Box Set Special – The River, by Bruce Springsteen

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Released October 17, 1980

83 min, 47 sec

Coming from the musical triumphs of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town back to back, Bruce Springsteen had established that he could do whatever he wanted for a little while. Born to Run marked the beginning of Springsteen’s turn from excitable hippie to representative of the working man; Darkness captured the raw essence of how the working man truly felt. As I noted when talking about Darkness a few years ago, Springsteen was in a dark, dark place when writing that album, and upon emerging from it with the supporting tour, Springsteen decided that he wanted to try and recapture his lighter, more fun-loving side.

The early recording of The River certainly reflects this pivot in Springsteen’s mindset. He wrote and recorded quickly, hammering away at new songs as well as songs that had first appeared during the Darkness sessions, songs like “The Ties That Bind,” “Independence Day,” and “Sherry Darling,” many of which premiered during the Darkness tour. The sessions through August 1979 yielded twenty-four songs; Springsteen, with a single album in mind at this point, pulled together ten for a tentative track list:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. The Price You Pay

3. Be True

4. Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own

5. Stolen Car

6. I Wanna Marry You

7. Loose Ends

8. Hungry Heart

9. The Man Who Got Away

10. Ramrod

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Already, at this point, darkness began to creep into The River, mainly through the appearance of “Stolen Car” as the Side 1 closer. But this track list clearly demonstrates Springsteen’s desire to release a lighter album, keeping himself above the shadowy corners of Darkness.

But Springsteen was dissatisfied and restless, and he continued recording through the next two months. At this point, the album’s emotional core began to emerge, particularly with the recording of “The River,” though Springsteen still pushed against the dichotomy of light-heartedness and heavy reality that he had yet to truly understand.

This struggle personifies The River, and Springsteen’s desire to illustrate all sides of rock as a genre was the primary motivating factor behind the album’s expansion into a twenty-track behemoth. At this point in time, however, Springsteen was still thinking and formatting the album in the mold of a single LP, determined to make his vision fit within its ten-track confines. He felt comfortable enough with the format that he submitted a single-LP album to Columbia Records in October 1979, with the title The Ties That Bind:

1. The Ties That Bind

2. Cindy

3. Hungry Heart

4. Stolen Car

5. Be True

6. The River

7. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

8. The Price You Pay

9. I Wanna Marry You

10. Loose Ends

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This was closer, but Springsteen felt that it wasn’t drastic enough, wasn’t big enough, just was not enough. The label began working on the album artwork and promotion, intending to have the album out before the end of the year. But after submitting it, Springsteen, ever the perfectionist, pulled the album back and began hammering away again.

The dichotomy between joy and sorrow, he felt, needed to be more explicit, needed to be more detailed. The framework of that split can be seen in The Ties That Bind, with “Hungry Heart” and “Stolen Car” in sequence one after the other, and with “The River” opening Side 2 immediately before the frankly inessential “You Can Look.”

It’s a little remarkable to see what didn’t make the cut at this stage of the album’s recording process – no “Ramrod,” no “Independence Day,” no “Point Blank.” The sheer depth of Springsteen’s songbook at this point of his career is astounding. He would just write and write and write, to the point that he would give away bona fide hits like “Because the Night” and “Fire” simply because he wasn’t interested in fitting them on one of his own albums. Springsteen’s signature prolific nature, combined with his dissatisfaction with the picture The Ties That Bind was painting, would eventually burst the dam of the single album format, spilling out into a double album in early 1980 as Springsteen continued to write and hone in on the sound and themes he was hoping to convey.

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Springsteen stated after the album’s release that he’d realized, during the production of The River, that contradiction and paradox are core tenets of rock music – the “frivolous next to the solemn,” as Wikipedia puts it. Rock music is about joy and partying and enjoyment of life, but it also illustrates hardship and despair. Springsteen’s goal with The River was to illustrate that dichotomy, to show both the party and what happens when all the guests leave, and the host only has himself for company. It was this desire that led to the emotional whiplash of “Two Hearts” leading into “Independence Day,” and the way Side 2 crashes down from “Crush on You” to title track “The River,” a song Springsteen wrote about his sister. “Crush on You” is inessential and tacky, but its mere presence causes “The River,” a song about accidental pregnancy forcing a couple to grow up too quickly and too soon, to resonate even more with its listeners than it would have if it stood alone.

The balance is delicate at times, and doesn’t always land right. Side 3 is a pretty good example of this – I’ve never really enjoyed the sequencing of “I’m a Rocker” into “Fade Away” into “Stolen Car.” It feels a little bit thrown together, as if Springsteen wasn’t really sure where these songs should sit on the record, just that they needed to make the cut. And a lot of the songs meant to illustrate the lighter side of the rock and roll life come off as inessential and filler-y, as if Springsteen had committed to a double album and needed to justify it. I understand their purpose, and in terms of serving the album’s core theme, they work, but as standalone songs, I’ve never enjoyed them, and it takes a lot of effort to not simply skip over them when listening to the album. It’s a little funny to me that Springsteen described some of them as his desire to capture the feel of his live shows, when the songs that really cemented him as a master of the live show were epics like “Backstreets” and “Jungleland,” with Springsteen giving his audience a tour through the heart of America, warts and all.

I’ve got a hearty list of favorites, though. “Independence Day” details Springsteen’s relationship with his father and the town they grew up in, vividly illustrating the inherent sadness his father fought with, enduring a changing of the times in the late 70s that carried over into the 80s. “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” and “Out in the Street” all convey a feeling of freedom, fleeting as it may be, that was so hard to grasp for the blue-collar worker in America in the 70s. “The River” is a classic, of course, but so is “Fade Away,” a powerfully melancholy song illustrating the loss of a love, who has moved on to someone better for her. But perhaps the strongest one-two punch of the entire album is “Drive All Night” into “Wreck on the Highway,” closing the album on the opposite note of the opening – once again embodying the two sides of rock music that Springsteen strove so hard to convey.  “Drive All Night” is dripping with despair, the protagonist fighting against a loss that feels inevitable from the start to the end, pierced through the middle by a haunting, wailing Clarence Clemons solo. “Wreck on the Highway” is the come-down, the quiet coda to the long journey of The River, focusing once more on a couple in the middle of America, contemplating the cruelty and callousness of the world around them.

