It takes something spectacular to build a 21 year legacy in music. To endure the changing climate of the music industry takes gusto and, it’s fair to say, keeping up with the tide is something only a small proportion of bands ever manage to do successfully. Blink-182 managed that. Pioneers in the pop-punk landscape since their debut Cheshire Cat back in 1995, Blink have managed to straddle the line of relevance and innovation in their field carefully, satisfying their long-term fanbase whilst managing to pick up younger fans along the way.
It takes something truly poor to destroy that legacy, and unfortunately Blink-182 seem to have done so with their latest effort, California.
With the departure of founding member, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Tom Delonge keeping them in the music press headlines over the past couple of years, everyone was keen to see where Blink-182 would go and how they would continue. Bringing in Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba was a controversial move, met with equal parts scepticism and praise. California was the product of a collaboration no one would have ever imagined just a few years ago.
California isn’t proof that a band can endure without their founding members – hell, Blink-182 proved that many years ago after the departure of drummer Scott Raynor, bringing in the elite Travis Barker to take his place. No, what California proves is that a band can fall from grace so easily. Blink have taken, not just a step, but a giant leap backwards in terms of quality and innovation.
The 16-track album is a pop-punk landfill, indistinguishable from any other band of the same genre, taking in weak lyrical performance and a mish-mash of rehashed ideas and riffs that were clearly given very little time and nurturing. Half-baked ideas make for an album full of generic pop-punk clichés. If it were 15 years ago, that might have worked, but as leaders in the genre, Blink-182 owe their fans, and themselves, more than just OK songs about being reckless and rebellious teenagers. At this point, it’s kind of sad. You’ve got to wonder if men in their 40’s should still be writing joke songs about looking at naked dudes (‘Built This Pool’). This album is the Angus Young of music. At some point, you’ve just gotta accept that you need to take off the school uniform and act your age.
There are a few glimmering moments of hope, such as the chorus in ‘San Diego’, which is pretty catchy and genuinely enjoyable to listen to. However, when it’s severely punctuated with typical ‘nananana’s and ‘woaaahs’, you kind of wonder half way through if you’re actually listening to 5 Seconds of Summer (which isn’t all that surprising considering it was produced by John Feldmann, who also produced 5SOS’s Sounds Good Feels Good).
Many of the songs sound familiar; ‘Kings of the Weekend’ starts off with a drumbeat that is reminiscent of ‘After Midnight’ from their last studio album Neighbourhoods, while ‘The Only Thing That Matters’ sounds like a demo reject from 1997’s Dude Ranch. It’s hard not to rapidly lose interest in an album when it all sounds so very ordinary.
In their 21 year history, Blink-182 have produced some of the finest pop-punk anthems of their era. But it’s now clear that the driving force behind their will to innovate, improve and move past the dick jokes was Delonge. Without that, would they have survived for this long? I somehow doubt it.
If Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker were so keen to continue making music that they wanted to make, then it feels like they should have re-ignited the 2005 +44 flame, or even created an entirely new band with Skiba. It could be seen as a disloyalty to their fans, almost torturous, that the completists should have to accept this album into the history of Blink-182, when they shouldn’t have to. To see the Blink-182 stamp on something so substandard is hard to accept.
California may appeal to Blink’s much younger fan base, however if you’re a pre-existing fan, of a slightly older generation, then step away. Don’t tarnish your memory of a once great band with music that is so far below the standard they so effortlessly set all those years ago.
California is out now on via BMG.