It’s another time of great artistic inspiration the one that led to me to the present new ARM instalment that scrutinises Californian pop-punk legends blink-182’s latest full length effort. That is, a renewed wave of exciting and refreshing TV shows has been fast approaching delivering, among others, Mr Robot‘s second season as well as Netflix original new cult series Stranger Things, which I’m sure will keep me busy for a good while during my holidays (yours sincerely writing this on the second day of well-deserved Summer vacation, indeed). Moreover, more time resources have been found lately being devoted to catching up with readings that had unfortunately been forced to be put aside for too long, such as Hermann Hesse, Dennis Lehane as well as good ol’ Chuck Palahniuk. Lastly, and possibly most closely related to the output of this blogpost, a number of new musical discoveries has permeated my non-work-related time over the past month, with the likes of Temple of the Dog – incidentally having just announced their first tour ever, though as of now only confined to the USA – Butch Walker and Phosphorescent adding up significantly to my personal list of new obsessions.
Back to the main purpose of this writing. Blink-182’s seventh studio LP California, recorded during the first months of 2016 and produced by notorious hitmaker John Feldmann (Panic! at the Disco, The Used, 5 Seconds of Summer), had been long on my radar of most highly anticipated releases of the year and couldn’t therefore get away from my fiercely ferocious and deeply feared sonic analysis. In fact, there are a ton of good and legit reasons to be objectively excited about the record, not least it being the first one after founding member Tom DeLonge’s departure – replaced by on guitar and vocal duties by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba – and pretty much coming together not long after blink-182 being an inch away from splitting up and never playing together ever again. The album, previewed by catchy and explosive lead single “Bored to Death” and whose original artwork was created by UK street artist D*Face (cf. image below), did however get released on 1st July and has therefore been marinating in my mind for almost a month, which I believe is a fairly adjusted amount of time for a properly comprehensive tell all about it.
California cuts at just about 43 minutes of length with a total of sixteen (!) tracks, which I guess places itself well along a punk-rock pantheon made of collections of numerous, speedy and immediate songs. To be fair, two of these songs (“Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody”) can’t really count as such being more of old-blink skits/jokey songs about male and female nudity with some shredding and drums fills spread across a handful of seconds running time each. The remaining fourteen songs don’t exaggerate in length either, with basically all of them ending at about the 3-minute mark exception made for opening track “Cynical” and live-favourite “The Only Thing That Matters”, both not even reaching two minutes and actually representing some of the best moments on this record, with some honest in-ya-face fast punk rock drive married with extremely catchy vocal melodies. Said formula unfortunately doesn’t seem to succeed in many other tracks of the album, with rather miserable attempts undertaken on “The Rock Show”-rip off “She’s Out of Her Mind”, “Kings of the Weekend” and “Teenage Satellites”, by far the most unnecessary, repetitive and overstayed songs on California.
Instead, it’s when blink-182 change the formula that things start to work out much better. One way of crystallising this is going back to thinner, basic songwriting towards a place that couldn’t be further apart from the punk rock edge that defines a big chunk of this album. Songs like “Home Is Such a Lonely Place”, which could have easily been developed in the same writing session as of fan-favourite “I Miss You”, and their homeland tribute “San Diego”, represent both pleasant acoustic surprises that, sonically and considering the overall tonal mood of the record, help mellow things out at number eight and thirteen on the tracklist. Another pattern that could roughly be spotted across the sixteen songs it’s the involvement of electronic sound touches that lie somewhere between +44 (bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker’s short-lasting side project borne out of blink-182’s first hiatus crisis in 2005) and the latter ambient incarnations of the band manifested in 2011’s Neighborhoods and the poorly-received EP Dogs Eating Dogs released in 2012. This pattern is found at best in tracks such as the anthemic and paramount “Los Angeles” as well as the album’s title track, possibly my favourite song off the LP. Less successfully, and somehow in disagreement with the band members themselves, such intersection between raw punk rock roots, big stadium sound and electronic finishings doesn’t really seem to take off in “Left Alone”, which was apparently long in the shortlist for the first lead single off the record.
Speaking of singles, besides the aforementioned “Bored to Death” the So-Cal punk rockers opted for the fast-paced and quite dark “Rabbit Hole” as a follow up shortly before “No Future“, where one can’t miss to find a wealth of similarities with classic blink “Adam’s Song”, found the light of the day as third preview of California. The picking choice of the three singles isn’t surely one that will go undiscussed and holds significant room for alternative suggestions, yet, at least from a commercial perspective, the final selection seems to have been a reasonable one given that the album debuted straight at number one in both USA and UK. It is however through a catchy, up-beat and generally great song like “Sober”, co-written with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, that one finds grand pleasure in welcoming blink-182 back to the scene, in many ways it seemed like the mainstream punk rock world had been missing them for too long.
blink-182 is currently on a headlining tour supporting their latest release, accompanied by an impressive list of supporting acts including A Day to Remember, All Time Low and The All-American Rejects. It looks however as if the California tour is only touching US ground so far, hence my suggestion would be (Pokémon) go catch the punk veterans live if you’re lucky enough to be based in America, though let me make damn sure that this very last sentence entailing said judgement of quality can only be used in conjunction to the above topic and bears no further reference to present tumultuous political times. Unless prank song “Built This Pool” turns into a new version involving the construction of something else, obviously.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2016, Viking Wizard Eyes LLC