Tom DeLonge is right. No, not about saving us from aliens but the whole ‘leaving Blink-182’ thing. DeLonge has been soundly pilloried for his insistence that extraterrestrial life is a real thing and an apparent threat but he can at least go to sleep at night knowing that he made the correct decision to walk away from the band that made his name, for that outfit are creatively spent.
It may not seem especially revelatory to declare that the Blink-182 of 2016, with or without the distinctive/irritating tones of DeLonge, don’t have a lot to say but there was plenty of room for optimism in the run-up to their seventh studio album. Their self-titled effort may be almost 13 years old (jesus) but it holds up today as a mature and progressive effort (well, as mature and progressive as a bunch of lads obsessed with toilet humour and erections are going to get) and it’s easily their most accomplished work as songwriters.
Despite the presence of 2011’s average Neighborhoods you enter California in the hope that Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker can tap into the upper echelons of their past one more time. And hey, that +44 record was pretty good if admittedly straightforward but charmed enough to warrant a sequel of sorts. Furthermore, Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba is one hell of a substitute to call upon. Throw in a dash of ‘something to prove’ and all signs point to a punchy resurgence, right?
Wrong. The decidedly bloated (seriously, can we have a moratorium on albums with over 15 tracks, please?) California is as formulaic as it gets from the moment Mark Hoppus unconvincingly announces that “There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up / ‘You said everything you’ll ever say’” on urgent opener ‘Cynical’. Frankly, his words are hollow given what follows. ‘Bored To Death’ is still fun two months after its original release, but it’s a staggeringly standard effort with a promo that handily illustrates the problems with this iteration of Blink.
That bit in the video there where the clearly-not-a-teenager guy chucks a bunch of vinyl onto the ground in a record store is less PUNK AS FUCK and more ‘dude, what the fuck are you doing?’, but hey he gets the girl and catches his heroes at a sparsely-attended underground gig so it’s all good, I guess. Much like that empty short film, California feels extremely forced. ‘Los Angeles’ is a fun little number complete with the kind of propulsive guitar chorus kick-in that would make Wes Borland gleefully bust out that spin move he loves and it’s one of very few chances for Matt Skiba to shine, but this is about as good as it gets, sadly.
Elsewhere, it’s familiar business as usual. We get songs that feel awkward in that Jimmy Eat World-still-singing-about-high school way, juvenile sub-minute-long skits ‘Built This Pool’ and ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’ that make a point of being pointless but are no less eye-rolling as a consequence and despite the players clearly being game, a nagging sense of ‘this will do’ pervades. Skiba in particular is wasted to the point that you come to wonder why they bothered recruiting him and Barker is still hugely impressive to but he’s become the drumming equivalent of an indy wrestler who just has to get all of his shit in.
Perhaps the blame truly lies at the door of John Feldmann. Formerly of pop-punk stalwarts Goldfinger, Feldmann moved on to write hits for the likes of All Time Low and 5 Seconds of Summer. On board here as co-writer and producer, he pushes California into a box-ticking, by-the-numbers procession of auto-tune heavy pop platitudes, shearing Hoppus, Skiba and Barker of any possible edge they might otherwise have tapped into at this point of their lives. Elsewhere, Patrick Stump, usually so good at finding melodies for Fall Out Boy, brings little to the co-writing table.
So Tom, if you’re out there, here’s a project you might actually be able to salvage.