There's a moment in San Diego music documentary It's Gonna Blow in which the focus briefly turns to one of the '90s-era local bands to achieve national success: Blink-182. There's a sort of funny contrast that occurs, juxtaposing the honest and relatable testimony of Tom Delonge about writing songs for radio play and the commentary from other bands, which ranged from polite dismissals about their artistry, or lack thereof, to outright hostility. Yet Blink-182 are essentially the biggest musical celebrities we've got, and there's no mystery as to why. They write simple, tuneful pop-punk songs that you couldn't dislodge from your brain if you tried.
That said, it's hard to see the point of California, the band's eighth album and first since parting ways with Delonge, whose recent interviews have included some troubling quotes about UFOs. It's essentially Blink-182 in grown-up mode, which is to say that it still sounds like the kind of Hot Topic mall punk that was popular in the band's heyday, only Mark Hoppus sounds more like a grown-ass man, with the help of some pretty noticeable helpings of Auto-Tune.
That's kind of what makes it terrible. Love Blink-182 or hate them, their appeal is largely in the goofball antics of being twenty-somethings that admittedly behaved more like teenagers and sneered at the idea of growing up. Now that they've grown up, most of the humor and fun is essentially gone (notable exception: all 16 seconds of "Built This Pool"). What's left is a mostly generic pop-punk record that's more in the vein of Fall Out Boy: anthemic yet empty, serious yet lacking any real gravity. Not that it isn't polished to the point of being nearly blinding—the opening of "Cynic" practically finds Hoppus fronting his own boy band, while "Home Is Such a Lonely Place" sounds like nothing so much as Plain White T's 2005 hit "Hey There Delilah." And naturally, there are references to California throughout, proving that The Red Hot Chili Peppers don't have a monopoly on putting pins on the map.
There are ways to mature gracefully in punk (see: Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan). But when you take the dick jokes out of Blink-182 songs, it turns out there isn't much left. California is all surface, no depth.