Blink-182 The Anals of History
Published Jul 27, 2016With 35 million records sold worldwide (and counting), there's no denying that Blink-182 are the most successful and divisive band to ever toe the line between punk and pop. The San Diego-bred trio have spent the last 20-plus years crafting bright summery pop tunes filled with suburban ennui and Adam Sandler-worthy dick jokes, and they've sold out multiple stadiums in the process. From their humble beginnings as Descendents-obsessed skate brats to their rocky patch with clashing egos and multiple managers, this is the story of the world's biggest punk band.
1972 to 1991
Mark Hoppus is born on March 15 in Ridgecrest, California. He recalls his childhood as being peaceful and happy, until his parents divorce at the age of eight. The family move around to different cities, including Fairfax, Virginia. In junior high, he performs covers of the Cure in his solo project Pier 69. Soon, he develops a love of skateboarding. Through that culture, he discovers the Descendents and falls in love with melodic punk rock.
"All the punk rock I had heard before was all very political and very angry, with a lot of yelling," Hoppus tells Exclaim! "And then I heard the Descendents and it changed my whole world. The Descendents were catchy and fun and angry but not in a political sense — disaffected is more of a description for them. They were punk rock Beach Boys…. From there, there was this whole world."
Tom DeLonge is born in Poway, California — a suburb of San Diego — on December 13, 1975. His youth there is similarly shaped by skateboarding and punk rock. As early as third grade, he is an avid skateboarder, and he is introduced to fast, melodic punk when an out-of-town friend plays him the Descendents.
1992 to 1994
Mark Hoppus moves to San Diego in 1992 with the intention of working at The Wherehouse record store and attending college. His sister Anne introduces him to Tom DeLonge through then-boyfriend Kerry Key. DeLonge and Hoppus spend hours sharing song ideas in DeLonge's garage, and even write the song that would become "Carousel" on the spot. They also get up to plenty of hijinks.
As Tom DeLonge tells Rolling Stone, "We were out throwing food and drinks at security guards who were chasing us through malls, skateboarding at four in the morning, eating doughnuts at places making hot doughnuts near the beach, breaking into schools and finding skate spots in dark schools or slaloming down parking garages naked and shit in downtown San Diego."
The pair team up with Scott Raynor — a drummer that Tom DeLonge met at a battle of the band competition — and the trio are mostly inseparable. Moving past the early names Duck Tape and Figure 8, DeLonge eventually settles on the name Blink. Blink perform regularly in the basement of the San Diego punk club Soma, alongside bands like Ten Foot Pole and Unwritten Law. Eventually, they make their way to the main stage, where they open for Face to Face.
The band record their Flyswatter demo and an untitled second demo in Raynor's bedroom with a four-track recorder. Hoppus's boss at the record store finances the band's third demo, Buddha, for his Filter Records label. The demo will be reissued by Kung Fu Records in 1998, where it will go on to sell 300,000 copies.
With the assistance of Fluf member O and Blink's friend Brahm Goodis, the Buddha demo reaches the hands of Cargo Music, the San Diego arm of Montreal indie Cargo Records. The label offers to sign Blink on a "trial" basis. Mark Hoppus is the only member who signs the contract — DeLonge is at work during their meeting and Raynor is still a minor.
Though they're working with a bigger label, Blink can only afford to book three days of studio time to record the 16 tracks that will become Cheshire Cat. The album is recorded with Ten Foot Pole's Steve Kravac, who convinces them to book extra time for additional overdubs, thus bringing them one step closer to the radio-ready pop for which they'll become known. That said, Cheshire Cat is fast, raw and rough around the edges — a skate punk classic by all accounts.
The song "M+Ms" becomes the band's first single to gain any radio play, and they are given $10,000 to shoot a music video. They shoot a clip with Darren Doane, a filmmaker who previously worked with MxPx and Pennywise, but MTV reportedly throws the video out when they see guns on film.
