Blink-182 was always an easy band to like, albeit one it wasn’t easy to admit doing so.
After all, this is a band whose breakthrough single featured the trio running naked through the streets of California. This is a band whose co-lead singer (Tom DeLonge) had the voice of a 16-year-old, even into his thirties. Hell, this is a band that named one of its albums Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (think about it for a minute).
In short, copping to being a Blink-182 fan, particularly as someone north of 25, can certainly be a cross to bear. And yet, I come to you today to admit as much – I am a longtime fan of Blink-182, a quality band that is underappreciated by many in rock circles.
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When considering the best pop-rock outfits of the past 20 years, certain names quickly come to mind. Foo Fighters make music that is accessible yet speaks to politics and current events (plus, Dave Grohl is just so damn charismatic). No Doubt did things just differently enough to be unique, but just mainstream enough to rule the pop charts. Weezer produced two great albums before things kinda went south. And Green Day recorded Dookie and American Idiot, two polar-opposite albums that nonetheless rank among the best pop-rock releases of the past 25 years.
Blink-182? The trio’s two biggest releases were the aforementioned Take Off Your Pants… and one titled Enema of the State. On the surface, this was not a band that aspired to much beyond fart jokes and toilet humor.
But to view this band, which plays Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion on July 31, purely from the surface would be incorrect.
It goes all the way back to 1997’s Dude Ranch, a mini-break of sorts for the band and a release that certainly featured its share of sophomoric humor (see “I’m Sorry” and “Apple Shampoo”). To counter that, however, Dude Ranch featured deeper tracks, such as “Dammit,” “Untitled” and “Dick Lips." Don’t be fooled by the title of the last song, which ranks among the band’s best tracks and one that pretty clearly speaks to an abusive home.
Jump forward two years to Blink-182’s smash breakthrough, the aforementioned Enema…, and a similar trend emerges. Tracks such as “Aliens Exist” and “The Party Song” coat the album with a sophomoric sheen, while “Anthem” and “Adam’s Song” — the latter essentially a teen suicide note set to music — play in stark contrast.
Point being, the trio of Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and DeLonge (who has since left the band and been replaced by former Alkaline Trio singer/guitarist Matt Skiba) made a career of walking the line between high school humor and adulthood, even when the trio were well into the latter. This made them beloved by the high-school circuit (and those recently removed from it) and reviled by many who viewed them in the same vein as pop-punk also-rans like New Found Glory, Good Charlotte and Simple Plan.
Blink-182 grew up over the past decade, though the band left the public consciousness for a while after 2003’s underrated self-titled album (it’s the one that featured “I Miss You,” arguably the band’s most poignant single). The band went on hiatus. Side projects emerged. The divide widened between co-front men Hoppus and DeLonge, who recorded the 2011 comeback album, Neighborhoods, in separate studios in Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively. The album failed to resonate commercially, and DeLonge (a weird cat if ever there was one) quit or was fired (accounts vary) last year.
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But an interesting thing happened once Skiba joined the group. Unlike other rock outfits that replace key personnel to faltering effect (we’re looking at you, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Blink-182 appears reinvigorated by the Skiba-DeLonge swap. Recent concert reviews are favorable, and the band’s latest release, California, is a true return to form for the trio.
Sure, California isn’t going to convert any new fans. DeLonge was always the most ambitious and experimental of the group, and in his absence, Blink-182 returns to catchy pop-rock, albeit of a more mature variety than in years past. Sure, tracks like “Brohemian Rhapsody” and "She's Out of Her Mind" are as sophomoric as ever, but those are few and far between. Instead, tunes like “Sober” and “Bored to Death” showcase a band that, while nostalgic, has a legitimate stake in the future.
Albums like California and Neighborhoods signify a band whose maturity has finally caught up to its talent. The band was always a likable outfit that crafted catchy pop-rock tunes. Now it’s just a little bit easier to admit as much.