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Perhaps The River’s sprawling nature is why it doesn’t feel as essential, as vital, to me. But it was massively successful, propelling Springsteen further and further into the American consciousness. The album produced standards like “Ramrod,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Two Hearts,” and of course, the monstrously successful “Hungry Heart” – Springsteen’s only top-ten Billboard pop hit, which, like so many other songs, Springsteen hadn’t even written for himself. Manager Jon Landau convinced Springsteen to retain it, and after a remix that sped up the song and pitched Springsteen’s voice up, the song became The River’s breakout pop hit, and one of his biggest live show hits.

Funnily enough, the tour in support of The River was just as large and sprawling as its root album, with Springsteen returning to Europe for the first time since his ill-fated trip during the Born to Run tours. This tour also featured, until 2014, the longest show of Springsteen’s career, on New Year’s Eve 1980 (and leaking into the start of 1981), 38 songs over four hours. The River’s tour was, like Darkness and Born to Run before it, an escalation of the same tour structure that came before, with longer shows and a more grandiose presentation by Springsteen. Like its corresponding album, the tour isn’t talked about in the same reverent terms as Darkness, but, like pretty much every tour Springsteen has ever embarked on, it had more than enough iconic moments, including one of the first instances of political speech Springsteen had ever exhibited, at the November 5, 1980 show, the day after Ronald Reagan was elected President. Springsteen stated of the election, “I don’t know what you guys think about what happened last night, but I think it’s pretty frightening,” and followed that with a powerful, hectic rendition of “Badlands, a surprisingly strong political statement at the time.

Now then, what’s in the box?

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The River, like Born to Run and Darkness before it, received a deluxe reissue collection in an anniversary year, this time the 35th anniversary in 2015. The Ties That Bind: The River Collection uses The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story as its base, containing a remaster of The River in packaging that emulates the original vinyl release (though not as closely as previous reissues), a live show from the era, a documentary chronicling the making of the album, and a set of outtakes. Uniquely, The Ties That Bind separately packages the original Ties That Bind single album, providing fans a glimpse at what could have been.

The packaging is predictably gorgeous, held in a simply massive slipcase featuring an expanded version of The River’s album cover, the text left off to focus on the stark profile of Springsteen. The CDs and Blu-rays are packaged in a facsimile of a tour crate, alongside a reproduction of Springsteen’s River-era notebook (with lyrics to the outtakes printed and faux-stapled in), and a beautiful coffee-table style photo book filled to the brim with photos from the recording and subsequent tour.

Despite the expansive nature of The Ties That Bind – that’s becoming a pretty common theme here – I found it to be somewhat more lacking than The Promise. Part of this is the sheer level of mysticism and lore centered around Darkness and its enormous amount of outtakes that Springsteen saw fit to dish out as sparingly as he possibly could. Another part is that Springsteen apparently deemed a decent swath of River outtakes to be unfit for release, which, combined with the sizable amount of River outtakes previously released on Tracks in 1998, meant that Springsteen had to recycle a batch of “greatest hits” outtakes from the River era to fill out the outtakes CD. And it was a significant amount, amounting to the entire second half of the outtakes CD.

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Though it made sense why Springsteen filled it out in this manner – there was a standard of content quantity established by The Promise, and The River had already used nearly half of the songs written on the original album itself – it still felt like a bit of a letdown. But hey, we got a studio recording of “Paradise by the “C””, while I believe is the only instrumental track Springsteen has ever released, as well as highlights like “Meet Me in the City” and “Stray Bullet.”

The professional mix of the single album is also a curious listen, even if it had been available for decades as a bootleg in the exact sequence released in this box set. It’s a nice, unique nod to the evolution of The River’s recording process, and an interesting batch of tracks for the less obsessive fan.

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The River accomplished what it set out to do – it’s a sprawling collection of songs written at the height of Springsteen’s raw productivity, and provides a fascinating look into how Springsteen thought about the genre he worked in. At times it feels overly long, it drags for nearly an entire side, and the box set doesn’t quite match the heights set by The Promise, but The River is still easily an essential piece of the Springsteen canon, his first step forward as a true rock star, setting the stage for the rest of his career.

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More Springsteen: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. | Born to Run | Darkness on the Edge of Town | Born in the U.S.A. | Live/1975-85 | Chimes of Freedom | Columbia Records Radio Hour | Blood Brothers EP | Devils & Dust | American Beauty

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Post Traumatic EP, by Mike Shinoda

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Released January 25, 2018

9 minutes, 35 seconds

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017.

Linkin Park released a formal statement five days later, alongside the launch of a tribute on their website. They redirected future donations to Music for Relief to a fund set up in memory of Chester. They announced a tribute concert, with dozens of guest musicians, which turned out to be the most memorable concert Linkin Park had ever performed.

Through it all, the five members of Linkin Park did what they could to cope. And as it turned out, Mike Shinoda, as he always had, turned to music to do that coping.

Post Traumatic is the first, and certainly not the last, result of that process.

This EP is grief in sonic form. All three tracks take on a different facet, centering on Shinoda’s attempts to process how he’s feeling, and what comes next when the walls come down and life is reduced to chaos.

In that regard, “Place to Start” is a soft, appropriate opener for the EP. Over a sparse, hazy beat, Shinoda laments how quickly everything he thought was safe could fall apart in an instant, distraught over the total lack of control he suddenly had over his life and livelihood. The corresponding video provides a strong visual aid, the song comprising of a single shot of Shinoda, the camera (his phone, most likely) pointing up from his chest, a bright sunbeam shining through the window. Shinoda is slouched over, barely able to get the words out.

The song concludes with a collage of voicemail messages, expressing condolences and statements from the callers that they were there if Shinoda needed anything. The video overlays this with lingering shots of his childrens’ rooms in Shinoda’s house – a bunk bed, bookshelves, bins of toys. The final shot is of two lanyards from the memorial show, an artistic rendering of Chester mid-song on them. The message of the song and video are clear – Chester is gone, and Shinoda has no idea how to move forward.

“Over Again” is the clear centerpiece of the EP, showing Shinoda’s transition from despondence to anger as he tries to put things back together and figure out the first step forward for himself and for Linkin Park. Though Bennington had been the (primary) voice of Linkin Park, and, as stated by many related to the band, the heart, Shinoda has always been the core of the band, providing the musical background and taking on the role of head decision-maker, particularly when Bennington was devoting time to his numerous side-projects (the most high-profile being his two years with Stone Temple Pilots, which coincided with the recording and release of The Hunting Party). At the point in time the song was written, Shinoda had been navigating the logistics of the memorial show for months, and the first verse is set just before the show is set to be played. Shinoda is fearful and unsure whether or not he can get through it, overwhelmed by the very prospect of playing another show.

