The Anniversary

Blink-182 Turns 20


No big band ever really goes away. The Beatles just released a new old song. Talking Heads will sit down together for interviews about how great Stop Making Sense is, deep-seated personal beefs be damned. Even punk, the longtime stronghold against schmaltzy classic rock nostalgia, came around eventually. Jawbreaker, Bikini Kill, and the Replacements all reunited during the 2010s. Operation Ivy could be next. Unless you’re pining for a Smiths or Fugazi reunion, there’s a good chance you’ll get your wish as long as there’s a couple thousand other diehards in a major city and the core band members are more or less still breathing. You could blame boomers for birthing the rock reunion industrial complex (and for the present-day financial straits that necessitate it) or you could compartmentalize your cynicism as the amps kick in, get ready for action, and scream along as guitarist Tom DeLonge yelps, “I GOT NO REGRET RIGHT NOW!”

The first seconds of “Feeling This” still hit like a free Rockstar tallboy you’ve waited an hour for in the Warped Tour heat. They’ve opened hundreds of Blink-182 shows to date, along with the band’s 2003 self-titled album, which turns 20 this Saturday. It was a critical and commercial success upon release, praised in Rolling Stone and Spin, certified platinum within weeks. It’s infectious and jagged, raucous and horny. It’s Blink-182’s last classic LP, and on some days, it’s my favorite.

It’s also the album that ended Blink-182’s golden era. Those days began with 1997’s Dude Ranch and its breakthrough single, “Dammit.” A year later, Team Blink called a hotshot drummer named Travis Barker up to the big leagues, and 1999’s Enema Of The State went supersonic. Typical rockstar pressures commenced: a grueling road schedule, a tension-inducing side project, marriage, divorce, newborn babies at home. Fifteen months after releasing Blink-182, the trio was done. But they didn’t call it a breakup. On February 22, 2005, Blink-182 announced something called an “indefinite hiatus.”

Sixteen-year old me was bummed. Blink-182, experimental and, sigh, mature, was still beloved in my friend group. I don’t quite remember how I learned of the split: some combination of AIM chats, MTV, MySpace, and What I definitely remember is the words they used. Blink-182 were going on indefinite hiatus. I was used to bands breaking up. Broken. Over. Goodbye. What was this newfangled corporate phrasing, offering some sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, Blink-182 could rise again?

Also on the subject of 2003: I can’t stress enough how much of a talking point it was that Blink-182 stopped writing songs like “Dysentery Gary” and dropped a fancypants self-titled (or as bassist Mark Hoppus always insisted, untitled) album 11 years into their career. I don’t remember a single magazine covering this album without some writer trying to drop the punchline, “I guess this is growing up.” But can you really blame them? Blink-182’s previous album was called Take Off Your Pants And Jacket and featured a 42-second song about Hoppus’ grandpa pooping his pants after eating too many hot dogs. Blink-182 features a song about an existential astronaut staring down at Earth from a space capsule, which opens with ambient noise from, as DeLonge boasts in the liner notes, “actual NASA transmissions.” Across Blink-182, there’s also a trip-hop interlude and a dramatic reading of love letters sent between Hoppus’ grandparents during World War II. It’s all a bit much, but the MFA crowd was never Blink-182’s anyway; suburban 16-year olds in Honors English were eating.

Masters of their own Peter Pan syndrome, Blink-182 managed to evolve alongside their much younger audience. By 2003, the new wave of Warped Tour headliners were not dressing like NOFX or writing songs about hating cops and drinking beer. My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy were months away from hitting MTV, and mainstream punk was entering its emo phase. Around the same time, Tom DeLonge cleared his throat, stepped into the vocal booth, and let loose, “WHERE ARE YEWWWWW.”

