Legacy is a word that has cropped up a number of times since the second phase of blink-182 came to an initially bitter end. The band’s departed guitarist and co-founding member, Tom Delonge, has hinted at fears that the band’s long-term legacy could be jeopardised in his absence whereas the remaining core of Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, simply wish to carry it on – with or without Delonge. In truth, the legacy has been tainted already; not once, but twice over the course of the last decade. The initial hiatus brought bad publicity through bad blood and Delonge’s second exit, be it permanent or temporary, has done the same whether they like it or not.
There is one thing to be made clear though; however phase 3 of blink-182’s story pans out, the blame for any negative fallout cannot be placed at Matt Skiba’s door. The Alkaline Trio man and current blink-182 guitarist is undoubtedly the most qualified man to take Delonge’s seat for as long as the ride happens to last. The biggest question is – can blink-182 use their new weapon in a way that befits that slightly bruised legacy? The answer isn’t as simple as yes or no.
It has been abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that Skiba’s introduction into the fold has reinvigorated Hoppus and Barker; the spark and drive seems genuine and all three members seem to be fully on the same page which, as the well-documented ‘Neighbourhoods’ recording process would suggest, hasn’t always been the case since 2009. This time, with Goldfinger’s John Feldman at the production helm, the mission statement was clear – make blink-182 fun again.
For the most part, ‘California’ certainly sees them achieve that. From the moment Barker has rolled in with a blistering punk beat on ‘Cynical’ it’s clear that we’re going to be delving into the older reaches of the blink-182 discography for reference points. Skiba’s chorus of “What’s the point in saying sorry now?” is also the perfect early indication that sceptics needn’t worry about him bringing his vocal style to blink-182. It’s a great start followed by a great ‘comeback single’ in ‘Bored to Death’, both songs split Hoppus and Skiba down the middle vocally. As a duo, there’s no denying that their styles complement each other.
The two other pre-release tracks, ‘Rabbithole’ and ‘No Future,’ follow a similar formula structurally but are again a great mid-ground for where modern blink-182 should be. The minor complaints come elsewhere. Songs like ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’, ‘Kings of the Weekend’ and the sure-fire radio hit ‘Sober’, a song that Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump has stamped a massive influence on, are all as catchy as you could ever wish but jar a little in terms of lyrical content. Considering all the band members are in their mid-forties and their core fanbase stopped being disliked for being 23 a decade ago, certain lines feel a touch forced.
There are moments on ‘California’ that have Skiba’s fingerprints all over them. Highlights like the dark and moody ‘Los Angeles’ and the superb melancholy singalong of ‘San Diego’ utilise the new recruit’s signature style fantastically; fans of both Alkaline Trio and blink-182 will no doubt yearn for a little more of the darker edge but these turn out to be brief breaks from the sugary, sunshine sounds of yesteryear.
It’s not all summery pop-punk, though. The album’s delicate centrepiece of ‘Home is Such a Lonely Place’ again displays the fine harmonies of the co-frontmen as it envisages life after the kids have flown the nest. In direct contrast to the mature moments, the short joke songs return with ‘Built This Pool’ (“I wanna see some naked dudes, that’s why I built this pool”) and ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’, a song which musically makes you wish it was longer and not a joke song. The positioning of ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’ as the closer also feels like a mistake after the sentiment of the album’s title track but that is probably nit-picking a touch. After all, the blink-182 of old wouldn’t have thought twice about going with their humour-loving gut instincts in doing so.
So, does ‘California’ tarnish the blink-182 legacy? Definitely not. Does it add to it? Kind of.
It’s equal parts progression and necessary regression in getting back to the core of what blink-182 stands for, but you can’t help but feel another Skiba-featured record further down the line will take a darker turn. Either way, the mere fact that a blink-182 record is so heavily discussed twenty years in is a true testament to what they’ve all created.
‘California’ is out now via Viking Wizard Eyes.
This blink-182 article was written by Simon Carline, a GIGsoup contributor.