If anything, the Blink-182 on Neighborhoods suffered because they were too ambitious, attempting to cobble together a wide swath of ideas that didn't make sense together. On this long-awaited return, the band have remembered that it's best to keep things stupidly simple. That said, California plays out less like an album and more like a collection of songs; uneven and disjointed, it's hard to take in as one larger whole.
The release's most straightforward moments are also some of the best. Opener "Cynical" blasts through two minutes of belted out vocals, crunchy guitars and Travis Barker's bonkers drumming, while "Left Alone" is an anthem that stands alongside many of the band's best. "Rabbit Hole" is fun and plucky, and though lead single "Bored to Death" is a pastiche of Enema sounds, it sounds like Blink-182 doing a masterful Blink-182 impression.
Unfortunately, some of the songs are simply too generic — "She's Out of Her Mind" is a paint-by-numbers radio punk song that, aside from its weird Bauhaus reference, is about as angsty as a glass of water. "The Only Thing That Matters" is so simple that it sounds like the band just hit record and made up a boring punk song on the spot. Elsewhere, the crystal-clear lyrics, over-the-top "na na na" parts and repetitive arrangements of "Sober" and "No Future" are far more suited to a pop-punk boy band like 5 Seconds of Summer (who share a producer with Blink in John Feldmann).
It's hard to fault Blink-182 for writing sturdy if unoriginal pop punk hits, but there are moments on the album where straight-up deserve our ire. "Los Angeles" shows that there are still ways Blink-182 can evolve — and that they most definitely shouldn't do so. The song is a dark, mid-tempo brooder with nü metal guitars, hip-hop drumming and a general P.O.D. vibe. "Home Is Such a Lonely Place" is the second sappiest ballad they've ever done, pairing sprinkly acoustic guitars with whining that gives full-body embarrassment chills. The song is out-cheesed by the album's title track, though — their worst ballad. It pairs goofball U2 guitars with saccharine lyrics about the sunshine state, and sounds like something One Direction would've passed on for being too earnest.
With its dumb title and dumber lyrics, closer "Brohemian Rhapsody" finds the band turning their brains off entirely and blasting through 30 seconds of vintage Blink complete with guitar hammer-ons and peppy drums. Though it'd be even better on a 10-hour loop (like "Built This Pool" before it), the song serves as penance for the loopy 42 minutes that preceded it. Blink-182 might never reach the same heights as they did in their prime, but at its best, California proves they can still be an incredibly dynamic pop punk band when they choose to be. (BMG)