The video, much like the song itself, is the clearest and strongest expression of Shinoda’s goal with this EP. The video is chaotic, filmed on Shinoda’s phone, and the first verse features an extreme close-up shot of Shinoda’s face as he raps through the first verse, his eyes manic, wearing the outfit he wore for the memorial show. The video feels like a stream of consciousness expression of Shinoda’s emotions, grainy, shaky. Shinoda stated that everything for the EP was done entirely by him, and it shows in the unrefined, raw nature of the videos.

The second verse, written and set just after the memorial concert, turns Shinoda’s rage outwards, lashing out at people questioning his grief and its authenticity, swinging back at the people prodding him for some sort of reaction, to express precisely how he was feeling. He mocks the attempts to sympathize with something that few people could understand, the feeling of losing a beloved friend and jeopardizing a career in one stroke. The video escalates alongside the song, the colors starting to blow out as the song progresses, Shinoda’s face covered in shadow and the grain of the footage, the camera growing shakier and shakier. Finally, as the final chorus starts, the colors invert, the camera shaking wildly, blurring and distorting the picture as the song builds to its conclusion, only settling once the outro concludes.

From this peak, the EP concludes with “Watching As I Fall,” as Shinoda moves past anger to exasperated frustration, continuing to grapple with how people perceive he should act. He’s fed up, but he doesn’t have the energy to lash out with anger any more. He doesn’t know what he can or should say or do; he only knows what he is saying, or is doing. That’s all he can offer, and that should be more than enough.

The video contains a lot of rapid cuts and random footage, much of it blurred and difficult to parse. It provides an interesting contrast considering how clearly structured the song itself is, providing another window into Shinoda’s psyche, transitioning from a straightforward delivery of the lyrics from Shinoda to him walking around his house, the camera shaking, as numerous cut-ins of other footage show Shinoda’s attempts to keep himself busy. The video concludes with animation over the final chorus and outro, drawn by Shinoda himself, a mix of shapes and art in his usual style, exploding back into vague, blown-out footage as the song closes out.

The video for “Watching As I Fall” contains a postscript, a short update video from Shinoda, filmed in December, discussing some of his recent thoughts and activities. The video, to me, seems to be a way to reassure fans, showing that, though Shinoda was still coping and dealing with the pain of loss, he was still okay, still functioning, still working, still enjoying life. As sad as the surrounding circumstances are, it’s good to see that Shinoda is still the same man he always has been.

This EP, frankly, is amazing to me. It’s such a powerful illustration of grief and the pain of loss, coming from a musician who somehow still seems to be underrated and underappreciated despite the incredible versatility he’s always demonstrated as an artist. Perhaps the best news to come out of this EP is the knowledge that Shinoda has much more music in his pocket, ready to be released essentially at any time. He stated in a Twitter Q&A on the day of the release that he wanted to gauge the response to the EP before committing to releasing more.

I worried about what Linkin Park would end up doing for a long time after the news of Chester’s death came. Would they break up? Continue as a five-piece, with Shinoda as the lead singer? Bring in guests, or, even, bring in someone new as a permanent replacement?

This EP doesn’t give any hints as to Linkin Park’s future. Shinoda has said that the band is still figuring out what their next step will be, but hinted that a breakup was not in the cards. And that’s fine by me – given what we know Shinoda is capable of as a solo artist, we’ll still have plenty of music from him while Linkin Park determines their future direction. It will take time, and they have plenty of it.

People handle loss in all kinds of different ways. There are endless coping mechanisms for grief, and everyone processes it in a different manner. As terrible as the circumstances are, we should be grateful that Mike Shinoda chose to continue making music in order to push his way through tragedy, because the end result is gorgeous, and a fantastic sign of things to come.

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Songbook, by Chris Cornell

The first time I heard Chris Cornell’s voice was on an Audioslave CD my dad gave me in 2006.

I might have heard “Black Hole Sun” on the radio before that, actually. But when I was a kid, the radio didn’t play songs from specific artists – it was just a magic box that spit out music constantly. I couldn’t absorb very much from it back then, only that I loved everything I heard. So, when I have my true musical awakening – which I discussed in the Minutes to Midnight post – that signaled a shift in how I perceived music, and for the first time I could truly attach myself to individual bands and artists and declare myself a fan. And, as I said in that post, Audioslave was in the top five from the start.

The wacky guitar gimmicks. The consistency and impressive melding of the bass and drums. And that voice – wailing, screeching, threatening to tear itself apart over everything. Chris Cornell was in a bad state during the recording of Audioslave, but even in a bad state, ravaged by drinking, smoking, and whatever the fuck else Chris did in the time between Soundgarden and Audioslave, he was ethereal. Unique. A truly absurd vocal range and a sharp ear for interesting music, no amount of substance abuse could fully suppress Chris’s creativity and natural talent. And he continued to demonstrate his multi-faceted musical talent that first began to emerge at the end of Soundgarden’s first life, moving from psychadelic grunge to adapting Rage Against the Machine’s rap-rock instrumentals – without the rap, of course – to the more alternative, nuanced style of Out of Exile and Revelations, until the tensions between himself and the former components of Rage simply could not continue together.

And then it was back to an on-again, off-again solo career. 1999’s Euphoria Morning was an interesting departure for Chris, with a heavy acoustic lean that still indulged in Chris’s favorite lyrical subjects. Grunge softened, morphed and merged with a more classic kind of hard, adult rock. But his solo career, which Chris was ready and primed for, was put back on the shelf when Audioslave came calling. In 2007, with Carry On, came another kind of shift, the feeling that it was a natural evolution of Chris’s solo style, now incorporating the alternative sound he’d learned from Audioslave. And who could forget the Bond theme, probably one of the best of the modern Bond run. Another big swing at making it as a solo artist, now that two bands were in the books behind him.

