Published on theMusic.com.au, Apr 2016
As someone who loves Alkaline Trio just as much, if not more, than Blink-182, the prospect of listening to Blink’s first new song with Matt Skiba replacing Tom Delonge is a conflicting one.
Probably the most anticipated pop-punk single in the past decade, Bored To Death had a lot to live up to – even more than that of the band’s comeback album in 2011, Neighbourhoods.
But, as a Blink song, the first glimpse into the new line-up falls short. And that’s not necessarily because of Skiba replacing Delonge or the songwriting. Hell, not even Neighbourhoods’ lead single, Up All Night, could live up to the hype when it first dropped, and that’s where the problem lies. There’s so much hype surrounding this that nothing could meet expectations – especially when the first song released likely isn’t even the best material, as past release patterns have shown. And with the band reportedly writing an album, scrapping the whole thing and starting again, you expect this to be mind blowing.
As mentioned, the main issue with the single isn’t so much the songwriting, as it does have elements of Blink throughout; the intro draws from single Feeling This mixed with a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, the verse encompasses the better parts of Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus’ Blink hiatus act, +44, and the chorus has Alkaline Trio written all over it, while the bridge is actually pretty awesome and the best thing they’ve written in years.
The problem lies within the vocal dynamics between Hoppus and Skiba. It wasn’t until my third listen of many that I realised Skiba took lead in the second verse. And this is coming from someone who has an unhealthy obsession with the man.
Their tones are almost indistinguishable at times, and the issue here is it was the differences in Hoppus and Delonge’s vocals that made their voices gel so well and the harmonies really cut through. Delonge probably has one of the most unique voices in pop punk if not the entire music industry. The chorus of Bored To Death would have been elevated tenfold had he taken lead.
Looking at this as a Blink-182 song, it’s easy to pull it apart and critique it like crazy claiming it doesn’t hold up, but as a pop punk song in general, it rocks. It just isn’t Blink, which is primarily in the forefront of most fans’ minds as they choose their sides.
It’s actually not a bad debut, but how on earth could it compete with 2003’s self-titled, ‘99’s Enema Of The State and more. Even if Delonge was still in the band this song wouldn’t live up to the hype. They can’t really win with their debut single branded this way.
Everything about this song works by itself, it’s just when its given context and history that it falls flat. So, why are they still performing under the old banner? It seems pride might be playing a big part, Hoppus and Barker said some nasty things during the “divorce” early last year and that could lead you to believe that them continuing on with Skiba under the Blink-182 name is a way to show Delonge they don’t need him. Barker even went so far as to call him “disrespectful and ungrateful”.
When Blink first split in 2005, it was said that a Delonge solo record offer from their label caused tension between him and Hoppus, with his run in Box Car Racer in 2001 driving a further wedge between them.
If that trend continued, of course things were going to blow up – Delonge in the past few years has released a feature film, animated short, novel, comic and slew of records with his other band, Angels & Airwaves, and is now releasing books and working on films about aliens – all while running his own store in California, To The Stars. It seems his creative juices just didn’t match that of his bandmates. He even said in an interview last year that staying in the band would have “severely limited” his artistic aspirations.
Another factor in using the Blink name is obviously reaching a wider audience – instead of having to build up a fan base again, there’s millions of punters eagerly awaiting material under a recognisable banner. That latter point is something you can’t really blame them for wanting to utilise, even if it is at the potential risk of their legacy.
Funnily enough, days before the new single dropped, the band’s legacy is something Delonge spoke up about in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I love those guys,” he said of Barker and Hoppus. “The only thing I think about is, I want them to be happy. [But] I don’t want the legacy of the band to get fucked with. I do care about that. I don’t want an incredible legacy to be ruined.”
He goes onto to say he wouldn’t be opposed to playing with the band again and points out that he never actually quit or was fired. Which is true, Hoppus and Barker sent out a press release in January of last year that blindsided Delonge and said he was out and Skiba would be filling in for an upcoming festival they had booked, but at no point has either party officially severed ties. Delonge denied the news at first, not even realising it was something the band officially issued.
Had they disbanded Blink and went onto form a new band, the project would have almost been more exciting – members of Blink-182 and Alkaline Trio team up with legendary pop punk producer John Feldmann who, as well as fronting seminal ‘90s pop punk band Goldfinger, also found The Used, Story Of The Year and more, and produces bands like 5 Seconds Of Summer. In fact, several years ago, Skiba and Hoppus were indeed discussing working on a project together over Twitter.
Feldmann said last month that replacing Delonge would be like “replacing Paul McCartney or John Lennon in The Beatles.”
The situation surrounding Blink’s new line-up is messy at best, with Hoppus and Barker having a very aggressive and public blow-out with long-time pal Delonge via a series of online articles.
Barker lashed out at Delonge for wanting the band to sound too much like Coldplay and U2, but is he really in any position to be making that call when he arguably ruined the best song on the band’s last EP, Pretty Girl, with an unnecessary cameo from rapper Yelawolf? Plus the demos that Delonge suddenly released under his own name shortly after the blow-out have some classic Blink vibes going on that prove otherwise.
There’s nothing overly ground-breaking about Golden Showers In The Golden State, which was obviously intended for the band (like other demos from his solo album), but it’s got Blink written all over it – from the title to guitar riffs to vocal melodies – it’s the most Blink thing any of them have written since the self-titled album.
Skiba’s a good frontman, as is Hoppus, but will their onstage banter really stack up against that of Hoppus and Delonge? While it’s odd for men in the late 30s to be making fart jokes in front of thousands of people night after night, it’s part of what people came to love about them during their rise to fame. As a fan who saw them in the US on their reunion tour in 2009, that was definitely a highlight of the show – immature, lame jokes.
It’s also quite easy to put Bored To Death up against one of Angels & Airwaves’ latest single, Voyager, and come to the conclusion that not only is the AVA material better, but more Blinkish.
A lot of the things I’m saying would probably still hold true to the single even if Delonge was still in the band, as they haven’t really produced anything even remotely as stunning as the self-titled record since its release.
While their reunion in 2009 was exciting for fans, this second blow-out and a number of average tunes along the way makes me think – as someone who has been a passionate fan for the better part of 15 years – that maybe they shouldn’t have gotten back together after they first broke up, which would have left them with an amazing legacy.
Blink-182 with Matt Skiba look and sound happier than ever, and that positive energy does come through on the new single. From all indications, the other 15 songs on the album do have the promise of better things to come. That’s right, there are 16 songs on there! So they must have decent chemistry to be able to produce new songs after writing and scrapping a whole album prior to that.
And various sources who have heard the whole album are already attesting to the fact that Bored To Death is not the strongest song on the record.
One fan with too much time on his hands may have given us a glimpse of to expect from the rest of their new album,California, which drops July 1, piecing together studio clips from social media. The Skiba vocal alone show that they’re utilising his powerful voice more throughout.
After listening to Bored To Death for the 20th time, it grew on me a lot. Probably more so after accepting it for it really is: not a Blink-182 song, but just a great pop punk song from an exciting supergroup.