Album Reviews · Music · punk

Album Review: Blink 182 – California

We’re falling faster than we can fly
Forgotten seconds out on Sunset Drive
And I hold on tight
But not enough to hold you back

– “Home is Such a Lonely Place”

So here it is.  7th studio album from Blink 182.  First in 5 years and technically only the third in 15 years.  Tom DeLonge is out (although there is still debate on the terms in which he left).  Matt Skiba (frontman of Alkaline Trio) is in.  John Feldmann (frontman of Goldfinger) is producing.  Just to give a little background on my relationship with Blink, I was always a fan, but never a hardcore fan by any means.  I was in high school when Dude Ranch came out, and knew a little about them through my various punk rock/skater friends.  Then Enema of the State was released a few years later, Blink blew up, everyone said this was their gateway album, but the punk kids cried “sellout” as they often do (and I was definitely drinking that Kool Aid at 16).  What’s interesting for me is that this was when I started developing my own taste in music, and punk was a big part of that.  But it wasn’t through Blink.  It was through things like Tony Hawk Pro Skater on PS1, and learning about bands from my friends, and discovering this whole “underground” culture, worlds apart from Green Day and the Offspring, but it seemed like they all came from the same circles.  The Offspring were on the same label as Bad Religion, Green Day were fans of Rancid and Operation Ivy, and NoFX were technically pop punk, yet shared different principles than the bands starting to play on MTV and the radio.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you got started, it just matters that you’re into the music and care about it.

So the reasons why this album and newly formed lineup were a big deal to me was simple: Alkaline Trio and Goldfinger were probably my top two favorite bands during this era (I’m going to timeline it as late 90s into early 2000’s, which subsequently covers my entire high school and early college years).  Goldfinger was through Tony Hawk and my growing interest in ska/punk, and Alkaline Trio was through friends.  These bands seemed fun, they seemed genuine, and they seemed like it wasn’t about the money, it was about the music and the fans. I mean, isn’t that what we all want our bands to be about?  I’ve seen both live numerous times (I think the last time I saw the Trio was less than 2 years ago), and had the pleasure of meeting them on separate occasions.  For those who are interested, Goldfinger was before and after a small club show in Syracuse’s now defunct Armory High (RIP!) during the end of senior year of high school, and Alkaline Trio during E3, a video game conference in LA right after college graduation, two pinnacle moments in a young adults life I now realize..   Hang Ups and From Here to Infirmary were my two gateway records, the two that got me into the “scene”, introduced me to the hundreds of other bands around during that time, and spoke to me during a time of uncertainty, insecurity, doubt, anxiousness, and excitement, among other things.  They made me feel alive, regardless of what was going on in my life.  It felt like I was a part of something, even when I was alone in my room or in my car, blasting my favorite songs and singing along.

Needless to say, when I discovered that one of the guys from my favorite high school punk band was actually joining Blink 182 and one of the guys from my other favorite high school band was producing their new record, I was ecstatic.  This was all the things I loved, combined into one, even if it was 15 years too late.  AND they would get the exposure and recognition they deserve (I definitely don’t believe in the selling out philosophy anymore, I want the bands I love to make it big, regardless of how early in their career I became a fan).

Now for the discussion of the actual album.  As much hype as I gave this new project, it coincided with doubt.  Sometimes when your favorite things merge together, it doesn’t work out as great as you had hoped (I love you Audioslave, but the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts).  When I heard the first single, “Bored to Death” I was impressed.  You can hear Skiba’s singing as well as Feldmann’s production, it’s catchy, but also sounds like Blink.  Sure the chorus is a little cliche, but you can’t tell me hearing this song live wouldn’t be fun.  Then the other singles came out.  “Built This Pool” is an homage to their early joke tracks, something I was never really a fan of, but it is what it is.  “No Future” is probably my favorite song on the album thus far.  I think it is the perfect mashup of Blink, Goldfinger, and Alkaline Trio.  Honestly, a lot of the album sounds like this, but “No Future” really brings it home. When Skiba comes in on the second verse it just kills me, a classic trio melody even though you could picture Feldmann singing it as well. “Home is Such a Lonely Place” is a more ballad/buildup type of song, but definitely a stand out track for me.  All the California-themed titles (“Los Angeles”, “San Diego”, and of course the title track) have a unique sound, and would actually work as a three song EP if separated out on their own.

Are there a few throwaway tracks? Yeah. Does the excitement and interest fade a bit as you progress through the album? Sure.  That’s what you can expect from 16 tracks. I think they could have gotten rid of a few, and made it a classic 12 or 13 track record like the old days and include songs like “Built this Pool” as bonus tracks.

Aside from some of the lyrics, which honestly don’t bother me that much anyway, even though it’s hard to buy them talking about girls, weekends and partying when they’re 40 and married with kids, the other main critique I have is the sleek production.  I definitely have the older mindset here, as I was never a fan of big, lavish production value.  I like to hear gritty sounds, scowling voices (Tom Waits anyone?), even a few mistakes here and there.  I guess this is what to expect from Feldmann.  The first song I could hear the pitch correction right away. FYI, I still call it auto-tune, but apparently there’s a difference in how these tools are used, and I am not a technical person by any means. The album still sounds great and has the huge choruses we’ve all come to love from Blink, yet they still could have kept those and left a little of the grit still on the album.  Maybe there will be some demo leaks down the road…

All in all, this is sure to please Blink fans old and new, a refreshing new record that doesn’t stray too far from their roots while bringing some big changes.  Is it better than the best Goldfinger, Alkaline Trio, or even Blink records? Definitely not, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s good, catchy, and fun. And named California, a perfect album to start your summer, and surprisingly not affiliated at all with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Can’t wait to see them on tour, hopefully with some naked dudes in the pool – I mean it’s why they built it.

*Note this is my first album review in a very long time. Album reviews were always so interesting to me, the standard is to write them shortly after the album came out, but doesn’t it take a lot longer than that for it to resonate with someone? Maybe it can change throughout one’s relationship with the record.  What I should probably do is review albums from years ago that I still listen to and discuss how the relationship has evolved. Either way, hope you enjoy, please offer any comments, questions, and criticisms as they are most welcome.

Further Reading/Listening:

Mark Hoppus Interviews John Feldmann on his Podcast

The New York Times Review

The Rolling Stone Review

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