I was in HMV one day, just browsing through some CD’s as I usually do, when someone forces me into a shopping mall. While I was looking around I couldn’t help but notice that within the 10 minutes of me being in the store, seven people had walked in and asked if they had the new blink-182 album, California (July 2016 via BMG). I also had to listen to the poor girl explain seven times that they were, in fact, sold out. This was on July 2nd, 2016 – just one day after blink-182 had released their new album.
Somehow people still have the nerve to say punk is dead. Since blink-182 have come out of their hiatus, it seems like everybody that you talk to has a different opinion on the album. Between fans, critics, and even casual listeners, nobody can unanimously decide on how they feel about California.
So what is it? Does the world love or hate the new blink-182? Well that’s what we are going to decide… Without further ado here it is, California: The Good, The Bad, and The Raunchy.
Listen: California – blink-182
California: The Good
So why is this album such a big deal? Why is it causing such a ruckus in the world of music – isn’t it just another punk album? Well, simply, because it’s blink-182’s first studio release without the co-front man, Tom DeLonge. One could easily argue that if DeLonge were still in the band, most of the critics would be hushed and fans would be pleased, but that is unfortunately not the case. The loss of a frontman is devastating for any band; what can you do when you lose not just the voice, but also the face of your band? You can try to replace him, but let’s be honest, it never really is the same and everybody knows that. So why has blink-182 been able to not only survive, but also flourish in with the loss of DeLonge?
That’s because they have a step over nearly every other band that has tried to carry on after the loss of their frontman.: From the beginning, blink-182 has always had two co-vocalists, DeLonge and Mark Hoppus. So although they may have lost DeLonge, they were only losing one half of the voice that makes up Blink-182. Yes – of course, you can argue that DeLonge was more of the face of blink than Hoppus was, but it really does make all the difference that Hoppus is on the original recordings of every single song.
Yet whether or not there was one or two vocalists, one simply cannot deny that DeLonge left a hole in the band following his departure, not only as a vocalist but also a guitarist. The easy mistake that they could have made would have been to try to replace DeLonge. They could have tried to shove someone in to fill that gap, but they didn’t. Instead they brought on Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, and together the three of them managed to make it seem as if there never was anyone missing in the first place.
In essence, by giving Skiba an altogether different role than DeLonge, blink-182 saved themselves from total and utter failure. Both with their live renditions of old songs and their new songs, Skiba doesn’t try to be DeLonge. Sure, he is singing DeLonge’s parts in the old songs, but Skiba is making them his own. He’s somehow found the perfect mix of having it sound like a blink-182 song, while at the same time making it his own. Skiba doesn’t need to be DeLonge; he is brilliant in his own magnificent way.
Watch: “Bored to Death” – blink-182
It’s easy to look at why it sucks that DeLonge left, but you simply cannot overlook the fact that when he left, he also took all the tension that had brewed for years among the band members with him. It was no secret that blink had their problems; it is also no secret that DeLonge was the catalyst to many of these problems. Between disagreements over which direction their music was headed and struggles with maintaining personal lives, blink-182 has been on the rocks many times over. Anybody with ears and a bit of background on the band could hear the tension riddled throughout their poorly received album Neighborhoods (2011 via Interscope Records). Many believed that the immature, masturbation pun-making, fart joke loving boys that the world adored were gone.
It seems that with the departures of DeLonge, those boys (I guess we should call them men now?) have returned. Their newest album brings back everything fans loved about the early 2000’s version of the band – including several joke songs like “Brohemian Rhapsody” and “Built This Pool.” The loss of DeLonge seems to have brought some life back to the band – some much need life, at that.
I wanna see some naked dudes
That’s why I built this pool
Although many fans and critics disliked Neighborhoods, it’s obvious that the boys had grown up a bit with their music. In fact, if you sit down one night and listened to the entire blink-182 discography, you can hear how they progress and grow up with each album, changing their sound a bit more every step along the way. In a way, that is what is so entirely beautiful about California; it is kind of like an homage to everything great that blink-182 has ever done. It has the hard punk, the immaturity, the ballads, and just about everything in between. It has everything that the fans love about the band shoved into one lengthy album. With California, they are saying, “Look at us! We are blink-182, this is our album, and we did it all without Tom.”
