Sound — 7
It's been about eight years since Blink-182 sought to reunite, to the fanfare of almost every pop punk fan worldwide. And while that fandom and anticipation for the next bona fide era of Blink-182 still holds strong, the band itself has been hitting snags left and right. After finally releasing their comeback album in 2011, "Neighborhoods," Blink-182 started to succumb to personal tensions once more, reportedly stemming from guitarist Tom DeLonge. Bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker have both claimed DeLonge's wishy-washiness being the sole restraint keeping the band from getting back into the swing of things, while DeLonge claims Hoppus and Barker and just trying to oust him from the band for their own benefit. Despite which of the two sides is right or wrong, things took a turn for the bizarre when DeLonge's recent departure from the band later resulted in him elaborating upon his plans revolving around his passion for alien/UFO theories, which includes directing a film and writing nine (yes, NINE) novels on the topic with the help of top-level officials from numerous U.S. government agencies.
As for the other two-thirds of Blink-182, Hoppus and Barker found their answer for a new third part in Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba, who signed on with the band to record their seventh album after touring with Blink-182 as a substitute for DeLonge. But while this new unity has made this second comeback all the more appealing for plenty of pop punk fans, one still wonders if this Blink-182 v2.0 can really hold its own without the defining vocals of DeLonge; doubly so, considering that DeLonge took the majority of lead singing roles in "Neighborhoods."
In their seventh album, "California," Skiba's integration in Blink-182's overall sound bodes well. Hoppus primarily takes the lead vocal duties throughout the album, and though he passes the torch to Skiba to lead things in a few songs ("She's Out of Her Mind," "Los Angeles," "No Future"), it's the way Hoppus and Skiba intertwine with one another that's the most impressive addition. Skiba's lead vocals alone don't quite fill the DeLonge-shaped hole in the album, but the harmonies that Hoppus and Skiba weave together in "Sober," "Kings of the Weekend," "Left Alone," and the eponymous song show a vocal chemistry more cooperative than Hoppus had with DeLonge.
While the vocal force is new and improved, the general sound of "California" reverts from the path of change that "Neighborhoods" previously pursued, and has Blink-182 almost exclusively concerned with rebooting their sound back to their golden era. From the fleeting likes of the opening "Cynical" and "Rabbit Hole," to the bouncy halftime in "Kings of the Weekend" and the steady-going "Teenage Satellites," plenty of songs sound like they were written with the "Enema of the State"/"Take Off Your Pants and Jacket" playbook; it also makes a strong case for being Barker's best drumming performance in any Blink-182 album. Though this self-emulation arguably follows too much in the shadow of the band's glory days, whether it be the plodding bass and tom drumbeat in "The Only Thing That Matters" being the same rhythm base as "Every Time I Look For You," or the guitar riff in "Bored to Death" and the piano melody in "Sober" sounding similar to the guitar/piano melodies in "Adam's Song."
More frustrating than that, however, are the moments where Blink-182 reach further towards pop rather than punk. As opposed to the '80s-inspired sheen that was heard in parts of "Neighborhoods," parts of "California" delve into contemporary pop tropes - likely influenced by co-producer John Feldmann - which counteract the classic, raw pop punk sound Blink-182 want to tap back into. With shinier production value found in "Los Angeles" and the eponymous song, overwrought string sections stuffed into "Bored to Death" and "Home Is Such a Lonely Place," and singalongs shoehorned into nearly every song, these moments that invest more in a pop sound come off like Blink-182 following the movement of other pop punk/post-hardcore acts venturing further towards a pop sound (All Time Low, Sleeping With Sirens, Simple Plan, etc.) - it's even more ironic when considering that Blink-182 was a key influence for these bands and the genre at large, and are now following the direction of the bands they inspired and a genre they helped establish.
Lyrics — 8
Plenty of Hoppus' lyrics in "California" tick the expected boxes for a Blink-182 record - spanning from reckless pleasure in "Kings of the Weekend" and "Teenage Satellites," dysfunctional romance in "She's Out of Her Mind" and "Left Alone," and more downcast topics of depression and suicide in "Rabbit Hole" and "No Future" - but aside from the go-to topics, Hoppus' recurring theme in his lyrics is his connection with California. Though on paper, this theme comes off hacky (not to mention that Weezer also wrote an album centered around California no more than three months ago), it's likely inspired by Hoppus recently moving back to California after living in London for a few years after recording "Neighborhoods," and his outpouring of memories show his affinity for his home state even in rough times, heard in "Sober" ("I woke up in the pouring rain / West side Humboldt 7 A.M.") and "Home Is Such a Lonely Place" ("We're falling faster than we can fly / Forgotten seconds out on Sunset Drive"). Further than that, a couple of moments on "California" allude to Hoppus' frayed but never-ending connection with DeLonge, and with the opening "Cynical" implying that their friendship is too far gone ("What's the point of saying sorry now? / Lost my voice while fighting my way out"), the aforementioned "through thick and thin" kinship Hoppus has with his home state duly applies to him and DeLonge in "San Diego," which Hoppus has mentioned is partly about DeLonge.
Overall Impression — 8
In this second comeback for Blink-182, their approach to "California" differs significantly from the previous comeback album of "Neighborhoods." Whereas "Neighborhoods" was crafted with the intention of pushing Blink-182 into new sonic waters, the primary goal of "California" is for Blink-182 to recalibrate back to the pop punk sound of their golden years without one of their founding, integral members. Skiba's vocal elements in the album are a major benefit in freshening up the band reusing their tried-and-true formula, and save for the moments of embellished pop characteristics that encumber its stark appeal, "California" succeeds in being a modern display of why Blink-182 are one of the most seminal bands in pop punk.