I try not to think about Scream most of the time, but what it demonstrated to me was that Chris had no fear, musically. The idea of a grunge god producing an entire album with a hip-hop producer, even one as well known as Timbaland, was laughable. And the album that resulted is, kindly, a mistake. It’s a good lesson in understanding that you probably shouldn’t pursue every idea that comes into your head, particularly when it has as big a chance to fail as Scream did. But by god, he did it anyway. That’s impressive to me. And the songs, when freed of their awful, uncharacteristic production, can work quite well – listen to the “rock version” of “Long Gone,” or the acoustic version of “Ground Zero” from this very album, Songbook, and you’ll hear the strength of the lyrics and song structures. They’re just not electronic pop tracks.

It’s interesting to me that Chris couldn’t stay solo for very long at any point in his career. You’d think that a musician as independent and creative as he was – his solo albums are really strong – would be able to do just fine on his own. But maybe the shadow of Soundgarden stood too tall over him. It never seemed like people ever talked about Chris Cornell as a solo act, only in the context of being a compelling, vital frontman. Maybe he rushed too quickly into Audioslave, rendering Euphoria Morning a curiosity in his discography rather than the starting point it was intended to be. In any case, his second foray into solo work lasted about as long as the first, when Soundgarden came calling for a successful resurrection.

But even with Soundgarden back to pay the bills – or perhaps because Soundgarden was back, and, aside from a revitalized musical output for the four of them, provided steady income – Chris was allured by solo work. He did a set of solo acoustic tours, usually under the “Songbook” header, and the first tour in 2011 is where this live album came from. And I promise I’m going to get to the album. But I’ve got some stuff to say before that.

There’s no good way to shoehorn it in, but Higher Truth is where Chris should have gone directly after Carry On. It’s a quieter album than Carry On, kind of a cross between that album and Euphoria Morning, but it’s just as strong, maybe even stronger, than any solo work he’d done before. It made sense to me that he would pursue it, even with Soundgarden attempting to put together another album – Chris needed the outlet and it was worth it to put Soundgarden on hold while he finished the album.

But now, that Soundgarden album may never be finished. Chris Cornell is gone, reportedly by his own hand. The sun is dimmer today.

I don’t want to talk about any motivation, not this soon, not this early, when the report was just released a few hours ago, as of posting time. It makes me uncomfortable. I spent the entire day asking why, and I have no answers. You could look at his subject matter – Chris was fond of writing about death, dying, passing on. But I would hesitate to call that indicative of his mindset, when it’s been his bread and butter for so long. Celebrities like Chris have a different face in public, and it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of his true feelings, but he seemed so content in recent years. Soundgarden was rolling, a successful reunion that actually produced new, good music. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted even with Soundgarden being more or less constantly active since their reunion, and he used that freedom liberally, remaining active on his own the entire time. He released a new charity single just two months ago.

When you look at it that way, it’s difficult to understand. I think we will understand, in time. But it’s unimaginably sad to me. I want to know why, now. I want to understand, now.

You look at the big four of the Seattle grunge movement – Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam – and you see that three of the four frontmen are now dead. How lonely Eddie Vedder must feel today.

Temple of the Dog reformed, a one-off tribute band brought back into the public eye, for the 25th anniversary of their only album last year. Temple of the Dog was formed by Chris to memorialize Andrew Wood, frontman of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose. Perhaps Vedder, who only contributed a little bit to Temple of the Dog, will memorialize Chris the same way.

I only saw Chris Cornell live one time, probably at the nadir of his musical relevance (and I do mean that kindly, but sincerely), in 2008, on the Projekt Revolution tour, the co-headliner next to Linkin Park. I’ll admit that I barely remember anything about the concert – I was 15, I was there for Linkin Park, the openers were just bonuses – but it sticks with me that that was the only chance I took to see him, now more than ever. I had my other opportunities – in 2012 during the first Songbook tour, and in 2014 when Soundgarden was touring with Nine Inch Nails – and I passed on both of them. “He’ll be around again,” I said, both times. I really wanted to see a Songbook show, but I willingly said “not this time.” And now there won’t be another time.

I’m going to think about that a lot.

As much as I enjoy Chris’s solo albums, and of course his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, there’s no album of his that I love more than the live Songbook album. It’s the greatest hits retrospective he never did – not commercially, anyway – that strips away everything and puts Chris’s voice at the forefront, his greatest creation. It reveals him as the powerful singer and deft songwriter that he always has been. You look at the track list and it’s hit after hit after hit – “Call Me a Dog,” “Can’t Change Me,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Like a Stone,” and of course “Black Hole Sun.” The deeper cuts – “I Am the Highway,” “Scar on the Sky,” “All Night Thing,” the never-professionally-recorded “Cleaning My Gun.” The two smartly-chosen covers of “Thank You” and “Imagine.” And even the new track, “The Keeper,” to close out the album. Songbook is the retrospective to listen to today, and next week, and whenever you think of Chris Cornell and you just want to hear the man belt out some tunes. I don’t think there’s a bad song on here – even the opener, curious Scream hidden track “As Hope and Promise Fade,” is still a compelling listen here.

Chris gives a bit of insight into a couple of the songs, and his mindset when writing them. “Ground Zero” is preceded by the message that anger and hatred will not fix the horrors of September 11, while Chris explains on “Can’t Change Me” that it was the last song written for the album, which to me seems like a common theme for successful lead singles. You even get a bit of humor – “Imagine” is preceded by Chris noting that it’s a “good Easter song,” playing it the day before Easter that year. Of course, the Christian-friendly line “Nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too.”

There will never be another Chris Cornell. A one of a kind figure, an amazing songwriter with a generational voice. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to break into the mainstream, and though Pearl Jam is the most successful and revered of them – and they, alongside Nirvana, will likely be the only two of the big four enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Soundgarden’s place in history can never be forgotten. And though Chris’s second and third acts, with Audioslave and with his solo career, will certainly not be as fondly remembered as his work in Soundgarden, when taken as a whole, Chris has had a career stronger and more important than most in rock history, securing him in the upper echelon of rock musicians for all time.

It will take time for us to know the full extent of what happened in that hotel room in Detroit. We may never know or understand why Chris did what he did, what he was feeling that night, and in the time leading up to it. If it was depression – and Chris had talked about suffering from depression in the 1990s – then the disease has claimed another life it never deserved to take. If it was something else, perhaps we will know in time. Perhaps we will have the knowledge to understand Chris in a way that we didn’t understand him in life. Regardless, it is a massive loss, for the music community, for the world, and for the pantheon of heroes I had, as a child and as an adult.

