Perfect LP: blink-182

News / Perfect LP / Special Features / September 8, 2015

Perfect LP is a feature in which the Modern Vinyl writers take on the tall task of summarizing an artist or band’s career in an LP sized selection of tracks. Bypassing what was the single, what was the “hit” and what fans call for throughout shows, it’s time to decide what makes up the Perfect LP.

The Rules

The selections will total no more than 50 minutes.
The selections are arranged in logical fashion, as in how you’d like to hear them in a real tracklisting.

The Subject

blink-182, the celebrated pop-punk band from Poway, California. The trio – helmed by bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker stands now featuring Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in lieu of co-founder, vocalist and guitarist Tom DeLonge. This new lineup, solidified after rumors swirling in late 2014, is reportedly in the studio with the “Nose Over Tail” songwriter. Yikes.

The Tracks

The Explanation

As any blink-182 fan worth their salt knows, there are distinctly two principal “eras” at play when considering the outfit’s lauded, if lopsided, history. Up to 1997’s major-label debut Dude Ranch, the Hoppus/DeLonge songwriting team found their puerile Rogers & Hammerstein approach pummeled by Scott Raynor, a drummer snugly holding onto the comforts of double-bass kicks and Metallica-grade adrenaline.

Upon his dismissal from the band mid-tour, the late ’90s answer to Lennon & McCartney refused to leave roses on their Ringo’s kit (Instead, I guess you could assume Raynor went the way of former Beatles drummer Pete Best?). Regardless, they found their Starr: a brazen yet softspoken superhero not yet cloaked by ink, but instead shrouded in an actual costume. Travis Barker (fka Baron von Tito of the Aquabats) would transform the band from a snot-nosed experiment in melodic luck into an expansive lesson in genre-crossing. That heady goal took a while to achieve. Barker’s affinity for hip-hop barely made it into 2001’s platinum-selling Take Off Your Pants and Jacket before entirely affecting 2003’s untitled disc with West Coast iffer scratches (“Feeling This”) and a full-on trip-hop segue (“The Fallen Interlude”). Nevertheless, the percussionist had yet again graduated, this time not from the high-school marching band his dying mother convinced him to excel in, but the drama club of his goofy ska pals. At least he had time to adjust: blink had scores of sex jokes left to cycle through.

blink-182’s career with Barker, beginning with 1999’s summer smash Enema of the State and since continued with 2012’s Dogs Eating Dogs EP, isn’t the focal point of the band’s most interesting addition. The tension which informs much of blink-182’s later career (absolutely during and after 2001’s TOYPAJ record) stems from the fraying friendship between DeLonge and Hoppus, lending to a “competition,” which exploded into the former member’s angry offshoots Box Car Racer in 2002 and Angels & Airwaves in 2006, bleeding post-hardcore and deluded space-rock influences, respectively. The trio would use the “new DeLonge” energy, however maudlin and raucous, to record their 2003 untitled record, ushering in a new, mature direction scrubbed of scatology.

We all know the story, no matter how anyone chooses to ignore it. DeLonge left the band in shambles by 2005. blink-182 decided to reform at the 2009 Grammy Awards after Barker survived a plane crash which claimed the life of his friend and collaborator DJ AM. The reunion sparked a series of touring schedules, finally endcapped by 2011’s Neighborhoods. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 and seemed to spell a well-timed match and tinder for the band’s fueling fire. But the sad thing about history is, no matter how recent events occur, they tend to repeat. DeLonge unofficially – then officially – was no longer a member of blink-182 by fall 2014. All that remains are the pieces of the puzzle left in the band’s as-is discography: did Hoppus and DeLonge spell the two cave-ins of their pop-punk empire throughout their tenure? That’s what I tasked myself to find out and in doing so, created an auditory conversation featuring some stellar catalog cuts. As expected, DeLonge isn’t the hero in this special, but he at least has some depth. Maybe you’ll find your sympathies pull towards him after all.

This is a Perfect LP in the sense the connective tissue is human. There will always be a war within blink-182’s songwriting, no matter if a Trio member rounds out this three-piece from now on.

