenager in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, they were fairly inescapable. They were one of the first Pop-Punk bands to truly explode into the mainstream, sparking a massive stream of look and sound-alikes to flood your radio over the next 5 years. Some people absolutely despise them for that, some people weren’t old enough for that kind of cynicism.
Personally, I was a huge Blink fan. They rose to stardom right in the pivotal years of my life and spoke directly to the immature, middle class, angsty teenage idiot that was me and my friends. I hit some big landmarks with Blink. I had heard M&M's and some Dude Ranch tunes via a friends older brother, but my first big introduction to Blink was Enema of the State (1999). Enema came out in the summer before my freshman year of high school and was one of the first explicit CDs that I could convince my parents to allow me to have – OK, fine - trick my parents into buying.
Their second album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001) came out the year I got my driver’s license and was one of the few albums that I took the time to dub over to cassette to play in my first car (A powder blue 1990 Ford Escort lovingly called “The Smurf” by my sisters, who both drove it as their first car, as well). And, hot damn, did I play the crap out of that TOYPAJ tape. I can still throw this on and smile the whole damn time - it's Blink at the height of their immature Pop-Punk superstardom and it's a truly fun ride from start to finish.
Then, their darker, less punky, quasi-experimental self-titled (or “untitled”) album came out my freshmen year of college – another hugely formative year in my life. A year that my musical tastes were beginning to change and expand right along with them. So, I welcomed their experimentation with open arms. Listening back to it, I forgot how much they played and experimented with their sound throughout the album. As much as I love the TOYPAJ and Enema of the State days, the self-titled album is very much their masterpiece. It caught people off guard, as most had written Blink off as a one-note pop-punk group. This made the statement that they were capable of far more than just Pop-Punk angst. Thus, beginning Tom’s need for greater and greater sonic experimentation and likely leading to more tension in the band.
Then, after touring behind their self-titled album, Blink decided to step back and go on what they referred to as an “indefinite hiatus” due to the apparent burn-out and the aforementioned rising tensions between the members. When the band reformed and released Neighborhoods (2011), I was happy to see the band making music again, but wanted something more nostalgic out of the album - rather than a logical progression from their previous album, which is what Neighborhoods was. It’s not a bad record, but it just didn’t hit me at the right time. My tastes had grown/changed and I wasn’t as open to looking back at the time. On top of that, there wasn’t as much musical growth and experimentation as the self-titled album, and you could also feel that the band just wasn’t completely in it. I read afterward that the album was mostly recorded at separate studios with little contact between the members. It was clear in interviews that Tom’s heart just wasn’t in it and that was obviously rubbing Mark and Travis the wrong way.
Finally, depending on who you believe, Tom agreed to step away from the band or was kicked out – either way, Mark and Travis quickly invited Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba to join the band on a full-time basis.
California is the first album with the new line-up and it’s jam-packed with a mix of old Blink, new Blink, Alkaline Trio, and a little something else. Honestly, while you certainly can hear Blink in there, it may have been better for them to release this under a different moniker, as releasing it under the “Blink-182” name without Tom is only inviting undue comparison, rather than taking the music at face value.
Regardless, as an album, California is Blink’s most energetic and nostalgic record for some time. It simultaneously captures their old pop-punk immaturity (Built This Pool, Rabbit Hole, and Brohemian Rhapsody) and their darker alt-rock introspection (Los Angeles, Bored To Death, & California) on one giant 16-song album. There are moments where the lyrics make me cringe or the album isn’t quite to my current tastes, but I imagine that I would say the same if I heard their old albums for the first time this year, too. They’ve never been lyrical geniuses; however, they do have a musical genius on-board in their drummer Travis Barker, who continuously pushes himself to interesting new heights with each album. This time around he certainly has his moment to shine, but he seems a bit more content to sit back and just play big/loud throughout most of the album.
Also, while Matt Skiba does an admirable job filling in for Tom, you still can’t help but want to hear Tom’s signature vocals on the record. At times, Matt’s vocals blend almost seamlessly with Mark’s, and that’s fine – but the thing that made Blink so dynamic was how different Mark and Tom were, vocally and otherwise. They pushed each other in directions they wouldn’t have gone without the presence of the other, and that was one of the things that made the old Blink so fun to listen to.
In 2016, the age of synthetic pop music, California feels both refreshing and wildly out of place, but one thing you can count on is that this album is not out to make new fans. It’s specifically for those of us that grew up with Blink and want to feel fifteen again – and fifteen year old me would have loved this album. That’s good enough for 31 year old me.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10 Scoops of Nostalgic Teenage Angst (Subtract 3 if you were never a Blink fan…)
Album Highlights: Rabbit Hole, Bored To Death, Sober, Los Angeles