It's been almost 20 years since Blink-182 first blazed a pants-less trail across rock radio. But the pop-punk trio are still a generational touchstone: If you missed your junior prom because you passed out in the back of a rented limo while your date took off to hook up with the captain of the JV lacrosse team, Blink's mix of good-natured snottiness, teen-movie humor, fumbling vulnerability and Big Gulp tunefulness will forever move you in a way no art can. And even if you weren't on their wavelength, it's tough to argue against "All the Small Things" or "Rock Show" as grade-A bubble-thrash bangers – Green Day with the angst blunted just enough to make coming-of-age feel like a benign belly-flop rather than a suicide screed.
After two weirdly restrained albums (2003's Blink-182 and 2011's Neighborhoods), the band is aiming to recapture its gold en-age sound on California. But it won't be easy: Tom DeLonge, who gave the group its prankster-dweeb appeal, is no longer a member, leaving his husky-voiced, more introspective-sounding co-founder, Mark Hoppus, and new recruit Matt Skiba (of emo vets Alkaline Trio) to pick up the slack. "It's a long way back from 17," Hoppus admits, defining the album's nostalgic challenge on "Bored to Death," before pensive guitar churn and Travis Barker's swirling drum clatter explode into a high-fiving chorus.
Skiba wisely doesn't try to fill DeLonge's shoes, throwing in some earnest vocals and generally riding along as Hoppus' assist man. But if DeLonge's pencil-necked pique is missed, this is still the catchiest music they've made since 2001's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, a feast of "summer, yo!" riffs and petulant "na-na-na" refrains. "She's Out of Her Mind" builds a cheery singalong moment out of the term "anti-social," and on "No Future" and "Kings of the Weekend," hooks pile up like empty beer cans.
The band's old porn-addled side pops up on "Brohemian Rhapsody" – not a Queen cover but 30 seconds of precision-strike punishment and a single icky lyric: "There's something about you that I can't quite put my finger in." But there are endearing signs of growth and even wisdom. On "Sober," over Barker's brat-Bonham thwack and carpet-burn guitars, Hoppus sings vividly about how hard partying leads to hard choices, and the heartfelt title track is a sweet evocation of their home state, not as endless party palace but as a place to grow up, staying indoors in perfect weather and passing celebrities on the beach.
At its best, California shows Blink trying new ways to freshen up yesterday's racket.Find out five things we learned about Blink-182's new album 'California.'