Summertime. A time for sun, sunburn, and that turn of the century pop-punk playlist you dust off every few years. A few hours of power probably no longer remind you of “better” times, seeing as you were young, dumb, and just a touch awkward, but sometimes it’s good to revisit the times that, like it or not, remain a core part of the delightfully immature, crushingly poignant, and oft-hilarious Atticus-clad period now known as growing up.
Naturally, the band that blazed this fucked-up trail for millions of fucked-up kids consisted of three chaps best known for running naked through the streets of LA and sticking a porn star on their album cover. That album is Enema of the State, and unlike the rest of us, it has matured quite beautifully, both in sound and thematic reminiscence.
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Looking back, the rise of blink-182 makes sense. The charts in 1999 were bookended by boy bands and shouty boy bands (a.k.a. nu-metal), with Eminem somewhere in the middle forcing hip-hop into the bedrooms of middle-class suburbia. Meanwhile, the mega mainstream success of the mid-90s punk-rock revival, led by Green Day and The Offspring, was fading.
Enema of the State was the perfect tonic: a Southern California-tinged, 35-minute breakneck assault of offbeat power pop that became a universal release for much of the pent up social frustration, mental anguish, and sexual anxiety experienced by everyone who admits the truth about their teenage years.
What set blink apart while thrusting them into that gap in the charts was their unique delivery, which was neither sanitised nor overly angry, but frank and upbeat with a healthy dose of accurate adolescent humour. All Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge did to tap into the minds of kids everywhere was to tell them: we know life sucks, we know you want to pass the time in your room alone, and we know that girl standing there with green eyes and long blonde hair isn’t wearing underwear, but trust us, she isn’t the one and she’ll never be fun, so take a breath and eventually everything will work out.
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Propelling Enema’s relatable lyrical tone was a style of punk that was, and still is seen as both fresh and unwelcome depending on the circles you move(d) in. The debate as to what’s punk and what isn’t is comfortably the stupidest argument in music, and while much of Enema’s success is down to producer Jerry Finn’s insistence on a polished, more accessible “pop” finish, such an approach was necessary to launch blink to the next level. In fact, you only have to look as far as Green Day’s Dookie (1994) and Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves (1995) – also breakout third albums – as proof that slick production pays off, and “credibility” within a space as evolutionary as punk is nothing but a fallacy.
Like their Bay Area brothers, blink’s own 1997 sophomore release Dude Ranch demonstrated great potential, but was oh-so-raw in execution (the 2000 live album The Mark, Tom and Travis Show is the best place to hear it turned up to 11), and while many point to the overwhelmingly impactful addition of Travis Barker’s frantic beats and off-centre fills (former drummer Scott Raynor left the band in 1998 during a battle with alcoholism), the reality is that, without Finn, Enema would have represented a modest step forward ahead of Dude Ranch, rather than the supercharged effort that left it in the dust.
Having said that, nothing should be taken away from the quality of Hoppus and DeLonge’s song writing. The three-piece punk group wasn’t exactly a new concept in 1999, but sharing writing and lead vocal responsibilities provided the band an edge, thanks to the distinct yet flawlessly intertwined styles and personalities of its dual frontmen.
The bombastic whining of ‘Dumpweed’ – still blink’s finest opener – establishes both DeLonge’s newfound wild noodlings and the welcome variety in tempo heard throughout Enema, prompted by Barker’s refusal to conform to what he considered traditional punk grooves. Though time has proven DeLonge to be the more ambitious, creative, and overall better song writer, it is worth remembering that Hoppus’ sensitive and mischievous nature leant itself to some absolute bangers, including ‘Going Away to College’ – the moment when you knew the record was for real – the emotionally-charged suicide exploration, ‘Adam’s Song,’ and of course the band’s first monster hit, ‘What’s My Age Again?’
Not to be outdone, DeLonge leads the second-half charge with ‘All the Small Things,’ the video for which lampooned the very boy bands blink themselves would later be compared to by several of their peers. And then there’s Enema‘s scattered gems of naïve charm, with the likes of ‘Dysentery Gary,’ ‘Mutt,’ and Hoppus’ ‘The Party Song’ bristling with bitter wit in the face of romantic and social hardships.
A remnant of teenage summers defined by scarce success and a shitload of failure, Enema of the State is worth revisiting to reassure yourself that yes, you did indeed make it another 20 years.