Cheshire Cat is originally credited to Blink, but the band are threatened with legal action by an Irish techno group with the same name. To avoid any lawsuits, Cargo gives Blink one week to come up with a new name. Three weeks later and still unable to come to a conclusion, they added a "-182" to the end of their moniker. Some fans believe the band choose it because it's the number of times Al Pacino says "fuck" in Scarface, while others claim it was Hoppus's locker number in high school. The band have always joked about the number, suggesting that it's an insignificant and random choice.
In support of Cheshire Cat, Blink-182 join the GoodTimes tour. Named for a surf video of the same name, the trek also includes performances from Pennywise, Unwritten Law and 7 Seconds, among others.
In a Los Angeles Times profile in 1995, Tom DeLonge is challenged by the notion of calling Blink-182 a punk band. "What is punk?" he asks. "Punk has tapered off. The Offspring are nothing like the intense force of a Black Flag or the Descendents. But the attitude is the thing. We all share the same energy and view on life and really don't care what other people think. I'll continue to call our music 'punk,' and I'm proud of our toilet humour."
1996 to 1998
Despite their willingness to cling to the "punk" title, Blink-182 have a supposedly "unpunk" problem — a major label bidding war, with Interscope and MCA fighting for their signatures, alongside independent imprint Epitaph. Frustrated with Cargo Music's standoffishness, the group eventually settle with MCA, who promise total artistic freedom. That said, the label do put their foot down and block the band from recording a parody of "Macarena" called "Hey Wipe Your Anus."
In winter 1996, the band enter Big Fish Studios with Jimmy Eat World producer Mark Trombino. Over the five-week recording session, both DeLonge and Hoppus lose their voices due to the album's vocal range. This leads Hoppus to quit smoking. In addition to recording the album's peppy pop punk songs, Trombino also allows them to joke around with his sound effects machine. Two of the sketches make their way onto the album.
Representatives from MCA Records occasionally stop by to check in on the band's recording sessions. As Tom DeLonge recalls to Alternative Press, the label executives "fucking hated pop punk. They wanted nothing to do with it. They were into Pavement or whatever."
Dude Ranch is released in June, 1997, and thanks to the radio success of singles "Dammit" and "Josie," the record slowly builds a worldwide fan base for the band.
In summer 1997, Blink-182 play every date of the Vans Warped Tour alongside Pennywise, NOFX and Social Distortion. From there, they are booked to play the SnoCore tour — a sort of winter Warped Tour — alongside Primus in 1998. Their success makes them fixtures on TV and radio, but there are tensions arising in the band.
Scott Raynor's life, specifically, is at a crossroads. The drummer is desperate to go back to school and get his high school diploma, even doing homework on the road. He also wishes they'd stuck with an indie label and signed with Epitaph rather than MCA. Then, during a brief West coast tour, Raynor faces a "tragic loss," and is forced to fly home to San Diego. Blink-182 hire a temporary replacement in Raynor's absence — Travis Barker, of the novelty ska band the Aquabats. He learns his drum parts in 45 minutes before his first show.
When Raynor returns, he's developed a drinking problem, which affects the group's live performances. Following an Australian tour, Hoppus and DeLonge tell Raynor he must attend rehab and quit drinking, otherwise he'll be fired from the band. Raynor agrees to the terms, asking for a weekend to consider the options, but they end up firing him over the phone anyway.
"I think Mark and Tom are better suited for what they are doing," Raynor will tell Anne Hoppus in the 2001 book Blink 182: Tales From Beneath Your Mom. "It didn't fit me. I was always fighting for a different direction and that conflict eventually led to a split."
Travis Barker officially joins the band in summer 1998, and they embark on another trip. This one is given the ridiculous title of the Poo-Poo Pee-Pee Tour. As Mark Hoppus tells Exclaim!, Blink-182's juvenile sense of humour has always been a big part of his life.
"I've kind of had the same attitude since I was 17, I guess," he says. "Growing up listening to punk rock music and skateboarding and hanging out with my friends, then being in a band, it kind of lends itself to that. Obviously I have responsibilities and we run businesses and everything else, but the mindset has always been that I'm lucky to get to do what I do and hang out with my friends."
