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Enema of the State

[MCA; 1999]

By ; August 17, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

I must have been 10. Driving down East Wynnewood (pronounced: Win-wood) Road, my mom slowing to a stop at the intersection at Bowman Avenue — a few blocks from my elementary school — me sitting in one of the captain seats of our forest green Mercury minivan talking about what I wanted to get at Borders.

“It’s an album called Enema Of The State,” I said.

“Jonathan!” she said after a beat. “Do you know what that word means?”

“It’s like enemy, right?”

“No. Just don’t say it.”

I went home empty handed that day. (And I didn’t learn what an enema was until a friend explained it—but that’s neither here nor there.)

I don’t remember where or when I first heard Blink-182, but it was one of two places: I was a pre-pre-teen discovering music on my own for the first time either on the radio, or MTV, where I spent my afternoons deftly flipping back and forth between cartoons on Nickelodeon and music videos (channels 38 and 40 respectively), hoping my parents wouldn’t walk down to the basement and catch me ogling—completely dumbfounded and confused by basic biology in that pre-pre-pubescent kind of way — video girls. What I do remember most is the video for “All The Small Things.”

At the turn of the millennium the music world as I knew it could be divided into two factions: rock and pop. (I think hip-hop was kind of on my radar, but I didn’t really become aware of it till The Marshall Mathers LP dropped in 2000, but that’s a whole different essay entirely.) On one side there was the Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC, and Britney Spears; on the other Green Day, Limp Bizkit (yeah, I listened to “Break Stuff” and “Rollin’” when I was 10. You didn’t?), and Blink-182. And because you’re at that impressionable young age when you first start to realize that girls are, y’know, like pretty and nice but there’s still a part of you that’s convinced your friends will think you’re a sissy if you like what they like or hang out with them, that meant you sure as hell were not listening to the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears despite the fact that maybe, deep down, you thought it was kind of catchy. No matter, you were going to make fun of it mercilessly because that’s what the maxim dictated: “That stuff’s for girls.” So then here I am watching TRL and there’s Blink-182 – three tattooed guys in baggy pants and spiked hair calling out every cliché in Lou Perlman’s book and, most importantly, the song fucking rocked. If bubblegum pop was the obvious enemy, these three had to be the good guys.

Ok, autobiography is not what you’re here for. But Blink-182 is one of those bands that came at just the right time for a lot of (for lack of a much better term) millennials. This was the first rock band that I loved. This was the first band that a lot of my peers loved. Blink-182 was, for many of us, the first rock band that we loved that our parents (a) did not introduce us to, or (b) did not necessarily want us listening to. I eventually snagged a copy of Enema Of The State thanks to a friend who burnt me the CD (probably the same one that informed me of specific hygiene products) and wore that disc out. These guys rocked. These guys were badass. These guys made fart jokes. At that age I think it would have been impossible not to love Blink-182.

And then I stopped loving Blink-182. Because by the time I was 13 that first maxim was replaced by another stupid one: “If it’s popular, it’s not cool.” Granted, Blink-182 was never the biggest rock band in the world, but Enema Of The State did go five-times Platinum in the U.S., while its singles fared quite well on Top 40 radio and dominated rock and alt-rock stations. Their follow-up (not counting their hilarious live recordThe Mark, Tom, And Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back!)), 2001’s Take Off Your Pants And Jacket moved over 2 million, and in 2003 their eponymous record pushed 1 million. Impressive numbers, considering the record industry had already begun its decline. Point is, these guys were popular, which meant that they wrote boring, hackneyed, and uncreative songs. What I initially saw as genuine rebellion, was now, obviously, commoditized rebellion. Budding music snob that I was, I couldn’t be caught dead listening to Blink-182 even if I still liked the music; it was easier to just talk shit about them. Besides, Nirvana was so much cooler — their frontman had killed himself!

All this matters because I was an idiot (I was also an idiot when I was 10 in re: liking Limp Bizkit; but again, unrelated). Last summer I became friends with a guy who had a pretty similar musical background to mine, not just in terms of artists and bands we liked, but at what points during our lives we liked them the most. Blink-182 was one of the bands that kept coming up, and next thing I knew I’d re-downloaded their entire discography and was listening to Dude Ranch, Enema Of The State, and Take Off Your Pants And Jacket as regularly as I had 11 years before. None more so than Enema Of The State.

It was Blink’s third record and first with new drummer, Travis Barker, a stoic, fully inked, spikey-haired drumming machine. Barker was impossible to ignore even though he never directly sought attention, and his addition evened out the Blink-182 equilibrium with bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge splitting vocal duties — a dynamic best described as: Tom a nasally, shrill Beavis to Mark’s comparatively sonorous, low-pitched Butthead — leaving Blink without a de-facto frontman or any sort of popular hierarchy. The difference between 97’s Dude Ranch, with original drummer Scott Raynor manning the sticks, and Barker’s debut on Enema is staggering. Both are quick, talented drummers, but Raynor just sounds sloshy and uncertain; specifically, his snare hits are mushy and muffled compared to Barker’s taut pops and cracks that usher out the splashy, opening moments of Enema’s first song “Dumpweed,” refined thwacks landing on each half-beat with such a precise elasticity and perpetual force that you’d think they could cause whiplash.