Say hello to heaven, Chris. Blow the doors down.

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Released November 21, 2011

1 hr, 13 min

call the police / american dream, by LCD Soundsystem

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Released May 5, 2017

14 min

So this is why LCD Soundsystem came back.

I wondered what their plan was when James Murphy first announced – and pre-emptively apologized for – the band’s return early last year. It always seemed to me like Murphy put the band to rest far earlier than he may have needed to, given that the band had just released its best album in 2010, and were at perhaps the peak of their popularity. Maybe that scared him, and he needed to go away for a while and figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life. This doesn’t have any basis in facts or anything like that – I don’t think he’s really talked about why LCD Soundsystem stopped existing for five years.

But they’re back, with a Christmas single being the herald of a new era of the band, released on December 24, 2015, before anyone knew (for sure, anyway) that the band was working on a full return to activity. LCD Soundsystem spent 2016 on the festival circuit, celebrating their return while quietly working on a new record. A band as revered as LCD certainly doesn’t need to record an album to justify their existence, but, as I mentioned earlier, it always felt like James Murphy had far more to give to us than he did during the band’s first run, and now we’re finally seeing that, as two actual singles expected to be from the new album surfaced, in the double A-side of “call the police” and “american dream.”

The dichotomy is interesting, almost like a cohesive primer on the band. “call the police” is a fast-driving rocker, bright and upbeat musically, but with an undercurrent of melancholy throughout the lyrics as Murphy struggles to be heard above the cacophony of instrumentation below him. It reminds me a lot of “All My Friends,” one of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs in their catalogue, and absolutely my favorite. They both barrel forward on instrumentation that threatens to sweep Murphy away before he can say his piece, and he finally gets it all out by shouting above the noise. It’s a very Sound of Silver-era song, I think, and it’s the side of LCD Soundsystem that I’ve always loved the most, even if I think This is Happening is a better album.

By contrast, “american dream” is a synth-driven slow dance, with the signature melody being a haunting, dripping rhythm that feels like you’re being surrounded. The song has a clear narrative, following the protagonist (whose actions are being described by Murphy throughout the song) and describing their feelings of inadequacy as they trudge through their life, those feelings infecting everything they do, describing the experience as a real American dream. It could easily be an autobiographical song, and Murphy is certainly no stranger to writing songs of that nature, but it also feels like a very modern analysis of life in 2017, particularly in the sort of big city where Murphy made his name and his home. He could have easily seen this story any number of times around him.

This is LCD Soundsystem distilled down to its essence – soaring punk/rock, heavy doses of electronica, either standalone or mixed in, and diagnoses of what it’s like to be human today. LCD Soundsystem has never been a band of big ideas and navel-gazing – James Murphy is far more concerned with what he can see in front of him, and sharing those feelings with whoever’s willing to listen. And there are many, many people willing to listen, hanging on every word, anxiously awaiting the day when, for the first time in seven years, they can wake up to the joy of a new LCD Soundsystem album.

Minutes to Midnight, by Linkin Park

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Released May 14, 2007

43 min, 23 sec

There’s a small selection of albums that hold a very strong personal significance to me. They tend to be albums released around the time of a significant event in my life, or they were the first album I heard of what became one of my favorite artists. Sometimes it’s both. Occasionally, it’s something else.

Christmas 2005 is when I generally consider my true love of music to have begun. Before then, my radio was permanently tuned to AM 1600 – Radio Disney. My knowledge of the popular songs of the day were dictated entirely by what Disney wanted to hear, and what happened to be playing in commercials, or in my dad’s truck. But something – I’m not particularly sure what, I don’t really remember any more – compelled me to change stations, and I started delving into the world of rock music. With that, I asked my parents for two CDs that Christmas – Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, and Green Day’s American Idiot.

No, neither of those are the album we’re focusing on today. I’m getting to it.

Nowadays, I’m only mildly embarrassed to admit that Linkin Park was my favorite band for six years, long after Hybrid Theory shot them into the spotlight far faster than anyone could have expected. But back then, after getting Hybrid Theory and quickly filling out much of the rest of my collection, picking up everything else they’d done through the beginning of 2006 in rapid succession, I was unabashedly in love with the band. They were the first band that widened my musical taste, and though it wasn’t particularly compelling or good at the time (top 5: Linkin Park, Green Day, Audioslave, Metallica, and 3 Doors Down. I know, I know, I’m sorry), it was growing, and that was the important thing. And I think that the variety in Linkin Park’s music after Meteora – and even before that, with Reanimation and Collision Course – went a long way in crafting the eclectic taste that I have now.

So, as 2006 rolled on, Linkin Park had been more or less dormant for over a year. 2005 saw the Music for Relief concert, Live 8, and nothing else. Behind the scenes, the band was locked in an ugly battle with Warner Bros., attempting to either break out of their recording contract or get a better contract signed. While Linkin Park was on the shelf, Mike Shinoda released Fort Minor’s debut album The Rising Tied and toured behind it, while Chester Bennington tried and failed to do the same with his own side-project, Snow White Tan (which would resurface in 2009 as Dead by Sunrise – more on that some other time). So, while I slowly became more and more passionate about the music I listened to, the band I loved the most was trying to figure out their next step. And, by 2006, they’d sorted out their label issues, and were able to move forward with an album that, for the first time, would truly challenge their fans and the perception of the band they’d cultivated since 2000.

Minutes to Midnight is not a nu-metal album. It’s not a metal album, though a couple songs have twinges of metal embedded in them. It’s not a “rap-rock” album, either. What it could be categorized as, loosely, is an alternative rock album. Hybrid Theory and Meteora were cut from the same cloth, using the same template – power chords, rapped verses, screamed choruses. Bridges that had one or both of those elements. Short songs with a basic lyrical structure that tackled nebulous topics that cut right to the heart of issues that teenagers held near and dear. If you mixed and matched songs from the two albums and played them to someone who had never heard Linkin Park before, and challenged them to determine which songs were from which album, they couldn’t do it with even one song. It’s like Metallica’s Load and ReLoad, except they were recorded three years apart.

