Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Good News of blink-182

I am a complete apologist for blink-182. In my eyes, they can do nothing wrong. I will listen to anything and everything they release--usually arguing for its worth. Here’s the thing, though: I know that they are just an average band to most people, all things considered. Some may not even consider blink-182 a great band in the canon of punk music. But that doesn’t matter to me. For better or for worse, barring some catastrophic stretch of bad albums, blink-182 will forever be my favorite band.

I realize that this sounds like a ridiculous, dumb claim, pure hyperbole, but I can’t help it. Believe me, I’ve thought it over, and it’s not as crazy as it scans. I’m not saying that they are the only band I will ever voluntarily listen to for the rest of my life. Sure, there will be long stretches of time when I will be obsessed with another band or even genre. But blink’s music will always be there for me when I return. And I always return. Typically right on schedule, around June.

Let’s get some things out of the way: first, they are an absurdly juvenile band, whose combination of bathroom humor and coarse language almost definitely does not hold up in comparison to today’s music. Admittedly, it would be daunting to decide today, right now, that you were going to get into blink. You would have to wade through a lot of childish humor that was genuinely fun when you were in junior high. But that’s not why I come back to blink-182.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you already know some songs by blink-182. They are responsible for some colossal hits that really transcend punk music. Catchy beach songs that high school and college students will (probably?) play forever out of cars and dorm windows. Songs that are perfect for the summer, like “All the Small Things” and “First Date.” But along with the goofy tracks come the emotional ones, as in “Adam’s Song” and “Stay Together for the Kids.” Chances are, even if you haven’t been paying close attention to surf pop punk for the last twenty-five years, you know these and other songs from the Greatest Hits catalogue. As with any single, these songs are hugely important in initiating the uninitiated.

To answer the question about recommended listening to digest the band, I used to say that Enema of the State was their most popular album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was my favorite album, and their self-titled was technically their best album. This statement is, of course, pure nonsense. The fact is, I spent so much time with these albums that I have on blinders and cannot be trusted to recommend just any of their songs. I would love to spend some time going discussing every album (and truthfully, I considered it; I could probably spend a few hundred words on each one), but I decided against it. I will say, you can't go wrong with any album before their hiatus in 2005, and certainly the aforementioned three should not be passed up.

Now, in 2016, we arrive at their newest full-length, California. There are (valid) complaints to be made. It is the very first album to not feature Tom DeLonge--who makes up literally ⅓ of the band, and some would argue means a lot more to the band. Replaced by Alkaline Trio-frontman, Matt Skiba, DeLonge has left to pursue his own devices, which involve (as any blink-pessimist will gladly inform you) legitimately searching for extraterrestrial life. But here’s the thing: Skiba (and his other band for that matter) is actually a great musician. At times, of course it is very easy to miss DeLonge's voice. In fact, on my first listen-through, his absence was always in the back of my mind. But Skiba proves to a very apt replacement.

For what it’s worth, California is a really cool album. I’ve even been heard saying that it’s a perfect record (for them right now). That last bit is important: it’s perfect for them right now. Is it their best album? Far from it. It may not even be in my top five. But for what they are right now--a collection of forty-something pop musicians who rely on a lot of cheap juvenile jokes for popularity--this album sounds just right for the middle of their third decade. The music is still cool; the jokes are still there. They wear their influences on their sleeve. At times, they shred like an early Black Flag record; other times, they proudly showcase their self-proclaimed heroes, the Cure.

I love blink-182, but I can't convince you to love them. All I hope to do is raise some sort of appreciation for a band who is past their prime. They may make (admittedly) generic pop-punk music with crass jokes that are (definitely) less funny now than they were then. But there is something special about them. It's a mistake to take them too seriously, and when they take themselves too seriously is them at their weakest. On the other hand, there are some really terrific tracks on some really fantastic albums, and a lot of fun to be had along the way.