“Dumpweed” immediately sets the tone of Enema Of The State: songs about liking girls, hating girls, hating your parents, being stupid, being immature; songs with up-tempo, driving drums that you can’t help but try to tap along with, bass lines that flip easily between tense and rubbery, plenty of shredding, and enough palm-muted power chords that build up during the verses, paving the way for just as many shout-out-loud choruses. It’s a brilliantly crafted record, the shamelessly pop melodies and structure constantly at odds with the band’s anti-pop image. Of course you’ve got your hits like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All The Small Things,” two of the record’s finest songs, the former a twisted, self-depreciating examination of man-children, the latter a hook-riddled love song whose chorus makes both very little sense and all the sense in the world. Elsewhere, tracks like “Don’t Leave Me” and “Going Away To College” are rife with honest reflections on unfulfilled promises and crippling insecurities; while “Dysentary Gary” and “Mutt” take the low road, both cuts about a guy whose lost a girl to someone else so he masks his misery with a shit-eating grin (choice lyric from “Dysentary Gary”: “He’s a player, diarrhoea giver, trying to grow his hair out / Cause his friends were listening to Slayer”). Standout “Aliens Exists” uses X-Files-era paranoia as a way of tackling loneliness, detachment, and neglect, topics the band deals with more candidly on closer, “Anthem.”

Honestly, I think Enema Of The State is a close-to-perfect album. There’s not a single song that feels half-assed or uninspired or cheesy — Mark, Tom, and Travis are masters of form. There may not be a whole lot of musical innovation going on, but when it came to capturing the dissatisfaction, confusion, and angst of being 15 — and the humor that stems from all of it — no one did it better than Blink-182. But, granted, they also did those things on their debut Cheshire Cat and then on ‘97’s Dude Ranch; just listen to “M&Ms” or “Dammit.” What made Enema Of The State different, and more significant, is it marked the point where Blink-182 became, for all intents and purposes, a serious band.

“Adam’s Song” casts a long shadow over the entire record. It was, at that point, the darkest song the band had ever written, they placed it smack in the middle, right in between “Dysentary Gary” and “All The Small Things,” and it’s arguably Enema’s best song. The guitars are tuned down, it’s slow, and it’s pretty damn sad — the lyrics recreating vignettes of a suburban purgatory and a slowly crumbling marriage and family. Of course there’s that build during the bridge with the appropriately bleak, piano that rumbles until it releases into the song’s final chorus, a build that leads only to an anti-catharsis. It’s a pop trick, obviously, but Blink-182 nail it, and suddenly the isolation and delusions of “Aliens Exist” seem much eerier, and “What’s My Age Again?” feels more like a warning rather than a gleeful celebration of immortal immaturity.

This is what makes Enema Of The State such an important album. When it came out, the pop-punk scene had been growing smoothly and steadily, with bands like Green Day and The Offspring seeing plenty of success (fun fact: The Offspring’s ‘94 record Smash, released on Epitaph, is the biggest selling independent record of all time) and others like Disconnected, MxPx, and NOFX gaining moderate mainstream recognition. Green Day especially played a crucial role as the genre’s first success story, bearing the brunt of the “Sell out!” accusations, which allowed their successors a bit more room to breathe at the top. Soon the genre/movement had it’s own traveling circus, Warped Tour, it’s own aesthetic, and fit in neatly with the rise of the X-Games and energy drinks — this was music for riled up adolescents who wanted nothing more than to piss off their boomer parents who paid for their concert tickets. Enema Of The State changed all that because even with all of its toilet humor, it demanded the genre take a good hard look at itself, maybe take itself a little more seriously, and admit that, yeah, maybe I do actually have some emotions that I’d like to express in ways that aren’t covered in five-layers of bullshit. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a record (made, mind you, by three guys in their mid-20s) that so accurately captures the myriad hormone-riddled emotions coursing through a teenager’s mind — sex, sadness, solipsism, stupidity, and all.