“I Miss You” is Blink-182’s most enduring song, thanks in large part to its embrace of the Hot Topic zeitgeist: the lyrical nod to Nightmare Before Christmas, the gothic video, Hoppus playing stand-up bass in black-painted nails (a year before Green Day donned eyeliner for American Idiot). Memery aside, it’s a striking love song that doesn’t sound like anything else in Blink’s catalog: the knotty acoustic riff, the cocoon of strings and keys, Barker’s jazz drum shuffle.

“I Miss You” was inspired by Blink-182’s adoration of the Cure, specifically their snappy 1983 single “The Lovecats.” And if you know all that, you probably know where I’m going with this: how Blink-182 upped the sad boy ante and got the actual Robert Smith to sing on the late-album dirge “All Of This.” I’d love to have been in the room when Blink learned the collab was actually happening (Smith’s teenage nieces and nephews helped convince him to do it), but once Blink heard the final version, Smith’s voice alongside DeLonge’s, I wonder if there was any sense of trepidation, any sense of, “Are we sure we want to do this? Did we just get bodied on our own track?” It’s a song of desperate lust, and listening back, it’s striking how Smith’s drawl plumbs so much deeper; the way he lingers over “to shake the sky in two” always hit me hardest.

Smith’s presence would have never fit the sugar rush of Enema or Jacket, but “All Of This” affirms Blink-182’s heightened aspirations. The band spent a ton of time on this thing — close to a year in the studio. The budget was surely ungodly, and producer Jerry Finn, the late great who mixed Dookie and Dear You and produced every Blink record at that point since Enema, earns every penny. The braintrust could have easily gotten lost in the excess, but for every satin-lined indulgence, there’s an arm to pull you back into the circle pit. Barker’s Tazmanian Devil drumming is the obvious lynchpin, but listening back to these songs, DeLonge’s guitars sound downright nasty: the way they blast off and crash on “Obvious,” burrow into your ears on “Violence,” tango with Barker’s “Wipe Out” groove on “Easy Target.” Playing with Barker in Boxcar Racer, the Fugazi- and Quicksand-inspired side project that dropped a solid album in 2002, definitely punched up DeLonge’s playing. With the help of Hoppus’ steady songwriting, the trio’s restless energy still weaves together across Blink-182. Of course, it unwound soon after.

By early 2005, DeLonge, Hoppus, and Barker were more or less communicating via their manager. An in-person band meeting to write a set list ended with the revelation that they had entirely different ideas of how to spend the rest of the year. The next morning, DeLonge quit, prompting the indefinite hiatus. At the time, they’d been working Blink-182’s fourth single, “Always” – a song about yearning for a past relationship.

Four years later they reunited, after Barker barely survived a plane crash that claimed four lives and eventually led to the demise of his close friend, DJ AM. DeLonge moved on again after 2011’s Neighborhoods, replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio as Hoppus and Barker kept Blink going. But in October 2022, DeLonge returned following a seven-year sabbatical chasing aliens, just after Hoppus kicked blood cancer.

In an alternate universe where Hoppus, DeLonge, and Barker never again cross swords, Blink-182 might be revered like a pop-punk In Utero: a brash, contentious record made legendary by the silence that came after it. In our 2023 reality of multiple reunions, the near-death experiences of Barker and Hoppus, and seven years of Skiba-182, Blink-182’s legacy is often lost in life’s shuffle.

For my money, it’s the second best Blink-182 album, and probably the first I’d recommend to a non-fan. I know it’s sacrilege to place Blink-182 above Dude Ranch and Enema, but those two albums occupy such a similar space: jokey, singalong pop-punk whose dividing line is, “Do you prefer a Fat Wreck Chords sound and a replacement level drummer or Pro Tools and a drum god?”

Blink-182 is a different beast. Punks maturing and still kicking ass. A rare rock album full of beats and loops and hip-hop textures that’s actually aged gracefully. A time capsule not just of when we were young, but when we first realized we were starting to grow up. An early sign, 20 years ago, that punk rock nostalgia would reign indefinitely.

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