By contrast, Minutes to Midnight is a wild departure. “Given Up” is comfortably in the territory of typical Linkin Park, but that wasn’t the song fans first heard. That honor instead went to “What I’ve Done,” which is firmly in the alternative rock realm, something Linkin Park had never even come close to touching before. Chester wasn’t screaming. Mike wasn’t rapping at all. The vinyl scratches were few and far between. The power chords weren’t quite as basic and overpowering. We’d heard stories of the album being a departure, but I don’t think anyone quite expected it to be so significant. And that wasn’t even the beginning.

The Minutes to Midnight album cycle was the first one that I’d ever followed as a music fan. I remember when the band said that the title was “T____ and T_____”, with the blanks to be filled in. Fake albums filled torrent websites, usually under the title Trials and Tribulations to match the supposed album name. Snippets of “What I’ve Done” came out slowly, either as brief previews, or as ringtones, or radio snippets. I had all of them on my iPod, and it combined to be about a third of the song, missing most of the significant sections – the verses and the guitar solo (another innovation that was alien to Linkin Park before this album). I remember the debates about if QWERTY – a song debuted at the band’s comeback shows in Japan in August 2006 – would make the album (it didn’t). I remember more snippets leaking out as the release approached, and people being baffled by them – why were they so light (comparatively)? Why was it so different?

What were they doing?

Here’s another fun aside about “What I’ve Done” – myself and a friend of mine had created a rock music forum around the time that “What I’ve Done” leaked, a day ahead of its planned release date. Because I was obsessed with Linkin Park at the time, I knew exactly where to find it, and in order to drive traffic to the forum, I approached my friend with an idea – what if we hosted the leak? He was into it, so we did it, thinking that the people who came for the track would stick around to talk about it.

They didn’t, and the forum closed three months later. Worth a shot.

When Minutes to Midnight dropped, leaked four days in advance because it was 2007 and every single album that mattered was guaranteed to leak in those days, fans were shocked by the songs on the album. By my count, four of the album’s twelve tracks are outright ballads – soft and quiet, slower, songs that you would never have imagined Linkin Park was capable of making. “Leave Out All the Rest” was the most accessible of these tracks by far, and ended up being the album’s final single, featuring Chester singing about a dream of being an ethereal being, hoping that he’d left enough of an impact on the world to not be forgotten. It was a far cry from songs like “One Step Closer,” where Chester implored the listener to shut up because he was being pushed to the edge of his sanity. Songs like “Valentine’s Day” and “In Between” were in a similar vein, being some of the softest songs Linkin Park had ever made, splitting time with harder, more conventional songs like the aforementioned “Given Up” and “No More Sorrow”.

Political commentary found its way into the Linkin Park catalogue with this album, as well. The title itself is vaguely political in nature, a reference to the Doomsday Clock, a visual conception of how close the Earth is to destruction by way of nuclear war. The “clock” ticks closer to midnight when the state of the world worsens, and resets when things get better, usually determined by major geopolitical events related to nuclear weaponry. “Hands Held High,” Mike Shinoda’s only rap showcase on the album, is far more overt, lambasting leaders that can’t get through a speech without stuttering, and condemning the destruction and terror that war brings, bankrolled by people who will never feel the effects. It’s transparent and basic, but the song’s delivery makes it a biting commentary, the likes of which the band had never even come close to touching before.

The album’s centerpiece is undoubtedly closing track “The Little Things Give You Away,” a 6-minute epic that describes the effects of Hurricane Katrina and indicts the late, unorganized relief response. The song is a slow burn that, once again, Linkin Park had never done before; the entire first minute simply introduces the underlying drumbeat, slowly adding instruments on top of it until finally building to the first verse, layered on top like just another instrument. Chester’s delivery is airy and haunting, commanding attention in a far different manner compared to his usual guttural, shouting vocals. The track continues to build in instrumentation, finally breaking open after the second chorus into a simple, but soaring, beautiful guitar solo, which itself leads into a wonderful three-vocal outro that creates an incredibly powerful closing moment for the album. Perhaps more than anything else on Minutes to Midnight, this song is a statement, announcing that Linkin Park had a lot more in the tank than anyone could have expected.

Because of course the band was aware of the perception of them in the eyes of the general public. Linkin Park was the soundtrack of angsty teens who overemphasized the problems they thought they had, and critics treated them accordingly, lambasting everything they did even as their albums soared to the top of the charts and sold like hotcakes in the early 2000s. (Hybrid Theory went diamond several years ago, despite inexplicably peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts during its initial run, and every album they made from 2000 to 2008 went platinum.) Minutes to Midnight, despite the massive shift in sound, did the same, selling a mind-numbing 625,000 copies in its first week, going gold faster than nearly any other Linkin Park album before or since (Meteora, I recently discovered, somehow sold 810,000 copies in its first week). This album represented the peak of their commercial success at the same time that it represented the death of the style that had gotten them to this point in the first place.

Interviews around the time of the album’s recording point to a specific desire to shift away from the nu-metal style that defined Linkin Park. Don Gilmore was out as producer, replaced by the legendary Rick Rubin, who undoubtedly had a large hand in crafting Linkin Park’s new sound. They wanted to knock down the walls surrounding their music, and keep them down forever. Their stated goal was to never again stay within the confines of a single genre, and instead simply make the music that sounded interesting and engaging to them. And true to their word, they’ve never gone back, evolving their sound and branching out in fascinating – sometimes bizarre – directions with each subsequent album. And none of it would have been possible if they hadn’t decided to take the first step with Minutes to Midnight.

I don’t listen to Linkin Park very much any more. Their time in the spotlight of popular music is long gone, and they’ve settled into having a static fanbase without feeling the need to ever cater specifically to that fanbase. That obviously doesn’t affect my own fandom, but my interest waned as I got older and I felt separated from the music that had crafted the soundtrack of my high school years. Very rarely does a person ever stay the same, or even remotely similar, as they go through high school and college, and that’s reflected in their interests and the things they enjoy, as well as how they feel about those things. When I think of Linkin Park, I think of specific memories of my high school years instead of how I felt back then. I still listen to every album, and I buy the studio albums when they come out, but a Linkin Park album is no longer the event it used to be in my life. Instead, I use that energy on more eclectic albums and pursuits, like, for instance, staying up until midnight to watch a live stream of a guy cutting wood, that abruptly stops for two full weeks because the New York Times ruined the surprise of the album being released.

Yes, that’s about Frank Ocean. Thank fucking god he dropped the album.

