When a founding member leaves your band, there’s always going to be some uncertainty in your future. But when that founding member is as intrinsic to your lineup and legacy as Tom DeLonge was to blink-182, it’s easy to dismiss any future material featuring any replacement. Thankfully blink, drafting in Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as their new vocalist and guitarist, laughed in the face of adversity and released ‘California’, one of the best albums of 2016 and a shining beacon for a promising new era in the band’s timeline, both musically and personally. So much so, in fact, that the pop-punk legends, completed by bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker, have released a deluxe version of ‘California’ with 11 brand new songs.
While it’s clear why these 11 new songs didn’t make it onto the original version of ‘California’, this second disc of the album is still an incredibly strong one (especially considering the previous album cycle of the much more hit-and-miss ‘Neighbourhoods’). As to be expected, the youth-inspired, revitalised version of blink-182 is firing on all cylinders here, and the summery throwbacks to their old 2000s sound are still very much at the fore of what they’re doing. Opening three tracks ‘Parking Lot’, ‘Misery’ and the blissfully breezy ‘Good Old Days’ clearly just missed the cut – all (the latter especially) boasting shoutalong choruses which have the potential to bring whole arena crowds to arms. None of them would feel out of place next to ‘Sober’ or ‘Rabbit Hole’.
But for the rest of the runtime, disc two of ‘California’ undoubtedly houses some of the more experimental demos that blink recorded, seemingly spliced with a sound reminiscent of their self-titled album. Often in a minor key with soul-bearing lyrics, many do not fit into the vibe of disc one of ‘California’, but as standalone tracks they hint at an interesting possibility for the sonic direction they could head in. ‘6/8’, named after the time signature it’s written in, is thundering in both guitar and Barker’s always stunning drum lines, and Skiba’s spoken word middle eight and distorted contributions to the chorus show him bringing his Alkaline Trio influence to his new outfit. Musically, it’s easy to see why blink have called this “the weirdest blink-182 song ever”, although it pales in comparison to Fuck A Dog on the overall weirdness scale. ‘Bottom Of The Ocean’ is in this vein, too. Its trap and garage beats and overreliance on synths somehow really works, although it’s understandable why it could take someone a few listens to really appreciate, as with many of the similar tracks on this album.
In terms of songs here that don’t really land, comparisons with other material on ‘California’ usually play a big part. Thirty-five second ditty ‘Can’t Get You More Pregnant’ is sure to be liked and get people laughing, but it’s no ‘Built This Pool’ or ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’ from the first set of songs. ‘Hey I’m Sorry’ is perhaps the most forgettable song over the two ‘California’ discs, and as mentioned with ‘Bottom Of The Ocean’ earlier, it’s understandable if the more experimental tracks on this record are a little too understated to grab you instantly and make them difficult to separate.
As on with disc one of the record, the marriage of Skiba with blink-182 has to be commended. He really is a perfect fit to the band, and essential in moving them forward in a new, but still brilliant direction. While Mark Hoppus provided a mellowness to counteract Tom Delonge’s ridiculousness, Skiba often saves Hoppus from being a little too unengaging, be it beefing it up with some harmonies or powerful soars over the top. ‘California’’s deluxe edition is simply further evidence that this is a band who are totally reinvigorated and passionate about what they do, and it’s sure to remain on the up and up from here.