While Tom DeLonge is swinging for the stars with Angels and Airwaves and possible alien exploration, his former Blink-182 band mates are aiming for the somewhat more grounded California. It’s the punk threesome’s first album without founding guitarist-singer DeLonge, and his absence leaves an aural crater in the lineup. Whereas fill-in Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio is a fine artist with his main group, here he’s out of his league with daffy dad-rocker Mark Hoppus (bass-vocals) and hip-hop-minded drummer Travis Barker.

It’s “Obvious” (to borrow from another Blink song) that California is meant to wipe the slate clean of DeLonge’s ambition to be the U2 of punk-pop. You won’t find his Edge-aping arpeggios here—Hoppus and Skiba instead opt for crunchy palm mutes and tried-and-true downstrokes. Barker, as always, is the MVP here, flipping from reggae rhythms to snare firestorms within seconds. He singlehandedly rescues the corny urban hymn “Los Angeles,” with his rattling stick assault.

Ironically, the Fall Out Boy-sounding “Los Angeles” is not one of the tracks co-written by FOB front man Patrick Stump. The tenor lends his talent to “Sober” and “San Diego,” two tunes that serve as bookends to the Blink-182 story. The latter finds Hoppus wondering if he should give in to nostalgia and return to the city where Blink spawned in 1992. The former mostly focuses on Skiba’s past life as a bike messenger in Chicago, where he got hit by a car. “Sober” is the passing of the torch from DeLonge to the gothic-leaning songwriter.

And yet, California suffers from a lack of Skiba’s macabre style. From the get-go, as on lead single “Bored to Death,” his individuality is squelched. It’s an ace anthem, no doubt, but Skiba betrays his unique voice to sound more like DeLonge: nasal and tempestuous. It’s a pity he and Hoppus didn’t pen another “I Miss You” or something equally dark and charming for California. “Home Is Such a Lonely Place” comes close, but it veers into maudlin Plain White T’s territory.

California isn’t a complete loss. Blink fans who crave the speedy goofiness of Dude Ranch or Alkaline Trio’s Goddammit will revel in “The Only Thing That Matters.” Its sizzling bass, mighty drums and vocal harmonies are mosh pit-worthy, infusing a youthful spirit into an album that sometimes tries too hard to run from its predecessors. And kudos to the 30-second closer, “Brohemian Rhapsody,” which harkens back to Enema of the State’s scatological humor. (Its sole lyric? “There’s something about you I just can’t put my finger in.”)

Another bright spot in the DeLonge-less album is the production by John Feldmann of Goldfinger. California, under his rule, has a timeless quality to it. The instrumentation is crisp but not antiseptic—the antithesis to 2011’s Neighborhoods, which by all accounts was a synthetic work. DeLonge reportedly didn’t even record in the same studio as Hoppus and Barker. This album, though lacking the charisma of Blink’s past releases, bursts with camaraderie thanks to its fresh blood. Maybe it’s not Blink’s best, but it’s certainly a good companion to the +44 album Hoppus and Barker put out in 2006.

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