Nostalgia should be a facade we grow out of. Most of us can admit Return of the Jedi kind of sucks, even though we saw it at the impressionable age of 13-ish. Blink 182 is a nostalgia band in a sense, so they face the seemingly insurmountable problem of making music in 2016 and trying to appease a dedicated fanbase.
It is not nostalgia that makes California a bland, derivative, turd of a record. 2011’s Neighborhoods is a post- self/titled record from Blink 182 as well, and it was an accomplished and daring adventure with some of the band’s best material to date. No. California is mostly bad because the band mines some small moments from their past material but dulls the effect. The “whoa whoa” chants of ‘She’s Out of Her Mind” are in service of one hell of a generic tune. As a matter of fact, there are a whole lot of “whoa whoas” here. The hook of “Left Alone” is built on it. What it shows is not an appreciation for the nostalgic yesteryear. It shows laziness, particularly since we saw so much superior songwriting from the band before. It is not as if they aren’t capable of elevating far beyond this thing.
The band vies for some adolescent fantasizing again, particularly in “Kings of the Weekend” and the non-song “Built This Pool.” Late-album cuts like “Rabbit Hole” are a carbon copy of the worst from Enema, except without the snarky fun and addictive hookwriting.
The band does add a little dimension. “Los Angeles” is borderline punk/metal in its chorus. But, there certainly isn’t enough there to save the record or help ease the blandness of the previous four songs. “San Diego” may be the most thrilling hook here, though it does resort to that samey “big chorus, simple verse.” With that said, where is the creative drumwork here? There’s certainly nothing as immediately impressive in the instrumentation as “Hearts All Gone”s metallic sheen or “Always”‘s wonderful build-up.
One of the biggest problems here is not necessarily the absence of Tom Delonge specifically, but the absence of a second distinguishable vocalist. Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio (a perfectly fine band in their own right) is an acceptable vocalist. But, he sounds too similar to Mark Hoppus to make the two-vocalist dynamic relevant at all. The distinctive voice of Delonge was charming, and added an extra layer to the band’s material of the past. No matter what you think of Delonge as a vocalist, it was welcoming to hear the two frontmen trade verses and songs for the simple act if disparity. It took me five listens to even realize Matt was on “Bored to Death”- a song almost numbingly mundane if you couldn’t hear the echoes of a great song lurking beneath the surface.
California is not an outright failure. The trio are competent enough to make a listenable record. The problem is how unremarkably straightforward Californa ends up being- a runthrough of some major beats- a poor imitiation and recycling of ideas done far better only a few years earlier. The album doesn’t have a lot of creative hooks. The lyrics are derivative at best. The vocalists are tired and sound too similiar to be engaging. When this is all stripped out, what’s left is a shell of an album- one that is listenable because these guys have an idea what they are doing. They just can’t inspire more.