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This Is Growing Up

Blink-182 continue to ignore their age on ‘California,’ and honestly, it’s pretty fun

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Please open your hymnals to page 69, where you’ll find a new Blink-182 song called “Built This Pool.” Doofy guitar riff, Creatine-fueled drums, joyous and juvenile chant of a-WHEE-ooh a-WHEE-ooh. Right, these guys! You love these guys! Who doesn’t love these guys? Opening line: “I wanna see some naked dudes / That’s why I built this pool,” the word pool stretched out to five syllables. That’s the last line, too. The song stops dead. “Is that really it?” someone asks. Yep. That’s it. The whole thing is 17 seconds long.

A real ocean of possibility here for a bunch of bratty pop-punk dudes in their 40s — a refreshingly immature approach to maturity. (Also, longtime Schmitts Gay drinkers will be thrilled.) Do a whole 50-track album like this! It’s like a Lydia Davis short story, or a ribald hijacking of the old, apocryphal six-word Ernest Hemingway joint. For sale: long pants, never worn. Yes, “Built This Pool” is the best song on Blink-182’s new album, California. This is not, necessarily, shade.

These fellas are older than you think (their breakthrough album, Dude Ranch, itself turns 20 next year) and three times as influential: As snotty but quietly sentimental mall punk goes, only Green Day cast a longer shadow, and those dudes got lost on Broadway. It’s both shocking and totally unsurprising that, say, Christian Holden, frontman for current Emo Revival darlings the Hotelier, cites Blink’s 1999 broad-in-every-sense classic Enema of the State as the record that “kick-started me into pretending a golf club was a guitar.”

It’s also the record that started many young millennial gentlemen into pretending an erection was a coherent, profound thought worth expressing. (Each new generation relearns this from somebody else.) Everything you need to know about sensitive dudes with guitars in the 21st century — the mawkish, the juvenile, the ill-advised but irresistible, the outdated but somehow timeless — you can learn from the audacious Enema one-two punch of “Adam’s Song” (the sad but anthemic one about suicide) and “All the Small Things” (the dumb but anthemic one about, uh, little people on trampolines). Most baller track-list move of the 20th century. Few bands of their era got bigger, and no big bands of their era were willing to go dumber.

You likely know California as the trio’s first record without founding singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge, who is apparently a one-man X-Files episode these days; singer-bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker have subbed in Matt Skiba of Midwestern Warped Tour lifers Alkaline Trio, which is not exactly like a tribute-band singer joining the actual band, but there are similarities. You may also soon know California, which came out Friday, as the savior that finally knocks Drake’s Views from atop the Billboard album chart, which would be a blessed goddamn relief. This album is for sure better than Views, at least. It certainly sounds like younger people made it, or older people smart enough to act younger.

It’s a calculated regression, see. The band’s last record, 2011’s full-core-lineup jam Neighborhoods, was a stiff, wayward bid for arena-rock sophistication, a brazen flaunting of Coldplay Thirst where every song feels like it goes on for twice as long as its actual runtime. “After Midnight” still lingers, though, with Barker doing that thing where he smacks his high-hat like he’s getting paid by the individual sound, while DeLonge (verses) and Hoppus (chorus) combine in the service of something yearning and romantic and (only slightly) adult. If you won’t accept Blink-182 without all three principals on board, this makes for a fine epitaph, at least until the inevitable classic-lineup reunion tour.

California kicks off with a gentle head-fake from Hoppus — “There’s a cynical feeling, saying I should give up / You’ve said everything you’ll ever say” — before the righteous, uncynical guitars and, more notably, Barker’s trademark Extra Drums kick in. (He makes, like $850,000 in eight seconds.) And by the time Skiba pops up and howls, “What’s the point of sayin’ sorry now?”, we’ve galloped all the way back to the late ’90s, or at least the early 2000s. And wow, don’t look now, but whatever you were wearing when this song began, you are now wearing Dickies and Vans and a Screeching Weasel T-shirt, and oh, geez, now you are removing these items in deference to the band’s worst album-title pun, and this is the band that brought you the album title Enema of the State.

Yes, this is a Back to Our Roots thing, bratty and blaring and jovially terse, full of songs about how West Coast girls are beautiful but also huge pains in the ass: “She’s got a black shirt / Black skirt / And Bauhaus stuck in her head,” goes the catchiest part of “She’s Out of Her Mind.” This is not something you need, obviously, but it’s probably what you want, at least from these clowns. Skiba likely can’t replicate the vaunted Hoppus-DeLonge third-grade stage-banter routine, but he’s innocuous here, and California has more conventional highlights if you want ’em. “Sober” has cool piano (seriously), and “San Diego,” a barbed ode to the band’s humble origins — “I can’t sleep / ’Cause what if I dream / Of going back to San Diego?” — works great as a subtweet to both DeLonge and the band’s own gracefully aging fan base, which seems to be goading the band into not aging at all. Call it citizen’s-arrested development.

It’s fun to watch these dudes try and make sense of a confused 2016 rock-band landscape they helped create. I encourage you to revisit the video for their first big hit, 1997’s “Dammit,” if only for a glimpse of the band’s original, total-normcore drummer, Scott Raynor, who’d soon be displaced by the shirtless, spiky-haired, tatted-up, Tommy Lee–channeling aggro octopus we know and love. Travis Barker might actually be this band’s true legacy: The drummer for current bewildering modern-rock darlings Twenty One Pilots certainly owes him a six-pack or three. You look at Barker now and wonder what the words “act your age” even mean. Backward is forward for these guys. California ends with another microsong, “Brohemian Rhapsody” (nice), whose lyrics, in full, are as follows: “There’s something about you / That I can’t quite put my finger in.” Sure. Great. They’re better off this way, and maybe we are, too. Men will be boys.