This article was originally in Cherwell on 15 July 2016.
It would be a betrayal to review blink-182’s California in light of Tom DeLonge leaving to be replaced by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, and his absence alone. Instead, it is much better to review California for the curious mixture of parts that it is—for its merits alone. If one thing has been settled for certain after DeLonge’s departure, it is that blink are still capable of commanding interest: California went straight to number one upon release last week—and DeLonge has been suspiciously silent in the meantime.
But in contrast to the last time this split happened, when Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker poured their souls into dark introspection and vitriol with short-lived band +44 in 2006, California is surprisingly upbeat, much more in the vein of their earlier releases than of their last two LPs or Dogs Eating Dogs. This is a refreshing change—a re-energised Blink still sound fun and bristling with charisma, as always due in no small part to Barker’s precise freneticism. While the songwriting here does sometimes fail to escape from the shadow of past hits (the chorus melody on ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’ falls far too close to that of ‘Rock Show’), it is at least refreshing to hear blink sounding markedly different to that to which we’re accustomed—even if in doing so they have retreated to the succour of their past.
But that in itself is no bad thing. If there is any overriding issue here, it is the production. Whereas the beloved and departed Jerry Finn left Blink’s breakthrough albums with a happy sheen, there was still enough of a hint of punk scuzz beneath the gleam to satisfy their skate punk roots. Not so here, where every song feels squarely angled for radio through the calculated lens of Josh Feldmann’s production—this doesn’t harm the band or the record, but for many this will be an unwelcome side-effect of blink’s emphasis on making themselves a force once more.
On ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’, Hoppus and Skiba howl “We all need something to live for.” With California and Matt Skiba, blink-182 might just have found it.