1999 to 2000
By 1999, Dude Ranch has gone platinum. For their next album, Enema of the State, Blink-182 are given a professional recording budget. The band hire Jerry Finn (best known for Green Day's Dookie) to produce their next album, which is recorded in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Though he is only paid as a touring member, Travis Barker is in the studio every day, helping shape the album's sound. "When we went in to record Enema of the State, I was very instrumental in the writing with Mark and Tom as far as tempos and arrangements and parts and accents," Barker tells Exclaim! "I loved doing that and I think it changed the sound quite a bit from Dude Ranch to Enema of the State — just a little bit broader. I think a year-and-a-half went by, and I was still being paid as a touring musician. The way I see it is, if that song would sound different without you, then you're writing. If you're saying we should do this in the bridge, or no it should be this tempo, or no that chorus sucks it should be half time, or you should sing that an octave higher. If you're contributing anything at all, then you're becoming a writer. You're basically throwing yourself into the writing process, which is important. Which I did so much on Enema."
After helping with writing sessions, Barker records the bulk of his drum tracks in eight hours at Mad Hatter — a Los Angeles studio owned by Chick Corea.
The album is completed in March. In Tales From Beneath Your Mom, DeLonge says, "When it was done, we were so stoked. It was like a masterpiece for our band. We knew this was going to be the best thing we ever did."
The band claim that Jerry Finn has an ideal knowledge of both punk rock and pop music, and in keeping with the band's character, their working relationship is peppered with bratty, nude antics. They vow to never work with another producer again.
The hybrid of glossy pop and crunchy, punk-inflected rock pays off in a major way, and singles "All the Small Things," "What's My Age Again?" and "Adam's Song" catapult the band to enormous new heights. In its first week, the album moves 109,000 units in the U.S. The band are touring Europe with Lagwagon when the label calls to inform them of their success. "They were selling, like, 90,000 records a day," Lagwagon's Joey Cape recalls in the 2009 documentary One Nine Nine Four. "I was saying things like, 'What are you doing here? Go home! Why do you want to be on tour with Lagwagon right now?'" As of 2016, Enema of the State has sold 15 million copies worldwide.
With Blink-182's newfound fame and mainstream ubiquity comes even more backlash. NME calls the album "wholly toothless and soulless" and "as bad, as meaningless, as the cock-rockers and hippy wankers punk originally sought to destroy." Meanwhile, Lookout! Records employee Tristin Laughter writes an op-ed in Punk Planet, claiming that Blink-182 are doing damage to punk's legacy.
Still, the band posits an "us versus them" analogy against the pop stars of the time with the video for "All the Small Things," which sees all three members dressed like the Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC. (Ironically, the same beach location for Blink-182's video would later be used to shoot a video for One Direction, the 2010s boy band whose member Harry Styles was discovered while covering Blink-182 in high school.)
Blink-182 ride the coattails of Enema of the State with a live album, The Mark, Tom & Travis Show; originally planned to be a "limited release," one million copies are pressed and it moves 110,000 units in its first week.
Further cementing Blink-182's status as mainstream pop superstars, Universal Records presses promotional seven-inches of Enema's "All the Small Things" and Mark, Tom & Travis's "Man Overboard." On the flip side of each is Enrique Iglesias's "Be With You" and Eminem's "Stan," respectively.
Hoppus tells Exclaim! that he understands the debate over Blink-182's punk status. "We've always debated, and people have gone back and forth on it," he says. "I think we kind of stopped calling ourselves a punk rock band a while ago. We're just a rock band with punk influences. And I don't know, I've never really concerned myself with 'Are we punk enough or are we not punk enough?' We just write songs that we love and keep our heads down and work hard."
2001 to 2002
In reaction to Enema of the State's slick pop, the members of Blink-182 hope to progress their sound further with their fourth studio album. Citing Fugazi and Refused as influences, the band attempt to branch out into more experimental territory in their early writing sessions.
"Coming off of Enema of the State, Tom and I were very convinced that we were going to go out and make this big, important, angsty new Blink-182 sound — kind of post-hardcore influenced," Hoppus recalls to Exclaim! When they play early demos to their manager Rick DeVoe, however, he complains that it's missing "that fun summertime Blink-182 energetic thing."
