In the late 1990’s, a punk band named Blink 182 arose that captured the imagination of teenagers across America. The musical world was dominated by boy bands and Britney Spears while previous punk bands such as Green Day were in decline. Blink 182 heralded a new genre of pop-punk that was a blend of several features borrowed from their musical cousins. Like hardcore, Blink 182 had a rebellious impulse against authority and conformity. Yet this rebellion was not joined by the rage and angst that marked hardcore rock. Instead, pop-punk’s rebellion was trivially playful. It is no coincidence that their first music video featured band member running through the street naked.
Yet the distinguishing feature of pop-punk was its idealism. Like pop music in general, pop-punk covered such lofty topics as escapist sexual exploits and shallow girls. “What’s My Age Again” featured youthful pranks and encourages a perpetual adolescence- “With many years left to fall in line, why would you wish that on me”. “Dysentery Gary” laments the loss of “the one,” only to find consolation in “they’re plenty more girls.” In almost every song, the theme is the same: life may have its bumps, but it’s nothing that another party can’t overcome. The world is an adventure waiting to happen, full of potential and fun. Instead of representing the lowly underside of society, Blink 182’s “Enema of the State” promised “good things come to those who wait.”
Yet one can only be idealistic for so long before life speaks its cruel verdict. If the previous album was filled with mostly party songs, “Take off your Pants…” was written under the fog of the next day’s hangover. The songs broached the same topics but the tone was radically different (with the exceptions of the singles “First Date” and “Rock Show”). “Reckless Abandon” described ridiculous alcoholic exploits but concludes “we left a scar size extra large.” Most pointedly, “Story of a Lonely Guy” summarizes this emerging pessimism saying, “read my book with a boring ending, a short story of a lonely guy who fell behind.” The new lyrical direction is not a simple change of taste, but it is an indictment of their former life and an acknowledgment that they have brought about the own demise.
The metamorphosis of Blink 182 was complete with the release of their self titled album in 2003 which loosely grasps at Gospel-themes. The emerging pessimism of the previous album has flowered into self-criticism and a cry for help. Instead of playing jokes on other people, “Easy Target” depicts the band as victims of a prank. On “All of This” the Cure’s Robert Smith laments that “It all just goes to show how nothing I know changes me at all.” On the song “Stockholm Syndrome” Delonge and Hoppus admit, “Life’s temporary like New Year’s resolutions” and “Why is this hard, I know I’m wrong.” If hope is to be found, it is found in through an external intervention (“Down, down, down- pick me up I’m falling”). The album closes with the exclamation “I’m lost without you.” The idealistic exploits of youth have precipitated a decline toward complication and death which paradoxically began a rebirth. This is not the wisdom of age, but a hope found among the wreckage of life.
(Post Script – As with most things in life, the new direction of Blink 182 was short lived. The pressures of constant touring and recording brought an inseparable rift between bandmates. Yet it was the near death of drummer Travis Barker which sparked new reconciliation within the band. It is reported that the band plans to record a new album this year.)