But I still listen to Linkin Park on occasion, both the new material and the songs and albums I grew up with. It reminds me of going to shady fansites trying to get bootleg recordings of new songs being performed live, or finding the “rare” tracks that they’d never released officially, long before streaming and online stores made those songs easily accessible. A Linkin Park song nowadays feels like a time machine, turning back time to when my musical passion was in its infancy, and I still thought 3 Doors Down was a great rock band.

We all grow up some day, I guess.

The OF Tape Vol. 2, by Odd Future

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Released March 20, 2012

1 hr, 3 min, 23 sec

I don’t know if any group in music today exemplifies the arc of internet fame more than Odd Future.

A bunch of kids hanging out, doing dumb shit, and putting out mixtapes individually and as a unit. In an era where the Internet was becoming one of the most important promotional tools for any musician, where dropping tracks on Myspace was still something people could do to get noticed, Odd Future took advantage of these tools and used them to create a rabid, fiercely loyal fanbase.

Teenagers – mostly white skater kids – loved Odd Future. The central subject matter of most of the group’s songs catered exactly to what most teenagers thought about – violence, getting high, and doing stupid shit with your friends just because you could. They could tap into these feelings and fantasies because they were teenagers. In 2010, right at the start of Odd Future’s ascent to fame, Earl Sweatshirt was 16 years old. Tyler, the Creator was 19. Hodgy Beats was 20. Odd Future was a bunch of kids making music that they wanted to hear, and it turned out to be the kind of subversive, self-aware rap that kids all over the country wanted to hear. It wasn’t mainstream, it wasn’t what you would hear on the radio – but it was great stuff. Through all the uncomfortable subject matter that they would often resort to, there was real talent bubbling underneath the surface for every member of Odd Future. It was talent and promise that many of them would capitalize on in some way or another as the group ascended at a meteoric rate.

One of the biggest catalysts of Odd Future’s rise to fame came with the disappearance of Earl Sweatshirt, which we’ve discussed on the blog before. Though he was sent to Samoa in order to straighten out his increasingly worrying attitude problems, no one knew that when news first hit that he was gone. Odd Future used Earl’s absence as a rallying cry for their fans, making “Free Earl” the group’s mantra for the entire year that he was gone. That, combined with the commercial release of Tyler’s first proper album Goblin, catapulted Odd Future into the mainstream view. Hodgy Beats’s duo with fellow member Left Brain, called MellowHype, began releasing albums of their own.

But 2012 was the big year, possibly the biggest of the group’s collective career. And that brings us to the pinnacle of Odd Future as a unit – The OF Tape Vol. 2.

The album is a sequel to one of the group’s oldest mixtapes, and is made in the same vein – tracks from every member of Odd Future, many of them featuring multiple members on one track. Everyone gets their time to shine on one or more tracks, from Tyler all the way down to Jasper Dolphin and Taco Bennett, which is probably more leeway than those two should be given. It’s a mixtape in its purest form – a bunch of friends having the time of their lives, all with professional production and recording tools.

But we’re not really here to talk about the music. A lot of it is great, to be sure – highlights like “NY (Ned Flander),” “Analog 2,” “Snow White,” “P,” and, of course, “Oldie” anchor the album and float it through some of the less powerful tracks, the ones that focus more on humor and less on substance.

“Oldie” is the ultimate Odd Future track, featuring every core member of the group dropping a verse, even the elusive Frank Ocean. If you wanted to know exactly what Odd Future was about, this was the track to play – each member gets to focus on their own material for a verse, distinct but cohesive at the same time. And the track’s highlight is clearly Earl Sweatshirt’s verse, his first in two years, after returning from “exile.” It’s something that he would explore in more melancholy detail when he returned to making his own music, but here he’s just enjoying being around his boys. The music video is the purest expression of Odd Future – shot on the spot, during a group photo shoot, where the track is played over the speakers. Tyler starts rapping along with his first verse, and eventually gets the entire group to mouth their own verses into the camera, creating a classic music video impromptu. Just like the group itself.

What The OF Tape Vol. 2 signified more than anything was that Odd Future could be themselves and still hit mainstream, commercially successful gold. Tyler blew up. MellowHype landed a stronger record deal. Domo Genesis emerged into his own more and more. And, of course, the crown jewel of The OF Tape Vol. 2, Earl Sweatshirt’s extended comeback verse on “Oldie,” signifying his permanent return to the music industry and Odd Future. And Frank Ocean, already gaining a significant amount of momentum from his 2011 mixtape nostalgia,ULTRA., continued to show his loyalty to Odd Future while priming himself for his own breakout album in channel ORANGE, released later that year.  Essentially, the tape launched the careers of nearly everyone in the group, and gave Odd Future Records the clout it needed to support the group’s work without the need to partner with any major labels.

That marked a turning point in the dynamic of Odd Future.  The group hasn’t released a collaborative album since The OF Tape Vol. 2. They still collaborated on each other’s albums – Tyler’s Wolf, Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris – and performed live together on a regular basis. But they were growing up, and growing up meant growing apart.

Tyler’s third album Cherry Bomb features just Syd tha Kid in terms of Odd Future members (more on that in a bit). Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside features none of the main members. Frank Ocean has not appeared on any Odd Future-related albums since 2013. MellowHype broke up in 2015, though Hodgy Beats and Left Brain stated that they would continue to work together under a different title.

Teenagers grow up and become adults, and careers can lead people in different, sometimes separate, directions. In 2015, Tyler posted a tweet reminiscing about Odd Future, in a manner that made it seem as if the group was no more. He backtracked fairly quickly, clarifying that he was just looking back and letting nostalgia take the wheel, but the signs that Odd Future had permanently changed are everywhere. Earl seems to have walked away from Odd Future completely, and Syd and Matt Martians – collectively known as the Internet – have both explicitly stated that they were no longer part of the group, though they remain tied to the record label. The days of Odd Future as a collective are long gone – all that remains now is a legacy, and the divergent strands of the careers that it birthed.

All except for Mike G, of course. Stop getting high and release a real album for once.

California, by blink-182

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Released July 1, 2016

42 min, 36 sec

In the beginning of 2015, Tom DeLonge decided that he’d had enough of the blink-182 reunion, and in a very public spat with bandmates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, quit the band for the second time in almost exactly ten years. Rather than fold under the guise of an “indefinite hiatus,” however, Hoppus and Barker stood their ground, content to allow DeLonge to take his ball and head back home to Angels & Airwaves. They berated him and questioned his work ethic in interviews, and brought on Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio to help them fulfill performance commitments. Hoppus and Barker must have seen something in the union, as Skiba was then brought on full-time, to complete the record that DeLonge refused to sing a note for. The end result – after a reboot with a new producer that resulted in the scrapping of that previous album – is California, the first blink-182 album in five years.

