Master Plan: Maturity's a Mixed Bag for Blink-182
When Blink-182 first started gaining popular velocity toward the end of the '90s, the cheeky Southern California pop-punk trio didn't necessarily seem like the scene's top contenders for longevity. The band's early material was unapologetically bratty, for one thing. Vocalist/bassist Mark Hoppus and vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLonge favored nasal singing styles and a lyrical outlook firmly rooted in the shiftlessness and maturity battles of one's early 20s. After all, the band's first bona fide mainstream hit was a song called "What's My Age Again," from the band's classily named third album, 1999's Enema of the State.
What's more, the group wasn't the only one tackling this kind of warp-speed, melodic, baggy-shorts rock at the time. The class of so-called "new school punk" was huge, with the Warped Tour still dominated by buoyant but aggressive SoCal bands like Unwritten Law, Face to Face, Strung Out, and of course Pennywise.
Almost a decade-and-a-half on, Blink-182 isn't the only act from that general stable still in the race, but it is now pretty much the biggest-selling and the most influential on a new crop of rockers. The band boasts more than 27 million albums sold to date, and its musical reverberations are felt in a new breed of summer festival stalwarts.
Reigning punk-pop act All Time Low's frontman Alex Gaskarth has frequently and breathlessly cited a love of Blink-182 as the impetus for starting his own band, as have musicians in similarly fizzy acts like Forever the Sickest Kids and the more indie-leaning Wavves. In fact, it seems like citing Blink-182 is downright trendy for a current crop of musicians who were still toddling when the older group's debut album, 1994's Cheshire Cat, first came out. In other words, the band's "indefinite hiatus," which lasted from roughly 2005 to 2009, only served to make its status even more massive.
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DeLonge notices all this but remains equivocal about it. "I don't assume it's everywhere," he says. "It's hard to say because there are a lot of bands who are influenced by Blink that you would never know. Like Jack White from the White Stripes said his favorite video was a Blink video. So I wonder if people get influences from different places and who it is, but yeah, we've been together for almost 20 years, so it's hard to say where we've reached."
If anything, DeLonge prefers to look at his band's lasting impact on work ethic, attitude, and general theme. "We weren't scared to be ourselves and be self-deprecating and have a good time. I think that on our last record before we broke up, we showed signs of real potential of what people liked to see. We strived to become better. So I think we've created an institution that represents suburbia, eternal youth, a little bit of angst, and a little bit of ambition."
Still, there was a Blink-182 sound that started to really gel with the band's second album, 1997's Dude Ranch. It was surely rooted in the tempos of extreme sports and the best traditions of Southern California punk à la the Descendents and company. But what was clear from that first breakout album was that Blink-182 was never too concerned about punk points and never afraid to reach for majorly sceneless hooks and choruses. (Some 14 years on, the best parts of Dude Ranch still sound relatively undated.) Hoppus, DeLonge, and longtime drummer Travis Barker were never afraid to make puerile jokes while their peers were often comparatively dour and busy wringing their hands over scene politics. It's no surprise which MO soon attracted hordes of devotees from wider audiences. Many fans from this early period are still young enough to turn out in droves — and their younger relatives are finally old enough to tag along.
Case in point, the band's current headlining spot on the Honda Civic Tour, arriving Friday at the Cruzan Amphitheatre. Though the tour has largely skewed teenaged in past years, this time out — undoubtedly helped by the presence of fellow more "adult" performers like My Chemical Romance and Matt & Kim — DeLonge notices a wider spread. "We see late teenagers into late 20s and early 30s, where it used to be just teenagers," he says. "It looks like everyone is still coming, but they've brought their younger brothers and sisters with them as well. The eternal youth of this band is so funny; it's pretty awesome."
But where some older fans might be approaching the tour with moist-eyed nostalgia and the younger faction might be doing so with reverence, this current outing is much more than just rehashing the past. This is not a "reunion tour" but rather the tour of a reunited band with new material it hopes to perform to just as much fanfare as older work.
September 27 will mark the release of Neighborhoods, the band's sixth studio album and its first since its 2003 self-titled effort. Its lead single, "Up All Night," was released this past July and showcases the kinds of changes one would expect over that much time. The song is still pretty fast and still features the band's trademark soaring Hoppus/DeLonge melodies and harmonies. But rather than go for breakneck riffs, the guitars chug and churn a little more, and the lyrics concern grown-up personal demons rather than more simplistic post-high-school angst.
This evolution has drawn mixed reactions across the internet. British weekly NME, for instance, featured an online post the day after the song's release with the headline, "Fans slam 'bloody awful' new Blink-182 single." But those "fans" so violently opposed to the change were, perhaps, not properly paying attention toward the end of the band's first go-around.
Blink-182, the album, was already moving far beyond potty jokes and obvious circle-pit anthems. "I think the band was beginning to show signs of what we each could do individually to make the whole better," DeLonge says, "not just writing punk songs, not just doing fast beats, but doing grooves and rhythms underneath compositions and chord progressions that kind of pull and tug at different emotional strings."
A few things will stay consistent, though, he says. Blink-182 will always be relatively up-tempo and err on the side of simplicity rather than self-indulgence. Other than that, almost all bets are off. "We don't have to force anything," he says. "We can do whatever we want."
That includes, of course, one more common thread from the early days. "The shows are just as dumb as ever. I really told some horrible jokes onstage in Montreal, and they don't even speak English that well. I don't know why I thought a bunch of dick jokes would be funny," DeLonge says. "In any case, we're doing whatever we want to have fun onstage."
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