A small rant to begin with.
So for better and for worse we have a new Prime Minister here in Blighty, Theresa May. This country has become a political hand grenade in recent weeks and it certainly is interesting to watch. If you can let go of the reality that it is basically rich dick’s infighting that is inevitably going to impact on the citizens of this land then this shit’s better than Game of Thrones. Give Angela Eagle some dragons and we’re all set.
There’s a way of thinking in Britain that I’ve never really understood that states that because we’ve had one previous female PM (Margaret Thatcher) who ended up screwing basically every one then the people will never accept a lady PM again. This is a way of thinking held by a lot of people I know and as I’m ever so quick to smugly point out this makes them a gaggle of babbling nitwits.
Really, when was the last time you heard someone say: “Tony Blair was a warmonger who misled his ministry and ignored every other world leader so we could destabilize the middle-east and get their oil, thus I will never vote for someone with a Y chromosome ever again.” Never. So holding back all women in politics because of one dick head is both sexist and ridiculous. I for one welcome having more women in places of power. They make up 51% of the world’s population, what’s wrong with them being in charge and working towards making this a better place for everyone, not just old, white dudes?
That being said, why did it have to be this woman?
May’s policies include bringing back fox hunting and abolishing same-sex marriage, both subjects that the people- through their MPs- have let it be known how they feel, thus why the laws are what they are. This is someone who does not represent the disenfranchised, under-privileged people of this country.
In the past the face of the patriarchal establishment has been a rich, old, white man. Yet now we are in a place where that face belongs to a woman and the face of the counter-culture/opposition is that of a rich, old, white man in Jeremy Corbyn. I can’t decide if the irony is painful or delicious.
I find myself with inadequate brain power to wrap my head around this, so let’s talk about the new Blink 182 album instead.
Back in 2011 I found myself at something of a crossroads. I found myself wondering if I was too immature, if I needed to grow up, get more serious and “adult”, a prospect that always seemed so intense and that I promised I would never do. Then I went to a Blink 182 concert and watched three men in their 40s sing a song entitled When You Fucked Grandpa and realised that I was probably okay.
California is the band’s first album without founding member Tom Delonge and Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba taking the role of guitarist and vocalist.
There is always a risk when a band changes it’s line up. Will the fans accept it? Will it change the sound or band dynamic too much? The answer to the latter is yes, but for the most part this is for the better.
The last two releases from the band, self-titled and Neighbourhoods, saw a dramatic shift in sound away from their pop-punk roots into more… I’m not really sure how to explain it really. It wasn’t bad but it left fans wanting. Whilst both albums were good based on their own merits they lacked that sense of fun and high-tempo energy that was part of Blink’s signature sound. California, by comparison, manages to sound both old and new, featuring a return to their classic style with just enough of a Skiba influence to not be going over old territory.
Part of the signature Blink sound was Delonge and bassist Mark Hoppus sharing lead vocal duties, both having distinctive voices that clashed and bounced off of each other. Skiba, by comparison, has a vocal range that allows him to more closely harmonize with Hoppus, sounding as smooth as silk in the ears. The downside to this is that sometimes it’s hard to tell who is singing what parts in some of the slower moments, but Skiba’s powerful melodic screams setting him apart on the more intense moments.
The instrumentation is more or less what you would expect from a classic Blink album. Simple but grooving bass playing over intense, high-octance drumming. Whilst no one would ever accuse Tom Delonge of being a virtuoso guitarist, he did pretty much invent that punky pop/twang atonal riffy thing and Skiba does a good job combining that in with his usual style of playing. I’ve always thought of Alkaline Trio as kind of like a pissed off, nihilist Blink 182 but with a heavier power chord sound and both styles mesh together to make something both classic and contemporary in equal measure, injecting new life into the Blink formula.
One criticism I do have is over the mixing. On some tracks like She’s Out of Her Mind the drumming sounds a little low in the mix. Travis Barker is probably the best drummer of his generation. I’m a guitarist and if I was in a band with someone of his talent looking to make an album I’d probably just have it be a 30 minute drum solo. You wouldn’t go to war without your best general, is all I’m saying.
The minor use of auto-tune throughout is something that grates sometimes, but if you are going to use auto-tune this is probably the best way to use it. Some producers use it to the point that the singer sounds distorted like a constipated Dalek, but on California it is used the same way as a digital guitar effect might be used, a little tweak to enhance the song rather than becoming the song.
But overall these are small niggles over what is ultimately a fantastic album and a return to form for a band I idolized in my youth. The fun is back, with tracks like Built This Pool (a song that will surely annoy the new PM 😀 ) and Brohemian Rhapsody being reminiscent of the short comedy tracks that Blink were known for in the 90s.
The likes of Sober take me back to first hearing the Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket albums, whilst songs like title track California see the band venture into new territory with anthemic sing-alongs that belong in big arenas. I could imagine a huge crowd singing along to this, lighters out (or mobile phones if you’re under 25), arms waving slowly in the air. It may be corporate arena rock, but when it sounds as good as this who cares?
So unless you couldn’t tell California gets a big thumbs up from me. Despite some vocal and mixing problems, the song writing, energy and arrangements more than make up for it.
Who would have known the way to save one of my favourite bands would be to merge it with one of my other favourite bands?
See you next time, lovelies xxxx