The Selections

Every Time I Look for You (from Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, 2001)

“Every Time I Look for You” was already selected as the first track of a different compilation: the soundtrack to 2001’s plunge into sex-crazed summer camp, American Pie 2. With all sequels, there’s a potential for growth (and not in the way the film’s Steve Stifler would want most). As the follow-up to the MTV-monopolizing EnemaTOYPAJ had summertime hits and catchy hooks inserted mostly at the urging of Geffen and the band’s manager. While this track possessed classic Hoppus/DeLonge vocal tradeoffs and a bouncy, sophomoric guitar melody, the riff, wasting no time making an introduction, precedes Hoppus’ lyrical urgency. Buzzsawed chords give way to rapid-fire admissions of outsider insight, culminating in the first appearance of DeLonge’s trademark snarl. Mark’s steady yell broadcasts that “hearts are wasted,” while DeLonge follows to attest “lives are broken.” It’s a solemn battle theme which pervades most of this LP, much more than its college-soaked predecessor. One could argue the cannons are loaded against each vocalist in the recording booth instead of the guy-girl chronicles millions turn to blink to dissect over double-time backbeats.

Always (from Untitled, 2003)

Tom DeLonge’s life will always remain broken on tape. If one considers “Every Time I Look for You” the realization, and Box Car Racer the example, then “Always” – which logically follows both steps in the process – is the solidifier. Perhaps this is why so much of this 2003 LP borrows from Robert Smith’s own damaged poetry, enough to feature the Cure frontman on “All of This” and steal swampy, condensed guitar tones for the record’s final single, “Always.” The first line of the song, returning later during a rollicking tom-tom break, reads like an introductory statement eulogizing one’s interpersonal complacency: “I’ve been here before a few times and I’m quite aware we’re dying.” Again, one could read nearly every DeLonge/Hoppus composition as one pockmarked by lukewarm heterosexual dynamics, but it’s hard not to consider the alternate realm of a tenuous creative partnership. Consider Hoppus’ definite appearance on this cut: he’s left to whine the track title as a two-note chord fades out. Mark might be miming his Smithian idol (or Smithsian if you loop in Morrissey’s wounded-animal moan), but DeLonge is allowing a synthesizer drone to drown out his forever friend.

Adam’s Song (from Enema of the State, 1999)

DeLonge makes no mention of his signature yelp on one of blink’s first stabs at a “serious” track. The fact that this left-field pitch precedes a sizable grand slam, “All the Small Things,” is interesting base play. It’s also novel to rope together Hoppus’ cries from the bullpen: poignant moments like “I took my time, I hurried up” get remembered against “Remember the time that I spilled the cup of apple juice in the hall?” make the former snippet – a Nirvana reference – the Cobain of Kurt’s existence. It’s no secret the song’s spinal column is strong, if not suffering from this crooked, almost underprepared bent; Hoppus’ bass worbles under the pressure of a song addled by suicidal themes, but rises for a positive, reaffirming coda. The decision he makes to have his narrator “pass the time in [his] room alone” is warranted given this gushing display of self-recovery, but also a desire for his creator – Hoppus — to spend a moment away in his own shuffling headspace, reorganizing while inches away from true adulthood. Was DeLonge’s preoccupation with an alternate 1999 filled with spaceship probing (“Aliens Exist”) and choke-collar babes (“Dumpweed”) the roadblock in this important path? Who knows?

Waggy + Lemmings (from Dude Ranch, 1997)

Hoppus’ contributions find home more on pre-Jerry Finn productions, with this duo of songs serving as anchors of emotional intelligence in a sea of lunchroom politics (see live staples “Dammit” and “Josie”). Acknowledge that “Waggy” presents a Hoppus at his most damning and self-protecting (“Open your eyes, you can suck in your pride/You can live your life all on your own”) while “Lemmings” only reinforces this vitriol (“All’s fair in love and war until you say it isn’t but you’re wrong”). Both songs pack together punk mainstays and one-two gut punches not far removed from today’s pop punk being obsessed with placing the blame on a deserving party. These aims for the jugular might be followed by “I’m Sorry,” but this apology may have never stuck, as evinced by 2005 (and 2014).

