Review Summary: Hey I'm Sorry, but get rid of John Feldmann.
Second chances are a wondrous thing.
When a band releases an album that gets as mixed of a reception as California did, they should really put their heart and soul into their follow up. Now, California (Deluxe) isn’t necessarily a follow-up, because due to label issues they couldn’t produce an additional album. Nevertheless, we are here, with a fresh batch of 11 new blink-182 songs and an acoustic renditioning of Bored to Death.
There are many things improved from the standard edition, and there are many things that stay the same, for better and worse.
Starting with positives, Travis delivers some more killer drum breaks. “6/8” shows incredible speed on the ride cymbal and technicality when it comes to the hihat. The drumming in the bridge of “Misery” is very good as well; Barker doesn’t go all-out, he keeps his talent shining bright as well as blending perfectly with Marks killer bass riff. The rimshots on “Last Train Home” are interesting and work perfectly, and the sparractic patterns of “Don’t Mean Anything” are quite impressive.
Matt Skiba’s playing has been improved, as well. He provides some amazing riffs, such as the ones present in “Parking Lot,” “Wildfire,” “Can’t Get You More Pregnant,” and “Last Train Home.” These provide some great variation on the record and power cords, while still used quite often, are not used as much.
Bassist Mark Hoppus has continued to improve his bass playing. “Misery” is a prime example of this, adding another song to the best Blink bass riffs. In every song, he adds octave jumps and small fills, putting the bass on this above other Blink releases.
California (Deluxe) is a very experimental album since the addition of Matthew Thomas Skiba. There are a lot of darker songs on this record. “Long Lost Feeling,” “6/8,” “Last Train Home,” “Misery,” and “Don’t Mean Anything” provide a darker overall feel, sparking some much improved lyrical content. “Torn apart like the broken hearted, light it up with the fire we started, misery loves company” is one prime example of a great lyric. Lines like these are littered throughout the record, making this album much improved lyrically.
While talking about song meanings, “Don’t Mean Anything” takes the trophy. The first verse Mark sings about the death of his mother, and in the second verse Matt sings about his father leaving him in the middle of the night. This is accompanied by an infectiously catchy chorus and bridge, all combining for a thoroughly amazing song.
There is a profound amount of energy present here aswell, and it is most present in the faster songs. “Good Old Days” is a great summer tune that is pure fun without sounding generic.
The trio tries out a more electronic direction on songs like “Long Lost Feeling” and “Bottom of the Ocean.” They both sound very, very, very good. It really shows how talented these people are at picking up new tricks.
The vocals are pretty good as well. Skiba’s performance in “6/8” is emotional, hearing him scream about how “this sh*tty song needs some personality” and how he’s a disappointment, so he better disappoint them more. His vocals on the lower register are dark and ominous, adding a great feel. Overall, the vocals are almost great; there are less “nananana” additions, but the album still contains a considerable amount of “woah”s.
This leads into the albums negatives.
“Hey, I’m Sorry” has a pleasant ballad feel, while plagued by countless “woah” vocals. It’s a complete let-down, since the final chorus is the best on the record and the verses are wonderful. The piano inclusion makes the song really pretty, but the constant nonsense vocals make this song hard to listen to.
Lyrics are overall improved, but there is one song that completely blows any progress made. “Parking Lot” has a second verse of random and disjointed memories from Mark’s childhood, making a chorus presenting multiple ideas on what it desires to be about but ends up being generic and headache-inducing. There are other moments throughout the album where it sound like the group went to Google and looked up “what rhymes with ___.” In “Misery,” the chorus provides the abysmal line “Smash it up like there’s no tomorrow, leave me here with the fear and sorrow.” It ends up feeling incredibly “edgy” and forced. In the song “6/8,” Skiba rhymes “lead” and “greed” is a way that has little to no correlation, sounding so forced it ruins that entire section.
Matt Skiba, while providing some excellent riffs, rehashes quite a few from the original release. The riff from “Bored to Death” is used in “Wildfire.” The riff from “She’s Out Of Her Mind,” “No Future,” “Sober,” and “San Diego” are used in “Misery” and “Long Lost Feeling.” The riff from “Brohemian Rhapsody” is used in “Parking Lot” and briefly in “Wildfire.” The riffs are better, but there are still too many songs lacking a good one.
On a side note, naming the song 6/8 “6/8” based on its time signature is dumb. It’s not impressive to write a song beyond 4/4.
Another problem is the marketing for this record. Six tracks were released before this twelve-track record was released, completely messing up the flow. If you have listened to every song put online from this album, it won’t be nearly as good of a time for you.
The joke song on this record, “Can’t Get You More Pregnant” is terrible. There is nothing funny beyond the idea of a song with this title, it throws away the serious mood presented by “6/8,” “Long Lost Feeling,” and “Bottom of the Ocean.” The instruments may be good, but they are wasted in this thirty-four second demonstration of what it feels like to have erectile dysfunction.
Another let down is the final track, the acoustic renditioning of “Bored to Death” is pointless. It wasn’t a studio version, which would have been great, but instead it was a slightly corrected live show, with jarring cheering and clapping. Matt changes a line in the second verse and it loses the feel of the song. The audience’s claps during the bridge are completely unnecessary and take some time to settle into the tempo, and Skiba jumps an octave with his vocals before the end of the four-bar phrase, almost as if he forgot or got too excited. He backs off from the the mic, but backs off way too far to the point we cannot hear him. They could’ve gotten Tom DeLonge to sing the line before the final chorus “Save your breath, I’m nearly bored to death and fading fast” and it would have broken the internet, but instead, we have a poorly made live version with problems easily fixed by professionally recording it.
Last, the biggest and most glaring issue; John Feldmann.
John’s producing and mixing ruins many good moments of the record. “6/8” is one of the most aggressive and gritty songs Blink has ever made, but it’s littered with pitch correction, auto-tune, and useless effects on the vocals and the guitars. Skiba’s unclean vocals are ruined because they sound too processed. Mark’s vocals sound robotic numerous times, and there is an overabundance of electronics, even on the songs not meant to be the testing of such technology. The drums blend with the guitar far too often, ruining Barkers amazing talent. John giving the green light to the countless uses of “woah” in this record is humiliating. They wanted to make a fun summer record? He’s the man. They want to try something darker? Anyone else.
In the end, the new edition of California is more experimental, bearing better lyrics, a better bass, and overall better songwriting. It’s infectiously catchy and every song has a part that will be glued to your head for days to come. It is knocked down by poor producing, a lack of consistency in tone, repetitive riffs, and an extreme use of purposeless effects and “woah”s.
Favorite tracks: Misery, Last Train Home, Don’t Mean Anything, Bottom of the Ocean, 6/8
Least favorite tracks: Parking Lot, Can’t Get You More Pregnant, Bored to Death (Acoustic)