Blink-182 – ‘California Deluxe’ Album Review

No other band has been more influential in pop-punk than blink-182. Their trademark verve spawned a slew of imitators, none nearly as innovative as Blink was in their prime. Last year’s California was a bold reintroduction and a promising sign of life in the wake of one member’s unfortunate departure. Rejuvenated, it appears the band is taking in a victory lap with an encore-reissue of California. Spoiling us with 11 new tracks, California Deluxe proves that their collaboration with Matt Skiba was no fluke, and the re-release has arrived just in time for another round of summer. 

This goes without saying: if you weren’t a fan of California the first time around, there’s very little Deluxe has to offer. For those who dug this newly-reformed Blink, Deluxe capitalizes on their recalibrated sound and improves upon it in almost every regard.

Deluxe opens with the blistering “Parking Lot,” a kick-ass anthem bearing riffs and caffeinated fills reminiscent of “Dumpweed.” Yes, it’s that infectious. A throwback to old Blink while continuing the California motif as a sun-drenched cornucopia in which youths invariably spent their time indoors (Underneath fluorescent lights we’ll waste the best nights of our lives). If there was any lingering doubt, “Parking Lot” cements Skiba’s status as a worthy successor, his lyrical stamp and accented vocals now a crucial part of Blink’s vocabulary and newfound success. Some of the early complaints following “Bored to Death” was that both Mark Hoppus and Skiba sounded too similar to tell the other apart (a fair criticism seeing as they operate in the same octave). Perhaps their harmonies just needed some getting used to.

Their verses feel much more distinctive and the choruses somehow even catchier, the rough edges of California polished to a sheen. “Misery” plays like a sequel to “Left Alone,” one of their most emotionally uplifting tracks continued in a rip-roaring fashion. “Wildfire” opens with a nod to “Adam’s Song” before erupting into a conflagration of call and response melodies. Almost straightaway, Deluxe harkens back to the glory days of Enema, while “6/8” (one of the few instances Blink has played with time signature) feels like a culmination of their self-titled era. The most refreshing thing about California is that it has no other ambitions besides recapturing Blink. Because frankly, Blink hasn’t sounded like Blink in over a decade.

Fans rejoiced when the band announced their reunion at the 2009 Grammy Awards (the first question on everyone’s minds: when’s the album coming out?). Except there was nothing particularly triumphant about Neighborhoods. The album was recorded sporadically and separately, the record’s disjointedness revealing itself early on in “Ghost on the Dancefloor,” which sounded more like Angels & Airwaves vs. +44 than Blink-182 coming together. Aside from a few singles (“After Midnight,” “Heart’s All Gone”), the trio couldn’t quite gel their artistic sensibilities, DeLonge being too obsessed with synthesizers and Hoppus still wandering in the dark lyricism from +44.

Neighborhoods was a sobering moment for them, a realization that just because the members of Blink are back doesn’t guarantee a successful Blink-182 album. DeLonge infamously went on to depart the band a second and perhaps final time (doing so through the band’s manager via email). One thing was made clear – this iteration of the band had run its course.

The emotional backdrop preceding California is interesting in that it plays no part in the songwriting (Hoppus essentially used +44 as a vehicle to vent about Tom). Instead, the reconstituted trio focus on what made Blink so great in the first place and have gone on to make Blink great again (singing about going to see their favorite bands, love and “woah,” misspent youth). Credit surely goes to producer John Feldman – the perfect fit not only for their pop songwriting, but because Feldman himself has worked with bands inspired by Blink. Who better to herald Blink’s proper arrival to the modern punk scene than the guy who helped shape so much of it.

Admittedly, California Deluxe doesn’t alter or revolutionize Blink’s songwriting structure. The choruses are as predictable as they come (“Don’t Mean Anything,” “Hey I’m Sorry,” “Last Train Home”) and yet there’s still so much fun to be had. Even when the melody threatens to get stale or overused (na-na and woah-refrains especially), Travis Barker remains a virtuoso, launching into an explosion of fills or building to a thrumming high-hat crescendo. Barker seems unfettered by the passing of time, his grooves more versatile than ever. He kept things moving at a brisk pace all through California’s monster 16-song set, and blazes through these next 11 with incomprehensible flair.

If Blink hasn’t had a radio-worthy tune in over a decade, we now have our pick of them (and if California felt overlong, Deluxe is much more concentrated). There might not be much in the way of substance, but damn is it catchy. This is their catchiest music in years and that alone is something to celebrate.

Blink’s influence can be heard all over the mainstream (literally in anything put out by Fall Out Boy or All Time Low; not to mention Chainsmokers referencing “that blink-182 song” in “Closer”). They’ve set the bar, so in many ways Blink has only ever had themselves to go up against. And it’s themselves they’ve conquered. “We were young and we’re not growing up,” Mark sings in “Good Old Days,” yet another sing-it-out-loud-while-driving-down-your-neighborhood-at-2AM jam captured in the spirit of youths reluctant to mature, a callback to “Dammit” (“I guess this is growing up”). Nostalgia so often warns us about the dangers of getting stuck in the past, yet Blink reconfigures nostalgia as a tool to reclaim former glories. These are the good old days indeed.

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