Replacing a band’s lead singer – even in a band with two that share vocal duties equally – is no small task. Ask Stone Temple Pilots, who fired Scott Weiland, watched replacement Chester Bennington walk away after being unable to handle fronting two major bands at the same time, and are now scrambling to figure out what to do now that Weiland is dead. Ask Journey, who sat in lead vocalist hell for over a decade until discovering current singer Arnel Pineda on YouTube, of all places. Ask Black Sabbath, who’s had as many vocalists as they’ve had instrumentalists. A band either enjoys a renaissance or dies a slow, embarrassing death when someone new comes in to take over vocals.

blink faced a particularly difficult struggle, already having hit the age where their best songs and most successful record are moving from radio-dominating pop-punk to classic rock of the rapidly aging 1990s. It can be embarrassing to watch a 40-year-old Hoppus sing about how nobody likes him when he’s 23, or belt out ridiculous joke songs that he’d likely written as a teenager, at such prestigious music events as BlizzCon and E3. Not to mention the morning show circuit.

But this isn’t something new to them, as they faced these same problems during their initial reunion in 2009, four years after DeLonge indulged in his most bizarre obsessions and musical inclinations, appearing to permanently mature as a musician with Angels & Airwaves. Hoppus and Barker were left to pick up the pieces, putting out an interesting but relatively uninspired record as +44, promptly abandoned and left to die the moment DeLonge came knocking. This time, +44 remains in the basement – Craig Fairbaugh and Shane Gallagher put down their phones in disappointment when they saw the news, probably.

So, California. If Neighborhoods was an appropriate title for that record’s music-by-committee sound that arose from DeLonge, Hoppus, and Barker all recording separately, then California appropriately represents Hoppus taking the wheel and steering the album himself. The album has it all – loud pop anthems, reflections on the band’s home state, and, of course, two unnecessary joke tracks, because this is Mark Hoppus and this is what Mark Hoppus does. At least they’re funny.

California was recorded as a unit, at a blistering pace, with a brand new producer in John Feldmann, filling the void left by the deceased Jerry Finn, who had produced the band for years before their initial breakup. (blink produced Neighborhoods and Dogs Eating Dogs themselves.) When Feldmann came on board, the band had already produced an album’s worth of tracks. When going over the music, however, they decided that it would be better to simply start from scratch with Feldmann, which resulted in the entirety of California being recorded in the space of three months, from January to March 2016. Neighborhoods, by comparison, took nearly two years to finish.

What Feldmann brought in his production is a more cohesive sound than Neighborhoods, while also encouraging the band to move past their comfort zone, expanding more into quieter, acoustic tracks in the vein of “Boxing Day” from 2013, without reveling in the strangely dark, negative sound of blink-182. Instead, the band embraces a bombastic, anthemic sound in songs like “No Future” and “Bored to Death,” songs of teenage rebellion that still work, sort of – as much as songs of that nature can work coming from middle-aged men. Other tracks reflect the band’s age – songs like “Rabbit Hole” and “San Diego” are world-weary and reflective, with the former’s refrain of “I won’t fall down that fucking rabbit hole” emphasizing the band’s – or, more accurately, Hoppus’s – desire to not fall by the wayside, refusing to succumb to the call of becoming a nostalgia act.

“San Diego,” as a side note, is rather clearly a song about DeLonge, though not nearly as bitter and petty as “No, It Isn’t” was from +44’s We Don’t Need to Whisper in 2006, when the wounds of DeLonge’s first departure were fresh. Instead, it reads as settling the issue – Hoppus is saying “you’re gone, and we don’t want to go back to you, and that’s fine. Have a nice life.”

But California certainly invokes nostalgia, both in its subject matter and its sound. blink-182 still sounds like the perennial pop-punk giant that it was in the 90s and early 2000s, and though their sound has expanded since then, the core, dated as it may be, remains the same. Hoppus still writes from the perspective of his teenage self, and the band tries its hardest to play to an audience twenty years their junior. Their music is aimed at people going to Warped Tour, whether they’re teenagers or people who went to the Warped Tour when blink was headlining over a decade ago.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that. You’re not going to hear political songs from blink-182, or songs about the struggles of parenthood, or the middle class. blink-182 isn’t a band for the working man, even as they continue to look more and more like that class of people. But it still puts them in an uncomfortable position, as the band is, more than ever before, a vehicle for Hoppus to continue to live out his teenage fantasies.

Because this is no longer the Mark, Tom, and Travis Show – now that DeLonge is out of the way, it’s the Mark Show all the way. Barker has always been content to stay in the back and drum his ass off while DeLonge and Hoppus handle the songwriting, and he continues to do so for California. Matt Skiba, then, conveys a sense of just being along for the ride. He certainly contributed to songwriting, but all of the songs are credited to the trio as a unit, with select co-writers for certain tracks. What Skiba brings to the table, besides a stronger command of the guitar than DeLonge’s twinkly, wandering play style after the reunion, is a voice that’s closer in register to Hoppus’s, but with a far sharper edge – similar to DeLonge’s and almost as distinctive, but much lower in pitch. His voice is very well-suited to pop punk, as well as harder punk, which Alkaline Trio engages in. Skiba thus provides a nice change of pace – and, so far, he seems much more interested in staying on pitch and following the flow of the band’s music than DeLonge was after the reunion. Skiba is a net plus, eliminating the band’s previous divisiveness while providing a steady hand and steady voice. It’s not a shake-up or reinvention – it’s getting the band back in the right lane, a steady hand on the wheel, keeping them on the highway instead of taking an exit into new, unfamiliar territory.

That’s probably the best way to describe California – familiar and relatively unchallenging, but comforting in that familiarity. This isn’t a +44 record masquerading as a blink album, which was a real concern of mine when DeLonge left the band in 2015. Instead, it’s unfiltered Hoppus, one of two pop-punk masterminds that helped propel blink-182 to unforseen heights in the 1990s and continues to hit those same veins in 2016. And as it turns out, unfiltered Mark Hoppus sounds a lot like blink-182.