Aliens Exist (from Enema of the State, 1999)

As mentioned, there might be a desire within DeLonge to be beamed up and invaded by extraterrestrials. While not explicitly setting the pilot episode of South Park to radio-friendly palm mutes, there’s a definite signal that his plight is driven by a crucial misunderstanding, whether creature-driven or not. As DeLonge assures his furrowed-brow faithful that he’s “not like you guys,” it’s difficult to ascertain if he truly means to draw a difference between his listening public or the aliens he pretends to confront here. When bookended by other blink-182 selections which deal with the growing pains associated with not finding one’s niche, this gray area can be blotted out altogether. Yet, DeLonge did go on to form Angels & Airwaves, a project crackled by NASA transmissions and sporting an astronaut mascot almost parodying his safe MTV Moonman legacy, so the jury remains possibly lost in space regarding his intention.

Asthenia (from Untitled, 2003)

To further complicate things, we have this track, a sprawling, coasting mid-album track which combines space tones with DeLonge’s somewhat overexaggerated love for post-hardcore chord patterns. Herein lies the crisis; it’s not just musical. As always, Tom volleys between leaving his long sought after home in the sky for a more grounded reality. Life mainstays like love keep him aching for Earth (“I’m sick of the boundaries/I miss you so much”) but even though these distances leave him “alone and tired,” the main hook of the song — and his main question is “Should I go back?/This time I don’t want to.” With all the “2003 Tom DeLonge was beamed up by aliens and replaced by 2006 deer-in-headlights version” conspiracy theories floating around the Internet (here’s one), maybe Tom really got what he wanted after all.

Pathetic (from Dude Ranch, 1997)

This desire didn’t just explode out of a Leslie speaker in 2003. Nope, DeLonge’s desire to be thrust into orbit was actually helped by Hoppus himself on Dude Ranch‘s double-time opener. As Hoppus sings “Don’t hold me down/This is where I belong,” his register floating in and out of key, DeLonge explains, dejectedly, “I think I’m different/But I’m the same and I’m wrong.” It’s as if Tom agrees with Mark’s steadfast choice to remain put, but only does so after crushing his own identity. As if to callback to Tom’s autobiographical high-school expulsion, Mark chides his truant friend: “No one likes a dropout.” Tom responds with an affirmation — “mistakes are hard to undo” — a realization that keeps him, well, pathetically tied to where he feels out of place.

21 Days (from Buddha, 1994)

blink’s only commercially-available demo has not only been repressed umpteen times, but contains many songs refocused and repurposed for their 1995 LP Cheshire Cat. This cut didn’t earn a cleanup in the recording booth a year later, but its rawness matches its storytelling. It’s no secret that most of Tom’s concerns lined up with breakup drama, but the last trailings off in this song add an internal war which never seems immature or misaligned. This struggle is obvious at first, with Tom groaning “I’m all confused as I think of the things that I would do.” Yet, its target grows more unclear as the last two lines are near-yelped over crackling guitar: “My emotions are something that I always hide/My ways.” Seeing as DeLonge’s departure(s) from blink were colored with increased distance from his bandmates, was this early ode to romance-aided sheepishness really about the girl, or the guys?

Man Overboard (from The Mark, Tom and Travis Show, 2000)
As the only teaser of new material since Enema of the State, this track pointed to more “thematic elements” which would be dissected in the surprisingly layered Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Its lyrics are considered an indictment of Scott Raynor, whose drumming seemed to suffer due to a reluctance to admit alcoholic tendencies. Scott’s side of the story is supposedly different, but we don’t get to hear that one much; instead, Hoppus tells of a “man on a mission” and how he “can’t say [he’d] miss him around.” DeLonge also seems to chime in at times, explaining in thick accented DeLonge meter: “You can only lean on me for so long.” It’s as if DeLonge and Hoppus, again like in “Pathetic,” work together to spell their own group’s twice-ruination. DeLonge would leave Hoppus to totter without much appearance on Box Car Racer (save for the bleak “Elevator,” which details a grisly death-by skyscraper jump) and Hoppus would later admit that blink could careen, full steam ahead, towards a promising future without its chief co-founder. Seems like both of these men were on a mission — were they watching each other drown soon after this Y2K song brought “the ship about” to do so?

