I’ll be the first to admit that there is a part of me that misses Emo/Punk music. A lot of the early bands that I listened to like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Sum 41, and countless others, were the first bands I followed. Even today, albums like From Under The Cork Tree, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Underclass Hero, and Commit This to Memory still hold up in my opinion. Yet, looking at those bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic!, they have completely switched their genres to generic pop-punk (especially Fall Out Boy) and it just sounds terrible.
Blink-182 was at the forefront of the punk scene in the early 2000’s. With songs like “What’s My Age Again?,” “Adam’s Song,” and “All The Small Things,” Blink regularly found themselves climbing the charts and found mainstream success. They were one of my favorite acts back then, and I still love half of their songs. California, Blink-182’s first album since 2011’s Neighborhoods, tries to relive both their former punk glory and mainstream success.
But, to begin with, I’d hesitate to really call this Blink-182. The band still has Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, 2/3rd’s of the original line-up, but on this effort we don’t have Tom DeLonge, which is sad. I really didn’t know how the band was going to sound with the departure of DeLonge, an integral part of the band’s success. DeLonge was Blink-182. In his place we get Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, who lends his voice and guitar skills to this new incarnation of Blink-182.
Fortunately for us, we still have Hoppus’ voice and bass, and Travis Barker’s drumming. Skiba plays the guitar fine enough, but it’s his vocals that really hurt the album. It’s a very generic singing voice, and on some tracks it’s hard to distinguish his vocals from Hoppus’. It just doesn’t fit with the bands dynamic, and DeLonge’s absence glares. Skiba does a majority of the choruses on the album, and they all are delivered awkwardly. However, to his credit, he does have a nice verse on “No Future,” and he doesn’t sound half bad on “Rabbit Hole,” which shows potential of a good singing voice and harmony. Unfortunately, it’s so sparse on this album you’ll have to dig deep to find any sort of hope.
The songs are very melancholy in nature, which is unsurprising considering Blink has a penchant for that kind of music. And yeah, that sounded fine in the early 2000s when the band was at the forefront of this scene. Now, it just sounds generic. And that’s the keyword of the album really. Generic. This record could have been made by any pop-punk band, and in fact it could have been done way better. It’s disappointing, especially considering how good Blink-182 used to be and how popular they were back in the genre’s heyday.
The lyrics, like the songwriting, are very uninspired, and to me Blink sounds like they are trying too hard to be depressing and edgy. Take the song “San Diego” for example. The opening lyric is “Sometimes I wonder where our lives go/They question who we used to be.” It’s trying way too hard to make me feel something. Sure, it might work if it sounded good, but it just doesn’t. Especially on that track, that lyric hits immediately and just sounds forced, especially with Hoppus’ weird delivery.
It’s hard to knock only Skiba for bad vocals, because really Hoppus doesn’t do particularly well in that department either. While he had the more “normal” voice compared to DeLonge, their chemistry and the melodies helped out tremendously with making Hoppus sound good. And he did. He did great, especially on “Adam’s Song,” which to this day is one of my favorite songs ever. Without the two together, Hoppus is left sounding out of place. Skiba and Hoppus lack chemistry, which wouldn’t be such a glaring issue if the melodies were stronger. It’s kind of hard to differentiate each and every song on the album, which blurs together in a dull collage of pop-punk tropes. The opening guitar riffs of “Bored To Death” and “San Diego” literally sound like they could be the same song.
One of the oddest things is the two “mini-songs” on the album. “Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” try way too hard to be funny and just come off as stupid. These feature lyrics like, “I wanna see some naked dudes/That’s why I built this pool,” and “There’s something about you that I can’t quite put my finger in.” These are just unnecessary, and while the band can be funny (see the music videos of “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?”), these “songs” were a terrible inclusion on the album.
For an album called California, there is really no mention of California at all. Sure, there are two songs named after California cities (“San Diego” and “Los Angeles), but if they are trying to represent the state of California (which the band was formed in) they do a terrible job incorporating any sort of references to the state. Not to mention that the two songs just mentioned are some of the worst on the record.
To be fair, not everything about this album is bad. The three singles released (“No Future,” “Rabbit Hole,” and “Bored To Death,”) are all excellent songs. The intro track “Cynical” starts off with a really great verse and guitar riff that reminded me a lot of “I Miss You” or “Stay Together for the Kids.” “She’s Out Of Her Mind” is also another solid track. However, the bad definitely outweighs the good on this album.
It’s disappointing to see a band like Blink-182 do so poorly. The singles were so good which made everyone, including me, very hopeful. That’s why I was so disappointed upon hearing the finished product. But as the boys age, it’s going to be harder and harder for them to channel their old sound. And their age definitely shows on California.
Written by Max Borushek