"I was so mad," Hoppus continues. "Like, 'How dare you say that about our art? That's so five years ago.' So I went home and out of spite I wrote 'Rock Show.' Tom went home angry as well and wrote 'First Date.' Obviously those ended up being the first two singles on the record."
DeLonge is frustrated with MCA's insistence on having the band repeat Enema of the State's sound, which stands in opposition to their prior promise to grant the band total creative freedom. He tells Music Radar, "We were just trying to write songs that were better than Enema... but we weren't taking any leaps and bounds creatively."
By the time these writing sessions roll around, Barker insists that he be given full writing credit. "I said to the guys, 'Hey if I'm not going to be part of this band or get any writing credits, then I'll just let y'all write the whole album and then I'll come in and play drums,'" he recalls to Exclaim! "I finally started getting more accepted and I think my value was appreciated and I became somewhat a member of the band. But it took a little while. It took a couple of years of having to prove myself."
In keeping with Blink-182's themes, the band choose the punny title Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, which wins out against If You See Kay and Genital Ben (a play on the TV series Gentle Ben). The final name is suggested by guitar tech Larry Palm, and DeLonge allegedly tells Palm he'll "hook him up." When the title is chosen, he's offered $500. Instead, he sues the band for $20,000 and is eventually awarded $10,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Take Off Your Pants debuts at number one on the Billboard charts, and the majority of the music press reviews it favourably, save for NME, who say "it sounds like all that sanitised, castrated, shrink-wrapped 'new wave' crap that the major U.S. record companies pumped out circa 1981 in their belated attempt to jump on the 'punk' bandwagon."
Still, DeLonge is frustrated with the lack of musical evolution, and channels his desire to make post-hardcore into his Box Car Racer project. Rather than hire a studio musician, he asks Travis Barker to drum on the self-titled album (which is again produced by Jerry Finn). It's one of many side projects for Barker, who has also formed the hip-hop-influenced Transplants with Rancid's Tim Armstrong. Despite appearing on the Box Car Racer album, Hoppus allegedly sees this project as a betrayal, and harbours resentment about it for years to come.
"It wasn't meant to be a real band," DeLonge tells MTV. "One of the craziest things about Box Car Racer is that it was the both greatest and the worst thing for Blink. It was obviously the reason why we made that last record, which I thought was a masterpiece, but it also caused a great division in the band."
2003 to 2004
Finally opting to overhaul their sound, the members of Blink-182 rent a house in San Diego in January, 2003. Between there and a later studio setup in Los Angeles, they spend the next nine months writing, recording and mixing their self-titled album with Jerry Finn. The recording time isn't the only difference — rather than use the same guitar tones and amp selections throughout, they decide to approach each song with an entirely different sonic palette. They have over 70 guitars, 30 amplifiers, six drum kits and a variety of other musical items.
The experimentation and long gestation is in part allowed by the dissolution of MCA Records. In addition to restricting the band's creative growth, the label had attempted to penalize the band for failing to deliver a Pants followup by a specific quarter. Once MCA is absorbed by Geffen, however, the band are given a great deal of creative freedom.
Speaking with The Washington Post, Tom DeLonge says, "Geffen came down, heard three songs and said, 'This is the best record you've ever done, this is the record of your career, take as much time as you want, call us when it's done.' It just completely outlined the perspective of putting accounting before creative, and when you're in the entertainment business, you've got to put creative first. It's an art, you've got to look at it like an art, treat it like an art, and then you'll get the best product in the long run."
Blink-182 is characterized by an experimental sound, with unique arrangements, hip-hop influences, ambitious songwriting and the morose, goth-pop sound of "I Miss You." The album features guest vocals from the Cure's Robert Smith. "We sent the music to him in England," DeLonge recalls to Billboard. "I didn't think he would be [interested in contributing] only because, who knew what his perception was of our band in the past? But what he said was, 'Nobody knows what kind of songs you are going to write in the future and nobody knows the full potential of any band. I really like the music you sent me,' and he wanted to do it. And it was just amazing."
