Blink-182 has long been an institution of music. The burden of reinventing themselves to reassure fans who have been through a decade of drama and disappointment is a heavy one. California is not a new Enema of the State, but it adds something that hasn’t seemed to be in their recordings for quite some time: they sound like they want to be there.
California is a fun record. There are no “First Date” or “The Rock Show” mega-anthems, and there shouldn’t be. What could have been a disaster of replacing a primary songwriter after 20 years, Matt Skiba is still getting his footing to live up to a band that, essentially, brought pop punk and skatepunk to the mainstream.
California is not a serious record, a notion we get straight out of the gate during “Cynical”. After a meaningful message of Mark Hoppus addressing everyone who questioned moving on without Tom, (“There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up / You said everything you’ll ever say”), just as the guitars take off and a massive drum solo from Travis Barker rages, the music pauses ever so slightly for someone to make an irritated noise as though they just messed up the song during recording to start over.
That is what differentiates California from what Blink-182 had become – it’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s simple, it’s loud and it will have you attempting to sing along on the first listen. Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba’s call and return vocals, and the trade off of verses is seamless. Barker’s drumming phenomenal. Per usual, Hoppus’ bass lines are crisp, deliberate and deep.
Skiba, taking the reigns for guitar, weaves himself into the worthy successor we’d have hoped for. The riffs are light and pop perfectly. He understands what Blink-182 sounds like and differentiates that style of songwriting so that, for the most part, it doesn’t sound like it was pulled from an Alkaline Trio record (the one exception arguably being “Los Angeles”). Some of the guitar riffs sound like they could have been written by Tom at any point (“The Only Thing That Matters”), which seems like more of a tip of respect than ripping off an idea.
As the second singer, Skiba is terrific. His vocals seem a bit higher and pronounced that they do with Alkaline Trio, and at certain pitches, he sounds like Tom. More often than not though, his deeper pitch blends eerily with Mark Hoppus and creates a rich harmony, occasionally accented by Skiba’s whimper between notes.
The trio experiments lightly on songs like “Los Angeles”, relying on Barker’s drumming and a shaky guitar to produce a song that has light R&B flavors and drops into a dark rock chorus. This is the one song that sounds like it could have been an Alkaline Trio song before exploding completely into a bridge that is pure Blink-182 under Hoppus’ vocals.
Some of the more somber notes and spacey synth (“Left Alone”) feel like an homage to Tom, and sound like something he would have written himself. “Bored to Death” already feels like a staple for the band, and if you haven’t heard it already, it has already lauded itself as the most successful single for the band since “Miss You”. The temperament between soft verses to a loud chorus and sweeping backing vocals is fantastic work of cooperation between each band member.
For the most part though, California is a collection of good-to-fantastic pop punk songs that fit perfectly in-sync with the rest of their discography. “Teenage Satellites” is a fast jam with a soaring chorus and is perhaps the song that best focuses solely on Matt Skiba. It’s fun, romantic and demands to be sung aloud. “Kings of the Weekend” charges in a slow build before throwing itself headlong into the chorus, celebrating punk rock music as the savior to boring nights.
“She’s Out of Her Mind” might be the most ‘classic’ song on the album, as it sounds like a spiritual successor to “The Rock Show” in its build up, punctuated chorus and raging guitar. Each element is perfectly written to stay stuck in your head for-fucking-ever.
On my first listen, there were a few songs that I thought could have been pruned or worked on a bit more to make the album flow a bit better, but after listening to it a few times, I’m happy for everything that is on it. Fans who enjoyed any part of Blink-182’s career will find something on here to satisfy them. Though I love the joke songs (“Built This Pool”, “Brohemian Rhapsody”), they don’t flow as well with the larger picture the way that “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” did.
If there is one critique of the album that I have, it is that Skiba and Hoppus sound identical at times. I took me several listens to be able to differentiate them from time to time from certain songs (“Bored to Death”, “Sober”) but it may just be me writing when I should be paying attention. Mark Hoppus has always been my favorite member of the Blink team, but the lack of high pitch vocals made me realize how much I missed Tom’s voice. When Skiba hits the higher notes, it makes it all the more pronounced. That said. I wish that Skiba got more solo songs with Hoppus taking backing vocals.
California is a welcome return to form for a band that has seemed lost for a years. Without the infighting and drama, this is easily the best work Blink-182 have put out in over a decade. It’s cohesive, memorable in an instant, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a reminder of how damn much I’ve missed Blink-182 at the highlight of their career. It is the reason why the band has refused to give up, but why we as fans have clamored for more releases for years. California is the sound of a band rediscovering itself, and the promise of what the future holds for a group that most believed were trapped in the past.
To new beginnings.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and got into pop punk because of Blink-182. He has spun Enema of the State more times than he’s told his mother he loves her.