Blink-182 always sounded like a poor man’s Green Day to me. Some of you might think that’s an unfair comparison, but the fact of the matter is this: these two bands are pop-punks biggest, best-known game-players – perhaps not the best, but the biggest for sure.
That disparity, in my defence, remained fairly constant for some time. In 2004, Billie Joe Armstrong & co. produced a megalithic, post 9/11 rock opera; Blink-182’s eponymous LP of the same period is a somewhat less ambitious listen. Even before the inimitable American Idiot, there was a real contrast in quality. In 1999, Green Day dropped the mature, genre-blending Warning; Blink-182 however, gave us the video for What’s My Age Again?
In recent years however, the hierarchical tiers of Cali-punk have slid like a wedding cake that’s been left in the sun too long. With 2012-3’s ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, Green Day were no less excellent, but seriousness certainly took a back seat. At the same time Blink-182 had, inversely, begun something of an ageing process – beset by the dual tragedies of Travis Barker’s near-fatal plane crash and the sudden death of long-time producer Jerry Finn, they recorded 2011’s Neighborhoods, a record defined by a new, more adult jadedness. It also came after years and years of hiatus, throughout which Tom DeLonge would intermittently quit and rejoin the band, feuding endlessly with his bandmates. Those feuds are over on California. Tom DeLonge is out, seemingly for good. From me anyway, it’s a resounding good riddance (pardon the Cali-Punk pun) – Blink-182 are a way stronger band without him.
With Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in on vocals and guitar to replace DeLonge, Blink-182 have created a brilliant, forty-minute pop-punk LP, with very few missteps and a blinding selection of awesome would-be-hits. Given that this is essentially a debut album for the new songwriting squad at play here, it’s a valiant effort. For one, Skiba sounds exactly like Tom DeLonge. The only reason in fact that I bothered to put so much spiel at the start of this review is that the untrained ear might have missed the line-up change. As for the actual music, pretty much every song is epic: Cynical is a proper, sub-two-minute punk track, with a blazing drum intro; Bored To Death is the pop-punk anthem of the year, with a hook that’ll wedge itself in your life forever on only one listen; She’s Out Of Her Mind has a classic pop chorus, with sharp chords reminiscent of Carole King’s singwriting of yore. These are just the first three songs, but trust me, the sheer, driving force of this record is fairly unstoppable.
In my opinion, there is a solitary misstep on this record – Rabbit Hole. This track was released a few weeks ago and it was just annoyingly crass; worse, in the context of an album where that attitude has been largely shed, it seems incongruous and unneccessary. Elsewhere, the band have actually very tidily maintained playful acknowledgement of their idiotic past – short, ‘joke songs’ like Brohemian Rhapsody and Built This Pool comprise little more than pun-based schoolboy-humour, but their tiny runtimes feel like a more grown-up concession, so it’s okay. The latter of these actually finishes with someone shouting, “is that it?” – like even they are bored of being dumbass kids now. For someone like me particularly – someone who found Blink’s childishness really inane and off-putting – that self-awareness is both warmly received but also, in itself, much funnier.
One final note on the music – the melodies are ace. Maybe it’s just that these guys are fresh together, but the hooks, riffs and general catchiness of these songs is unparalleled. From the stadium-sized chorus of Sober to the the bouyancy of No Future, Blink-182 have clearly got radio-friendly pop-punk dialled. It’s all pretty samey, but never boring, that’s a hard balance to strike and, if nothing else. It’s one, big-ass, forty-two minute pop-punk song, like a super-duper long, mega-poppy Jesus Of Suburbia, but funnier and more carefree. It’s just rad. I’ll describe no more. Go listen. Like, yesterday.
It would seem as though Tom DeLonge’s idiocy really cost Blink-182, and for quite some too. In interviews and press releases, you get the impression that Travis and Mark are two fun dudes trying to make fun music, without any hassle. Then you’d read something like the review of the band’s set at Reading in 2014, mired as it was in long-stale arse, dick and tit joke. Now that the band has eschewed that hassle and managed to replace it almost seamlessly, there’s a very refreshing energy to their music; this super mature development isn’t just good for the music either – it actually casts the previously-nostalgic, ‘youthful’ work of their peers a somewhat more juvenile light. For turning the tables Blink, a hearty congratulations – may California be the first of many.