The tune, like the disc it was plucked from, represents a new chapter for the iconic Dude Ranch (who are currently down one Tom DeLonge and up one Matt “Alkaline Trio” Skiba) and TBH it’s one of the biggest songwriting triumphs on what is an all-around surprising, multifaceted and fun record.
But for some, it’s also just… not Blink-182.
The first LP from the Mark,
Tom Matt & Travis Show was always going to be divisive.
And if you (like myself) have grown up cutting Blink pics out of Smash Hits magazines and getting your mum to laminate them onto your high school maths books then nostalgia will likely compel you to hate its guts.
But there’s plenty to enjoy and admire about the band’s latest effort, if you can get past the apparent sacrilege of their DeLonge-less sonic evolution.
The follow-up to 2011’s Neighbourhoods is equal parts familiarity (some of it great, some of it not so great) and freshness (some of it great, some of it- well, you get the idea).
And after blasting it once at their label’s listening sesh, here’s our initial 411.
Blink-182 – Built This Pool (Lyric Video)
Why You Might Hate It
Look, the Alkaline Trio ring-in is obviously a champ, his guitar tone is pretty bang-on DeLonge’s which keeps the band’s core musical sound pretty solid, plus his vocal tone blends well with Hoppus’s.
The problem is, it blends too well. There’s a bunch of times on California when Skiba takes over lead vox and his voice is pretty much indistinguishable from Mark’s, whereas in years past the trademark gear-shift to Tom’s iconic whine would always lift Blink songs to an even higher altitude of awesomeness.
And the worst part is, it’s so painfully easy to imagine what Tom’s voice would sound like in its place that you can’t help but feel musically cock-blocked by Skiba’s very presence.
Also, the dude is way too pick scrape-happy. Skibes chucks in pick scrapes almost as liberally as chord changes. Ease up on the pick scrapes, turbo.
It Doesn’t Sound Like A Blink Album:
And that’s not just because of Skiba’s vocals. While there’s a handful of straight-up pop-punk additions like The Only Thing That Matters, Cynical and the just-released track Rabbit Hole, for the most part California sees Blink shed the punk, jump the emo and catapult themselves straight into pure pop territory.
They’ve stuffed their guitars with layers of synths, pianos and programming, while Hoppus’s vocals have been polished to perfection, drenched in reverb and other digital effects and stacked under slabs of shimmering pop harmonies.
The whole thing’s also very uncharacteristically un-sweary.
Some of it sounds more like a blockbuster version of Mark & Travis’s +44 supergroup, while curveball stadium rock numbers like Los Angeles and the titular Left Alone are almost completely unrecognisable as Blink-182.
And look, a lot more fans might be willing to give this a red hot go if Tom was still in the band, but his MIA-ness coupled with Blink’s new genre-hopping will no doubt rankle the purists.
But Somehow There Are Still Plenty Of Pop-Punk Cliches:
Including a bordering-on-lazy overuse of “woah oh” and “nah nah” hooks and lyrics about pop-punk’s thematic staples: girls, parties, drinking, weekends and being teenagers (what’s their age again?)
Look, none of the songs on California are terrible. Some of them you’ll almost certainly dislike because they sound so far removed from the classics, but the worst it gets is Sober, Teenage Satellites and Left Alone, which are all just a wee bit meh.
Blink-182 – Rabbit Hole (Lyric Video)
Why You’ll Love It
As always, Travis delivers the goods. His rapid-fire drum stylings kickstart the album with opener Cynical, which is a punchy AF punk tune that connects like a karate chop to the earhole. And even though the sound of the record itself tends at times to veer into very un-Blink territory, Travis’s trademark grooves and cool, unpredictable beats help tie it all together.
They Haven’t Lost Their Sense Of [Toilet] Humour:
Despite losing preeminent dog-fucker Tom DeLonge, Blink-182 haven’t lost their cheek. Continuing a proud tradition of incorporating joke songs into proceedings like the oft-skipped (when parents are around) Happy Holidays, You Bastard and Family Reunion, they’ve included two bite-sized (albeit notably more PC) morsels on this disc ala the 14-second Built This Pool (“I wanna see some naked dudes / That’s why I built this pool”) and the even-shorter Brohemian Rhapsody (“There’s something about you / That I can’t quite put my finger in”).
FYI both sound like they would have been awesome and oldschool-AF Blink if they’d been fleshed out into full tunes.
But They HAVE Evolved Musically:
With California, Blink seem to have chucked something of a Bring Me The Horizon, evolving by cross-breeding their core punk sound with contemporary electro-pop and even stadium rock elements. As mentioned above, their sound on California is the most polished and fark-off huuuge that it’s ever been.
Under the guidance of legendary pop-punk producer John Feldmann (who, as well as fronting seminal ‘90s band Goldfinger, also discovered The Used and produced bands like 5 Seconds Of Summer), Blink have crafted an album filled with big musical surprises and even bigger hooks.
For instance, the alien-like programming, dark dance-beats and bordering-on-metal chorus of Los Angeles makes for a thrilling curveball and is probably Blink’s heaviest song to date, while the synth-driven Left Alone sounds like pop-punk meets 30 Seconds To Mars.
Then there’s the swelling, shimmering harmonies of title track California that build into an epic, almost Queen-like climax, and the uplifting, melancholy ballad that is (we’re told) forthcoming third single Home, which kicks off with clean guitar before surging with more synth and an epic-as-hell drum fill from Travis.
Though it’s a far cry from the scrappy punk anthems that defined Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch, the raw power-pop and party punk of Enema Of The State and Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, and even the darker, experimental jams of Blink-182, the OTT production-heavy, synth-laced, pop-polished tunes that dominate California are still driven by a familiar formula.
Strip it all away and you’ll still find much of the same palm-muted pop-punk riffery, signature Mark Hoppus basslines, dynamite drumming, immature lyrical themes, simple but poetic lyrics and trademark cheek that made you fall in love with Blink-182 to begin with.
For the purists: Cynical, Bored To Death and forthcoming singles She’s Out Of Her Mind and Home. For the open-minded: Los Angeles, No Future & San Diego.
Blink-182 – Bored To Death (Lyric Video)
With such a production-heavy new sound, the big question is: will Blink-182 be able to pull all this off live?
Hopefully Aussies will get to find out, with the band currently trying to organise an Australian tour, complete with Travis.
Blink’s 7th studio LP California is due out on Friday, 1st July (which just so happens to be the 182nd day of the year AYOOOOH!) and you can pre-order it here.