The self-titled album is another commercial success for the band, and is also their most critically acclaimed effort to date. They embark on the DollaBill Tour, which offers small club shows with Bubba Sparxxx for one dollar entry. They follow that up with an American tour with No Doubt, and a European tour that concludes with a show in Dublin on December 16, 2004. It will be their last show for over four years.
2005 to 2008
In February 2005, Blink-182 are scheduled to perform at a charity concert in Anaheim alongside No Doubt, Jurassic 5, Jay Z and Linkin Park, among others, but they pull out mere hours before the show. Geffen later issues a press release explaining that the band are going on an "indefinite hiatus." No reason is given, though word soon emerges that DeLonge asked for six months off to spend time with his family, while the other members wanted to continue touring. The trio are reportedly embroiled in loud shouting matches about the direction of the band leading up to the split.
"When Blink went on this hiatus, I sat around and was trying to reorganize the next chapter of my life. I literally stayed awake for three weeks," Tom DeLonge tells MTV. He decides to channel his energy into Angels & Airwaves, a progressive and ambitious pop rock band. Their original lineup features Box Car Racer member David Kennedy, Rocket from the Crypt's Atom Swillard and the Distillers' Ryan Sinn. "I'm trying to create the world's greatest rock band," DeLonge adds.
DeLonge serves as the producer on Angels & Airwaves' debut album We Don't Need to Whisper. The album is an ambitious, futuristic concept record that shaves off any punk edge in favour of slick modern rock.
Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker continued to play music together in the band +44 — a project they conceived in England after DeLonge told them he was considering a long hiatus from Blink. Working again with Jerry Finn, +44's When Your Heart Stops Beating is released in 2006. It features pointed lyrics about Blink-182's dissolution — the single "No It Isn't" includes the lyrics, "This is not goodbye / This is I can't stand you."
In 2007, DeLonge quickly follows up We Don't Need to Whisper with another ambitious Angels & Airwaves album, I-Empire. Studio sessions begin on a second +44 album, too, but they're stalled as Barker focuses on Transplants and his various hip-hop remixes. Mark Hoppus begins work on a solo album, as well as work as a producer for bands like Motion City Soundtrack. Barker adds more work to his resume with a solo album (Give the Drummer Some, which is finally released in 2011) and a collaboration with Adam Goldstein (aka DJ AM) known as TRV$DJAM.
In 2008, tragedy strikes the band in a number of ways. In July, Jerry Finn suffers a cerebral haemorrhage followed by a massive heart attack. He is taken off of life support on August 21 and dies at the age of 39. The producer's final album, Morrissey's Years of Refusal, is delayed until 2009.
In September 2008, Barker and DJ AM are the only survivors of a Lear jet crash. Barker is brutally burned and requires 16 surgeries, as well as multiple blood transfusions. The accident also results in him developing post-traumatic stress disorder. "I opened a door, and my hands caught fire," he recalls to Rolling Stone. "I immediately soaked up with jet fuel and caught fire. And then I was on fire, running like hell." DJ AM dies of a drug overdose in 2009.
A tearful Tom DeLonge watches news of the crash on television, and realizes he wants to play music with the band again.
2009 to 2013
Four years after the announcement of their hiatus, the band appear onstage at the 2009 Grammy Awards. They update their website with a statement that says, "We're back. We mean, really back. Picking up where we left off and then some. Friendships reformed."
The group embark on a reunion tour with Weezer and Fall Out Boy in 2009. They also started working on demos, completing the single "Up All Night."
Following a European tour in 2010, Blink-182 cancel some 2011 dates in order to work on their next studio album. DeLonge suggests that the band work on the album separately so that he can stay with his family in San Diego while Hoppus and Barker work in Los Angeles. Rather than replace Finn, the album is produced by the band, and each member gets his own sound engineer. Adding to the clutter, Blink-182 have four separate managers during the recording. DeLonge and Hoppus go for months at a time without speaking to one another, only communicating through their managers.
Growing frustrated with the band's inner conflict, Geffen issues a deadline — they must complete the album by July 31, 2011 or face a financial penalty. They turn in the album in August, and Neighborhoods is released in September. The group sign sponsorship deals with AT&T, Hot Topic and Best Buy, among others.