But this is also why people hate Blink-182, because what happened next complicates everything. Enema’s success perpetuated pop-punk’s viability on mainstream radio, which is where Blink’s progeny — bands like Fall Out Boy, Simple Plan, and New Found Glory — would receive a decent amount of airplay. These bands heralded the next evolution of pop-punk, which involved a cross-contamination of punk, pop, hard-/slowcore, emo, and not to mention elements of goth culture, creating a Megazord of branded rebellion, which you could purchase in bulk at the Hot Topic in your neighborhood mall. Honestly at this stage the music is kind of whatever — I’ll admit to thinking Simple Plan’s “I’d Do Anything” is a pretty solid pop-punk song — but lyrically these tracks were much more saccharine and too overt, made even worse by frontmen who seemed to whine more than sing. All of these bands openly adore Blink-182, and Blink-182 adores them back, they’re all on Warped Tour together and Mark Hoppus is making cameos in their videos, and by 2003, when Blink releases their eponymous, and (at that time) final, record it’s just as sad and mopey as all this stuff (though they do it pretty well; I’ve got a serious soft spot for “I Miss You” and “Feeling This”).

That, however, isn’t even the end of it: Remember how FOB and NFG were all getting a decent amount of Top 40 radio play? That meant the next generation of kids listening to those bands were hearing them side-by-side with Top 40 pop and dance, and so when they started creating their own music that aforementioned Megazord suddenly gains a few more limbs in the form of mass-produced dance and pop music. These groups, like All Time Low (who count R&B producer The-Dream as a frequent collaborator), Cobra Starship, Paramore, and Metro Station — not to mention the serious fringe acts like Blood On The Dancefloor (look them up at your own risk) — are, again, on Warped Tour or the Honda Civic Tour, and you get exclusive ticket/merch/CD deals at Hot Topic, and oh! there’s Mark Hoppus in an All Time Low video cracking wise about how ATL and FOB rip off Blink-182. Today, Blink-182 are basically the elder statesmen of this whole movement, and their continued involvement in it immediately renders them guilty by association. From plenty of perspectives, it’s easy to draw a direct line between Blink-182 and Blood On The Dance Floor; and, critically, that’s an immediate death sentence, retroactively negating anything great Blink-182 has done. In contrast, Weezer is very much involved in today’s pop-punk scene (Rivers Cuomo co-wrote a song on All Time Low’s newest record, and did some guest vocals on a Simple Plan song this year), but they still keep themselves at somewhat of a distance (e.g. the recent shows alongside Flaming Lips; the awesome line-up on the Weezer cruise), allowing us a non-distorted view of “The Blue Album” and Pinkerton.

As of right now, Blink-182 isn’t afforded that kind of luxury. Though that might be changing: recently, the obvious influence of Blink-182 has been creeping into the music of plenty of indie darlings. Best Coast and Wavves are probably the best example — both So-Cal natives who openly admit to loving the band (Best Coast covered “Dammit” on her last tour); and Hoppus has reciprocated on both his Fuse TV show and Twitter — but you can also hear Blink in the frantic, antsy tunes of Cloud Nothings, and hell, even though they might not be channeling Blink directly, Fucked Up’s new record is chock-full of pop-punk tropes. Just as important, over the past year or so I’ve talked to many others my age, who (I guess to put it bluntly) aren’t involved in the Warped Tour scene, but remember Blink-182 as one of the defining bands of their childhood and their albums remain all-time favorites. If you wanted to be cynical, you could chalk it up to a side effect of the current 90s revivalism, or, even worse, cry, “ironic hipster appreciation!” But frankly that’s just not the case.

Last September New York Magazine music critic Nitsuh Abebe wrote an article called “How Pavement Became the Greatest Band of the Nineties This Year,” pointing out that it was time for Gen Xers to take their victory lap and have their reunion tours; and I don’t think it came to anyone’s surprise that Pavement was the band leading the way. It’s not like Pavement was critically overlooked or underappreciated that everyone suddenly realized they’d blanked on; they created, defined, and epitomized ’90s indie rock slack, and rightly reaped the rewards of their brilliance—a huge reunion tour and topping a few best-of lists. I think we’re going to see something similar happen with Blink-182. Now I’m not saying Blink-182 is the best band of the ’90s, nor am I putting them on the same level as Pavement (you can lower your torches and pitchforks now). What I am saying is that as any generation comes of age, they look back and elevate the cultural events that they deem most important — and for Gen Y, I think that’s going to include Blink-182, whether those millenials are still Warped Tour fans or indie geeks. Especially on the side of the latter — where admitting you like such a band can still be greeted with haughty sneers — enough of us care about Blink-182 too much to allow them to be sucked into world that they, admittedly, do belong in, but should not be exclusively defined by. Because when I listen to Enema Of The State I’m not thinking about how I need to hide it from others, or how ironic it is. I’m thinking about what it was like to be 14, what it was like to be that confused and frustrated and uncertain and so amused by the dumbest stuff. Enema Of The State isn’t just an accurate depiction of all those things, it’s one of those rare records that allows you to relive those moments, a record where every song conjures up a specific memory or emotion that you could have only felt when you were a teenager. And as awful as those feelings could be, there’s something about them that should be cherished.

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