Kaleidoscope (from Neighborhoods, 2011)

If Neighborhoods could define anything, it could very well have been a synonym for “disjointed.” Yet, this track melded together the darker halves of the projects consuming all three members’ lives between 2005 and 2009. Barker and Hoppus’ drumming and vocal phrasing, respectively, resemble the midnight electro-punk of their (+44) days, while DeLonge’s hook is built around a melodic trajectory rooted in no more than four notes, not unlike the catchy simplicity of Angels & Airwaves’ songwriting. The lyrics of each vocalist again parallel their respective moonlighting, but it’s Hoppus’ command-verb verses (i.e. “Delete the progress on your game/Try to fall asleep while your ears ring”) which pin down an anxiety that DeLonge merely skirts around with his transformed whine, stretching “nobody came running up by my side/It’s the first time I’m worried” past its point of explosion. It’s clear that Mark’s pointed instructions have more ground covered in the lyrics’ surface area, but the amount to which they exercise control in the song’s series of vocal tradeoffs is debatable. What’s uncontestable here is that when DeLonge cries out, “On the highway through the valley/It’s a long road through the night,” he’s most definitely traveling alone.

Boxing Day (from Dogs Eating Dogs, 2012)

DeLonge’s status as lone passenger didn’t necessarily push his first successful musical vehicle faster than a slow crawl. Yet, the surprise drop of blink’s to-date last release — Dogs Eating Dogs — nearly guaranteed a new lease on life for the aging band held together by guilt, fame (but finally not by a record deal). The track itself hearkens back to 1999, with a vocal melody directly resembling Smash Mouth’s “All Star” for the first few measures and featuring a ringing, bouncing acoustic guitar melody not alien to Hanson and electronic drums, while somewhere close to the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium. The result seems to boast more of Hoppus’ love for indie-minded acts than anything else, but DeLonge’s flirtations with fairy-tale and wartime imagery (“We could reignite like fireflies, like an atom bomb at all hours”) remain loud and clear when leading into the chorus. While this release was digitally delivered before Dec. 25, Hoppus’ lament “I’m empty like the day after Christmas” retains its potency. Dogs Eating Dogs found the trio not reinvigorated, but dismayed as DeLonge grew more engrossed in Angels & Airwaves’ confusing, sometimes unwarranted multimedia projects. Not even recreating and recasting their roles in a revitalized 1999 could bring the magic back again. When Hoppus airily croons “goodnight” as lazy guitar noodling trickles away, it feels like an integral curtain has dropped for good.

Down (from Untitled, 2003)

Slow down “Every Time I Look for You” a fair amount and its rapid-fire chords spill forth more like the caustic burn of those on “Down.” The strumming patterns are different, but the snappy, immediate intensity of both introductions are similar. Understand that’s most of the similarity gleaned from a mid-album track on TOYPAJ and a penultimate Untitled single, albeit the ever-present current of romantic woe. The track’s Gothic, light industrial textures are pervaded with an even more eerie touch: the addition of Barker’s whispers. This is the first, and possibly last, instance of the soft-spoken drummer’s voice on any blink recording and the two phrases chosen — “this can’t be the end” and “you did this” seem to drown Tom more in blame than the song’s interlacing “tidal waves.” For a member who was annexed to the lineup five years into blink’s career to both plead for a continuation and damn the executor of a band they didn’t even start is bold. Its impact is lessened when you realize that this pair of admissions is whispered, but nevertheless, most of these chilling clues to blink-182’s demise were whispered throughout the band’s troubled twenty-odd years of existence.

Well, no one needs to whisper anymore.

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James Cassar
James Cassar is Modern Vinyl's Managing News Editor and a co-host of The Modern Vinyl Podcast. He is also an artist manager, co-owner of the record label Near Mint, and can be found in bed before 9 p.m. James lives in Philadelphia and no, he won't check out your band if you add him on Facebook.

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