In Defense Of Blink-182
When Rolling Stone released its “40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time” just over two weeks ago, the reaction from punkers everywhere was swift, uncompromising and severe. “This is a belated April Fool’s joke, right?” wrote one commentator. “Allowing Rolling Stone to create a list like this is like letting the guy who cuts your grass do your dentistry,” insisted another. But of all the criticisms that turned up, one showed up more than any other: the inclusion of Blink-182’s Enema of the State in the number 37 slot.
“Blink-182 doesn’t belong within 10 miles of this list,” wrote “Joseph P.” in the article’s comment section. Another claimed that Blink-182 has “nothing to do with respectable music or punk.”
On some level, the criticism is understandable. The list from Rolling Stone had several notable exclusions —The Clash’s London Calling being most significant to this writer — and also several undeservedly low rankings for records such as the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.
But that being said, the hate levied against Blink-182, which extends far beyond the comment section of Rolling Stone, seems to have been blown out of proportion in recent years. When I discovered the band in 2003, right at the edge of their implosion, they were at the forefront of a pop-punk scene they had helped to establish. Their eponymously titled fifth record from that year mixed experimental sounds, more mature themes and a fantastic collaboration with The Cure’s Robert Smith to create one of the most impactful albums of the early 2000s. The Los Angeles Times called the record the band’s “underrated masterwork,” while MTV News called the album, using their own textual emphasis, “a touchstone — a defining moment not just for the band, but for the genre of punk, in all its permutations.”
Their self-titled record is one of their most celebrated, as it went on to influence the entire mid-2000s trend of poppy emo bands such as Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. But the band’s first two records — 1995’s Cheshire Cat and 1997’s Dude Ranch — could be considered equally as impressive, as the group proved that they were capable of writing soaring hooks that were rough and silly enough to relate to the kids who purchased their albums in droves.
But with 1999’s Enema of the State, Blink-182 found themselves launched into the stratosphere, and rightfully so. To this point, the band had been composed of bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus, guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge and drummer Scott Raynor. For Enema, the group ditched Raynor and tacked on Travis Barker. With Barker’s skillful chops on the kit, the group accomplished something astonishing.
Across the album’s 35 minutes, the band almost single handedly launched pop-punk into the mainstream. Groups like Green Day had paved the way, but with tracks such as “Aliens Exist,” “Going Away to College,” “What’s My Age Again?” and, of course, “All The Small Things,” which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, Blink-182 had found success in a way not unlike Nirvana’s rise to success through grunge earlier in the decade.
And while the band still had a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor throughout many of their songs and videos, “Adam’s Song,” a track penned by Hoppus about suicide and depression, proved they were capable of handling more mature themes.
Still, even then the band faced controversy. Jessica Hopper, a punk and emo band public relations rep at the time, told SPIN that “every time Blink is called a punk band, or even a pop-punk band, we all get associated with that — we all get painted with that big, gross brush.”
Blink-182 attempted to satirize pop bands such as the Backstreet Boys in their music videos, but many saw it as little more than a thinly veiled cover for the fact that Blink was, in and of itself, a pop band. “To seasoned ears, Blink-182 sounded and looked just as manufactured as the pop idols they were poking fun at,” wrote Matt Diehl in his book “My So-Called Punk.”
In spite of this criticism, Enema of the State and Blink-182 remain cultural staples of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even in 2016, their lyricism and polished, hook-laden sound possesses an easy relatability and accessibility to millions of listeners. And, on a personal level, Blink-182 is a band that has always been there to understand me. Whether it is falling in love, going on dates, heartbreak, pain, alienation, depression and beyond, Blink-182 has always soundtracked it.
Who hasn’t felt a chill at Tom DeLonge’s first lines (“Where are you?/And I’m so sorry, I can’t sleep, I cannot dream tonight”) in “I Miss You”? Who can’t relate to the anxious worries (“Do you like my stupid hair?/Would you guess I didn’t know what to wear?”) of “First Date”? And who can deny the loving sentiments (“Bouquet of clumsy words, a simple melody/The world’s an ugly place, but you’re so beautiful to me”) of “Going Away To College”? Blink-182 may seem childish and stupid, but so does life.
But now, the band is marching forward without DeLonge, having parted ways with him after his lack of interest in recording a new record. Hoppus and Barker have tapped Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba to fill his spot and, in limited live outings together, the results have been promising but different. A new album is en route, and Blink-182 will once again have to face the critical eye.
Whatever the outcome of their new record, Blink-182 will remain a defining voice of the era in which they were titans of the music world. You can argue about Blink’s status as punk, but you cannot argue that they earned their status as one of the most important bands of the past 20 years.