Neighborhoods is met with lukewarm critical reception (save for, strangely, NME, who call it "bravely progressive"), and many fans consider it a disjointed and uneven record. The Swedish pop punk band Future Idiots re-record the album in the "classic" Blink-182 mode for Bandcamp, releasing it as Neighborhoods & Morningwoods. It only reinforces the idea that the album is the band's first major misstep.
Speaking with Exclaim!, Barker says he enjoys Neighborhoods. "I listened to it the other day. I meant to just listen to one song and just kind of refresh myself on [single] 'Up All Night,'" he says. "There are some really cool songs on it. I don't think it sounds great. I think it sounds like Blink-182, but it sounds like we were left to our own devices. Some parts went a little too long. Some choruses could have been bigger, in my opinion."
The band depart from Geffen in 2012 and quickly release Dogs Eating Dogs, a five-song EP that's recorded with all three members working in the same studio together. The songs are much closer to the Blink-182 sound from before the hiatus, offering focused pop melodies with the occasional strange left turn (rapper Yelawolf appears on closing track "Pretty Little Girl").
Still, conflicts plague the band. In 2014, DeLonge abruptly quits, only to beg Hoppus and Barker to ignore his emails the day after. Their strained interpersonal relationships mirror those of Metallica in Some Kind of Monster. In his autobiography Can I Say, Barker admits that he forwarded intra-band emails to Tony Robbins in the hopes that the self-help guru could offer some group therapy.
2015 to 2016
Blink-182's follow-up to Neighborhoods is initially scheduled for release in 2013, but the band don't get into a studio until January, 2015. DeLonge says they plan to record it in a residential home —the same process as Blink-182 — but as it approaches, a manager informs Hoppus and Barker that he needs personal time to focus on non-musical activities, including multiple novels, film projects and studio albums from his Angels & Airwaves project.
Hoppus and Barker release a statement claiming that DeLonge quit the band, though a public back-and-forth suggests DeLonge has not decided whether or not he actually quit. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Hoppus says, "This is exactly the same sequence of events that happened when Blink broke up ten years ago. We had things booked in advance and we get an email from Tom's manager saying, 'Tom's out indefinitely.'"
Rather than cancel a scheduled appearance at the Musink festival, the band hires the Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba as a fill-in for DeLonge. The new trio instantly click, and they begin work on the seventh Blink-182 album. In an interview with Das Process, Hoppus calls their split with DeLonge a "friendly divorce."
In September 2015, the new lineup begin writing their next album. Rather than self-produce, they seek out help from John Feldmann — their first producer since Jerry Finn. A former member of Goldfinger, Feldmann has since emerged as a major player in the world of stadium-sized pop punk, working with everyone from Good Charlotte to 5 Seconds of Summer.
"When Aquabats would tour, we'd play with Goldfinger quite a bit," Barker recalls to Exclaim! "He's just cool, man. He big-brothered me a lot when I was young and stupid. He'd take me away from tour and go grab some food or talk to me about music. He was always very supportive, he always told me 'You're going to go far.' He was always a fan and I was always a fan of him too, but I didn't understand how great he was until I got into the studio with him as a producer."
By the end of 2015, Blink-182 have written and recorded over 30 demos. They plan to record them with Feldmann in early 2016, but the producer has a different idea. "He came into the studio and we played him a bunch of stuff, and he said, 'I think there are some cool ideas on here. But why don't you guys come into my studio tomorrow and start a song from scratch, and we'll see what happens when you get into my studio,'" Hoppus recalls. "So the next day, we went into John's studio and wrote two songs that day. Then the next day, we wrote two more songs. [We] just kept going in and writing more and more music — we never even really went back and listened to the 30 songs that we'd written prior to walking in with John."
Feldmann also encourages the band to write quickly and not overthink what they're doing. "He would literally say things like, 'I'm going to go make myself a cup of coffee. When I come back, I want you to have a chorus written for the song, or lyrics done for the song,'" Hoppus tells Exclaim!, admitting that Feldmann's speed was a welcome change for his writing process. "If I'm left alone with a song long enough, I will just beat it to death. I'll pick at it and try to improve it and whatever, and sometimes it's not the best. Sometimes for me, what's best is first thought, best thought."
