Photo by Liam Nicholls/Newsmakers
Blink-182's 'Enema Of The State' Will Never Actually Turn 20
The truth is, punk has rarely gone pop. Sure, there’s popular punk. There’s punk bands whose iconic logos and contributions to fashion and established fan bases (with said logos emblazoned on their bodies) will never die. And there’s pop-punk, of course, which has more or less come to encompass just about any band whose music is catchy, fast, and played on guitars (and it helps if they’ve ever done a stint on the Warped Tour). But you can count the ones who’ve really broken pop in America — sales, charts, radio, TV, mainstream magazine covers — on your fingers: Ramones, Green Day, The Offspring, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Paramore. And right in the middle of those names, you have Blink-182 in 1999, crashing Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC's neverending TRL party with the very few power chords of "All the Small Things," a song whose "na na nas" have entered the Hall of Fame with the likes of "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," "Hey Jude" and Steam’s "Kiss Him Goodbye."
Why did three tattooed Californians resonate so much and become more popular than several dozen of their Warped tourmates? Well, more than any of the above-named bands or their peers, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and drummer Travis Barker gave themselves a role to play. Enema Of The State was their third album, but it was their first to write consciously with an audience in mind. And that audience was young.
There was no shortage of rock bands playing to underdeveloped minds in 1999, the year when Limp Bizkit made "stick it up your — yeah!" a summer rallying cry. However, Blink came into the public eye not just mocking norms (behold the nudist breakthrough video for "What's My Age Again?") but satirizing them (enter the boy band-puncturing "All the Small Things" clip). Plenty of teenagers hated boy bands, and Eminem threatened to beat them up, but Blink-182 dared to envision themselves in the role, playing the Regular Guys striking those absurd poses in front of wind machines, turning something expensive cheap, showing what it actually looked like cut down to earth. They did their own stunts, and people liked that. While Fred Durst really sounded like he wanted to break something, and Eminem really did seem to live many of the nightmarish situations he joked about, Blink-182 didn't come off as hateful at all.
This depends, of course, on how much "Dumpweed"'s infamous chorus "I need a girl that I can train" rubs you the wrong way in 2019. And of course, that's how Enema Of The State kicks off, putting its best foot forward directly into its mouth. 20 years and far too few gun laws later, it’s harder to see what made toxic masculinity so appealing in the first place, but the line achieved its puerile success not only because it was so hard to take seriously but because the rest of the song is about how scared DeLonge is. The fact it’s immediately followed on the album by Hoppus' "Don't Leave Me," which gives the girl the last word ("She said don’t let the door hit your ass") helps. That two of the album's three big hits are rooted in romance ("All the Small Things") and empathy ("Adam’s Song") rather than the rubber-glove humor they were known for helps, too. Blink-182 didn’t sound like they wanted revenge on their high school, and they didn’t sound like they hated themselves, either. What they sounded like were boys that teenagers could relate to rather than ones promising girls the moon in perfect harmony from their private jet.
That also means they sang about diarrhea.
"Dysentery Gary," positioned directly before those aforementioned more tender singles in Enema’s track listing, helped underscore just how powerless (but in no way humorless) Blink’s masculinity sounded through DeLonge’s whine. "Girls are such a drag" he mutters while trying unconvincingly to come up with reasons that a girl should pick him instead of the perceived jerk who presumably won out: "He's a player, diarrhea giver!" Sure, "your mom's a whore" hews a little too close to the sort of trauma that awaits women who dare view their own comments sections. But they leave it at that and go on to contemplate suicide with "Adam's Song" with no small amount of love for the depressed protagonist.
That lightness and sociability is oddly what sticks out about Enema Of The State, an album that may be 20 years old but will be frozen forever at 17. Five years prior, Green Day's epochal, excellent Dookie grappled with social conditions like apathy, sexual frustration and watching the people you grew up with shrink in the rearview mirror. But it was downright apocalyptic compared to Enema’s teen movie, which is rarely deeper than the American Pie-style cinema of the period. Hoppus and DeLonge sang about the dilemmas of parties and college and the slut-shamey realization that even the horniest dude at the party might lose his nerve when he finally gets a chance with the girl who isn't wearing underwear. DeLonge also gets to sing "Aliens Exist," an outlier that is what it says it is, and somehow became the defining aspect of his legacy as he premieres a new History Channel series about UFOs while Blink soldiers on without him in 2019.
But the legacy of Enema Of The State will always be defined by what it accomplished: remarkably clean-sounding guitars, the hyperactive drumming of Barker (an all-time rock drummer finally getting his spotlight) and episodes of adolescent romance so silly that an entire second verse of the first single could be devoted to the transcript of a prank phone call. Just because one chorus lamented that "some girls try too hard" didn’t mean that millions of young women didn't get the underlying joke that many more guys don't try hard enough. And if these three couldn't solve their relationship problems, at least they helped make high school easier by providing some good jokes about it. What's their age again?