When you actually sit down and give the lengthy 16 song California a good hard listen, you will find more than a few memorable songs capture your attention. They may not be “All the Small Things” big, but “Cynical,” “She’s Out of Her Mind,” “Sober,” and of course “Bored to Death” are too good to be overlooked.
Listen: She’s Out of Her Mind” – blink-182
California: The Bad
When Neighborhoods was released in 2011, music fans everywhere had their eyes opened to a new blink-182. This new sound was more mature and defined, and it seemed that they was taking a natural progression away from sex jokes and naked music videos. Maybe it was due to the fact that they are indeed older, and their music reflected this; maybe it was because of the undeniable tension between bands members. Either way, Blink had changed, and that was a hard pill to swallow for fans and critics alike. But when it comes down to it, that is just the way that life goes: Bands get older and more mature, and so does their music.
Then we got California and suddenly everything we thought we had figured out about Blink flew out the window. California feels like a forced digression from what Blink has built with every new album they have released in the past. They released their two joke songs, something they haven’t done in over a decade. While the joke songs “Brohemian Rhapsody” and “Built This Pool” may be funny, they sound utterly fake. Before, when you listened to a disgustingly dirty song by blink-182, you couldn’t help but laugh because that’s just who they were. Decades later, it feels like they put these songs on the album to exclaim, “Hey! Look at us: We are raunchy, immature, and hilarious,” because they are trying to hail in some bygone glory days – not because that’s actually who they are.
Watch: “Built This Pool (Live at Firefly Festival)” – blink-182
Yes, you could argue that this entire album is an ode to the glory days, but with that comes a problem: By the band’s throwing together an album that encompasses every sound people love from them, one cannot help but feel that California comes out sounding sloppy and all over the place. It is somehow everywhere, and nowhere all at one. On one hand, you have a song like “Teenage Satellites,” which sounds like it’s written by some preteen boys about the shenanigans they get into the summer before they head into high school. And then on the other hand, you have “Home Is Such a Lonely Place,” about the struggle of watching your children grow up. There is no overarching theme on the album, and for many (myself included) it’s extremely hard to follow.
By trying to do a bit of everything, the next problem arises – a problem that almost everyone who has listened to California can agree on – it’s too damn long! There are far too many songs that just flat-out don’t need to be on the album. There are more than a few tracks that feel like they were thrown together just to fill space on an already overcrowded track list. “No Future” sounds more like a song hidden deep within a 5 Seconds of Summer album, complete with too many “Na-na-na’s” and overlapping vocals. Additionally, “Kings of the Weekend” is an absolute mess, both lyrically and musically. It is all over the place with no direction, and the verses seem utterly unrelated to the chorus. It lacks any sort of big bang instrumentally, and for some unknown reasons it even has a random scream thrown in the middle. Maybe Blink felt that they had a point to prove – the more the merrier – but when it comes to music, it is always quality over quantity.
Despite the fact that the album is overflowing with songs, it really doesn’t have any that truly stand out with a big bang. Put simply: There is no “All The Small Things” or “I Miss You” on this album. Sure, “Bored to Death” is good enough to get overplayed on every single alternative rock music station – but would it make it onto a greatest hits album?
California feels inorganic, as if it Blink threw the entire thing together according to a “How to Make a Mediocre Comeback Album” recipe. You must include:
- A single that gets radio play: “Bored to Death“
- A ballad: “Home is Such a Lonely Place“
- An emotional song or two about Tom leaving: “San Diego and Cynical“
- A raunchy joke song: ”Built This Pool“
- A fast paced punk song: “The Only Thing That Matters“
California: The Conclusion
When it comes down to it, blink-182 is back. While people can say whatever they want about the album, a few things will always stay true: California peaked at #1 in 5 countries and took the #1 slot on 3 American charts, including the Billboard Top 200, Billboard Top Alternative Albums, and Billboard Top Rock Albums charts. One cannot deny that punk music owes a lot, if not everything to blink-182. Decades after The Ramones brought punk into the music scene, blink-182 brought punk under the entire world’s radar. They helped pave the way for the music that would grow to shape the late-90’s and early-00’s, and if anything the world should be thankful that they are still here doing what they do best: Making music.
cover: blink-182 / Instagram