Today, I finally get to launch a new feature: Feedbacks. In Feedbacks, I’m going to look at an unpopular album by a big group, and sort-of review it, but really look at the culture and consequences around the album, as well as any impact it had (and if I had any personal experience with it). First up: blink-182’s untitled/self-titled, depending on who you ask.
I played baseball in grade school. In fifth grade, I remember a friend’s dad driving me and my friend down to a far-off game, and we were listening to the local pop station. At the time, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with music: an only child living with a single mom who listens to Jammin’ Oldies and the local soft rock station has a lot of uphill to climb to music knowledge. But the DJ announced that the next song was by blink-182, and my ears perked up. I’d heard of blink-182 enough to know that they were a “cool” rock band, and the kind of thing I should know to be “cool”. The song starts up, and I hear drum brushes, acoustic guitars, and double bass. I was taken aback.
I imagine that a lot of blink fans at the time had a similar reaction. Come 2003, blink was one of the biggest acts around, and known for crude humor and catchy, radio friendly pop-punk. Hearing a somber, acoustic love song wasn’t a single that fans anticipated, but that’s what “I Miss You” was. After 2 scrappy 90’s pop punk albums and 2 albums that defined pop punk for better and worse in the early 00’s, blink-182 stood apart as The Serious, Experimental One.
It doesn’t exactly start that way, though. Lead single/first track “Feeling This” was still a typically pleasing mid-to-late-era blink single, and second cut “Obvious” riffs awfully hard. Other singles “Down” and “Always” come a few shades darker than “The Rock Show” or “M&Ms”, but are still plenty catchy. And “Go” and “Easy Target” are pop-punk by numbers.
It’s not until “Violence”, built on a drum loop and a nervous riff out of early Modest Mouse, and features DeLonge almost rapping, that things get weird. And even then, the song still has an old blink style chorus. Travis Barker, who’s always had an ear for hip-hop, gets to jam over the piano/drum/bass groove of “The Fallen Interlude”. The biggest “what the shit, blink?” moment comes during “All of This”, a moody, spacey, acoustic-tinged number that doesn’t get weird until you hear the Robert Smith contributing vocals.
Featuring Robert Smith on blink-182 is pretty on the nose for this record. The album’s tendency towards atmospheric keyboards, flanged guitar, and thematically dark lyrics show the influence of Smith’s The Cure all over. Even more than the acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drum loops, what’s still the most surprising part of blink-182 is how dark and (relatively) mature it is. Even when blink did serious songs in the past, they still felt adolescent; “Stay Together For the Kids” came from the kids, and “Adam’s Song” starts losing relevance once you’re old enough to legally drink. By comparison, the confusion of “Stockholm Syndrome”, the loneliness of “Asthenia”, or watching a relationship crumble like “Always” looks at things from a noticeably older view. It’d be like running into your high school’s class clown 3 years after graduation, but he’s started using black nail polish and does unironic performance art.
Which is why the album makes more sense in 2012 than it ever did in 2003. Blink’s first post-reunion album Neighborhoods shares more with blink-182 than anything else the band has done, and the echoing, spacey guitars and atmosphere of “Asthenia” and especially “I’m Lost Without You” hint at DeLonge’s future band Angels & Airwaves. Tensions filled the band after blink-182, and it’s hard not to recontextualize the albums themes of tense and failing relationships in light of the fact that, less than two years after the album was released, the band broke up.
One surprising fact that I dug up while researching blink-182 was that despite the panning it got from fans, critics regarded it as not being that bad. Allmusic, generally one of the fairer critic sites, gave it a 4/5, as did the hip Village Voice. Looking back on it, blink-182 is a transition record marred only by too much navel-gazing, and its transitional end-point coming out 8 years later. The album’s black nail polish also led the way for the eyeliner of some other bands down the road.