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Blink 182

California LP - Red

California is Blink-182's home state and also its state of mind. For more than two decades, this band has made gleaming, sugary pop-punk about life without complications or consequences that could only truly grow in sunshine. That it has named its new album its seventh, and first since 2011 "California" feels like the sort of summation statement a band makes as it's nearing its conclusion: here we were born, here we raged, here we will rage until the sun is no more.
So it's notable that this album's title track is more or less a dirge, a low-key almost-ballad buried near the end of the 16-track LP with a chorus that paints California as a prison: "Beautiful haze of suburbia/living in the perfect weather/spending time inside together."
Blink-182 is growing up, a decade and a half after anyone asked it to, finding its seemingly carefree surroundings to be increasingly gloomy. "Save your breath I'm nearly/bored to death and fading fast/life is too short to last long" goes the chorus of "Bored to Death," one of many songs here about regret and exhaustion.
And yet the members of Blink-182 the frontman Mark Hoppus, who plays bass; Matt Skiba, who sings and plays guitar; and the drummer Travis Barker are virtually incapable of a sound besides juvenile joy. It's an aesthetic the group perfected in the late 1990s, when it stripped any final vestige of angst from punk, with results generally along the lines of "whiny whine mope/whiiiiny whiiine moooope/chug chug chug chug pow pow pow pow" (repeat 8 times) pop-punk as structurally flawless as anything from the Brill Building or "Grease," a saccharine soundtrack for high-fives and restless preteen energy.
Middle age hasn't brought about a reassessment of ambition for Blink-182 there is no Broadway rock opera, no easing into politically charged waters. And what a relief that is. On this pleasantly familiar if not especially imaginative new album, the band's subject matter verges on the bittersweet, or just outright bitter, but still they grin. Photo
Much of the weight of the group's lightness falls to Mr. Hoppus that twinge of childlike hope in his voice is intact (though he is now 44) and remains perhaps the most recognizable and effective weapon in all of pop-punk. Mr. Barker, who has spent much of his non-Blink downtime in cross-genre collaborations that treat him like a tattooed curiosity remains an arresting, versatile drummer, and on this album, his vitality is the thing that rescues the band when it threatens to let the maudlin creep too far in.
"California" is the band's first album without its founding member Tom DeLonge, who was replaced by Mr. Skiba, of Alkaline Trio, last year. (Mr. DeLonge is now primarily occupied publicly at least with U.F.O.s.) In tiny doses, Mr. Skiba gives the group something approaching gravitas, which Mr. DeLonge never much bothered with, and which Mr. Hoppus may well be allergic to. Often on this album, when Mr. Skiba is singing with sentimentality punk sentimentality, but felt all the same Mr. Hoppus stays out of the way.
Even Mr. Hoppus, though, is in a sour mood, from the grim "Cynical" to "No Future," which has echoes of the band's biggest hit, "All the Small Things," to the self-flagellation of "Rabbit Hole." (Only "Teenage Satellites" has the wide-eyed delight of the group's early work, but even that song is wistful, not reckless.)
With the wisdom of middle age also comes bloat: The album is overlong, and full of songs that have achieved their purpose by the halfway mark. There are a couple of slapstick interludes, quick riffs paired with guffaw-provoking frat jokes ("There's something about you/that I can't quite put my finger in") sprinkled in to reassure anyone craving the old immaturity of a band whose breakthrough album was titled "Enema of the State."
But the darkest cloud here is nostalgia, which hovers when old punks sing about the healing value of a wild youth. It's on "San Diego," about how a town can haunt you, and on "Kings of the Weekend": "Friday nights always saved my life/from the worst of times we ever had/thank God for punk rock bands."
All of which is to say: You can't escape yourself. The things that once felt like a release will eventually become cages. And so a little bit of melancholy is inevitable as freedom gives way to responsibility and ambition begets regret an endless summer leaves a hell of a sunburn.
-- New York Times
item # 41324
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