Unlike the sessions for Neighborhoods, Blink-182 record their album California together as a cohesive unit. "Matt was there every day. I was there every day up until the Grammys, and I had a couple of TV shows that I had to do with Pitbull," Barker tells Exclaim! "Other than that, everyone was there every day. That was a big difference too. It wasn't like 'Hey man, I don't want to drive out to L.A., I want to work in my studio.' There was none of that.
"It was very much, we're all in the same room, we're all in the same studio, everyone was having fun. It was just great vibes man. There was never ego. If we felt like we were working on something that we didn't think was heading anywhere, we would stab it right away, just kill it, squash it and erase it from the computer. There was no lack of creativity or ideas. For me it was probably the best it's ever been."
California is released in July through BMG. While songs like "Cynical" and "San Diego" seem to offer themes of nostalgia, Hoppus tells Exclaim! that Blink-182 are as good as they've ever been. "In fact, as opposed to pining for the old days, I feel like right now is the old days," he says. "There's kind of a unity of purpose, an enthusiasm, an excitement in the band that hasn't been there for a few years."
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (MCA, 2001)
Before they completely dismantled their formula on their self-titled release, Blink-182 flirted with some major changes on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Like the sort-of-subversive pun within its album title, Take Off Your Pants adds some complexity to the band's teen angst anthems. "Anthem Part Two" and "Reckless Abandon" are perfect depictions of high school faux-intellectual idiocy, even if they're written and performed by adult men.
Oh, and if Pants and Jacket's earth-shattering hits "First Date" and "The Rock Show" sound like Blink-182 doing paint-by-numbers, that's because they are. In the liner notes for the album's vinyl reissue, Mark Hoppus explains that the band's label was concerned by the lack of clear singles on the release, so he and DeLonge responded by each writing a tongue-in-cheek Blink song, and those two mega-hits were the result. Even when they're experimenting, Blink-182 strike the most resonant chords by playing things stupidly and satisfyingly simple.
Enema of the State (MCA, 1999)
Following the breakout success of 1997's Dude Ranch, this was the record that cemented Blink-182's place in the mainstream. Enema of the State was another absurdly profitable record, repeating and building on Dude Ranch's successful formula, balancing Hoppus and DeLonge numbers across a lengthy runtime. That said, the band upped the production value significantly, offering intensely slick, speaker-crackling guitar crunch and shiny vocal tracks anchored by Travis Barker's absurdly busy drumming style.
Ironically, the next generation of boy bands like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer would draw far more influence from this album than the late '90s boy bands that Blink themselves parodied in their "All the Small Things" video. In other words, the album could create an Ouroboros argument about what's punk or not, if you let it; it's better to just turn that part of your brain off and bask in the pop perfection of tracks like "Wendy Clear" and "Going Away to College," the latter of which hinted, along with "Adam's Song," at the more mature direction their future work would take.
Further, if the slick production sheen is a little too much, you should certainly hunt down the Enema of the State demo recordings, which offer the album's best tracks recorded in glorious lo-fi.
Dude Ranch (MCA, 1997)
It's nearly impossible to determine the best Blink-182 album, but Dude Ranch is arguably the purest distillation of what Blink-182 is all about — unbelievably juvenile dick jokes and harmonized heartache, with plenty of suburban existential angst.
From the get-go, Hoppus and DeLonge's vocals make for perfect foils on "Pathetic" — and they both live up to their strengths throughout. "Dammit" is the sort of novelty pop song that one-hit wonders are made of, but material like "Josie" and "Enthused" is just as strong. And it's hard to believe that we could empathize with a young man's aimless ennui on a song that bears the title "Dick Lips," but here we are.
Dude Ranch is also notable because it's the last Blink album to feature drummer Scott Raynor, who was booted from the band on tour due to substance abuse issues. His replacement, Travis Barker, is much more of a showboat, but on Dude Ranch, Raynor's humble snare rolls and simple oompah pop punk beats have plenty of value. Rather than make himself the centre of attention, Raynor is happy to be the backbone for DeLonge and Hoppus's perfect harmonies here.