Many fans questioned the legitimacy of Blink-182’s legacy when down founding member Tom DeLonge, who’s sneering and raspy vocals became iconic bit just for the band, but for the entire pop-punk genre itself. DeLonge’s voice has spawned many copycats since the group first rose to prominence, and many fans deemed him irreplaceable. California proves otherwise, with new member Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio) working with founding member Mark Hoppus and renowned drummer Travis Barker to create a collection of songs suitable for the legacy of Blink-182.
First single ‘Bored to Death’ concerned fans, with Skiba’s vocal style feeling almost too closely similar to Hoppus’s. Despite this, the track is an ode to all things Blink-182. From the opening drum licks which call right back to 2003’s feel good anthem, ‘Feeling This,’ to the guitar riff which feels peculiarly like Hoppus’s emo anthem from break-out album Enema of the State, ‘Adam’s Song’; the single sees Hoppus wallow in the fact that “It’s a long way back from seventeen,” a clearly sentimental statement from the man who so long ago wrote passionately about the woes of “growing up.”
Doubts about Skiba’s vocals are challenged quickly. Album opener ‘Cynical’ is a standout, where Hoppus familiar vocals step aside for Skiba to steal the spotlight belting an empowered chorus line that’s equally catchy as it is heart wrenching. (“What’s the point of saying sorry now?/Lost my voice while finding my way out” he cries.) California offers a gleeful but dark truth about the golden state that is so often glamorised, where it becomes more apparent throughout that California is a deeper statement about Hoppus’s home than originally thought. ‘Los Angeles’ is a gritty track that sounds like a Fall Out Boy B-side. Against some expert drum work from Barker, Skiba shouts out, “When will you save me, Los Angeles?” to which Hoppus responds in an apt breakdown, ”Wake me when this war is over.” ‘Los Angeles’ might be as pop-punk as the album gets, sans the gang-vocal chorus in ‘No Future.’
‘San Diego’ is dark too, and lends itself as one of the most personal songs on the album. The song’s namesake is the city where Blink-182 was formed, and where DeLonge resides. Couple this fact with references to The Cure, one of Tom and Mark’s favourite bands, and lyrics such as “Think of every person I ever lost to San Diego,” and this might be the only the track on the album that seems to call directly to Hoppus and DeLonge’s fractured relationship. Tracks such as ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’ and ‘The Only Thing That Matters’ would have fit nicely somewhere between ‘What’s My Age Again’ and ‘All the Small Things’ on the Enema of the State. The latter’s chugging bassline is iconic Hoppus and feels like a fine-tuned Dude Ranch track. They both boast guilty pleasure teenage lyrics (”Where the hell did you come from?/Outer space or heaven above?”) and are anthemic recapturings of Blink’s past.
There’s tastes of every disjointed era of the band on California. ‘Rabbit Hole’ sounds like the poppy cousin to 2011’s ‘Heart’s All Gone’ while the aggressive chorus of ‘Left Alone’ could have sat nicely on Blink-182’s untitled record. Joke tracks ‘Built This Pool’ and ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’ are refreshingly immature, albeit one can’t help but wonder if these would suit better as bonus tracks. Standouts here include ‘Home Is Such a Lonely Place,’ a ballad that seems like a complete curve ball for Blink. It expertly blends the soothing vocals of Hoppus with Skiba’s more raspy style, and could easily have been the sequel to 2003’s, ‘I Miss You.’
Additionally, title track and closer ‘California’ sees Hoppus put his woes behind him and make peace with the golden state. A state which, throughout his career, has brought him wealth, fame and fortune, as well as a publicised musical break-up almost (but not quite) comparable to Lennon and McCartney’s or The Gallagher brothers. (“Hey, here’s to you, California.”)
California shines as a deeply personal record. It’s a record about the golden state of sun, surf and skate culture. It’s a record about Hoppus’s home. A record that demonstrates his undying loyalty to a band he formed in a garage with his then best friend. Maybe it didn’t all work out to plan, but that’s okay. There’s no place for Tom Delonge on this record. Because, most of all, California is a record that boasts the fact that you never really have to “grow up”, and you’re never too old to be who you used to be.