It’s funny how some things you grow out of- toys, games, films that you could have been absolutely besotted with at one point in your life to the point you couldn’t imagine life without it, suddenly slide out of relevance in your life. Replaced with the new and the possibly life changing, you grow up and you grow out.
Then there are the things that you keep with you forever. That far from growing out of, you grow with. You progress and mature and so do they. Every aspect of their growth seems to mirror your own so much so that you harbour secret thoughts that maybe this stuff is all produced for you. A kind of Truman-Show realisation that the contours of your life experience are being played out in a parallel universe of guitars and punk songs.
The first album of Blink 182’s I purchased was ‘Enema of the State’ although I pretended for years that I had known of them since ‘Dude Ranch’ as I felt that gave me an air of superiority over the Johnny-come-latelies of which I was secretly one. For a teenage girl from the rain drenched seaside town of Portsmouth, UK this album was like an American, sun-kissed, teenage hormonally charged slap in the face. I scoured the album cover inlay for evidence of its exoticness- an overwhelming red, white and blue colour scheme; a parade of people lined up against a row of high school lockers; an adult film star slipping on a rubber glove…. The songs were catchy, boyish and ran the emotional gauntlet from titillating fondling antics to aliens bothering us on earth.
I didn’t listen to that album ad nauseum because I related to it- as a resident of the grey landscape of the United Kingdom whose life was more Grange Hill than Beverly Hills I had never lived a life like that expressed on this album. I listened to it because of that- I lived vicariously through the attendees of the coolest keggers and dreamed of skateboarding around American sounding places like Fresno (I had no concept at all where this was, but I dreamed of living there).
When I regressed through the back catalogue, the shiny warmth of then sun on my face provided a backdrop to the agony and ecstasy of young relationships that pumped into my ears. I didn’t have a boyfriend the first time I heard ‘Josie’ but I still imagined some green haired skater punk was singing it to me. I hadn’t felt the gut wrenching pain of a messy break up the first time I heard ‘Dammit’ or ‘Apple Shampoo’ but I still imagined I was in the middle of the playground politics of mutual friends post dramatic separation. I HAD seen Star Wars, but I must admit the references to the franchise in ‘A New Hope’ went a bit above my head.
As ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ matured their sound, so my life matured. There was still a lot of dramatic emotions- mainly involving the opposite sex- but there came an introspection with these feelings and events and an ability to think I needed to make grown ass decisions with my life. I found ‘Stay Together For The Kids’ a much rawer, angsty song than ‘Adam’s Song’ despite the subject matter of the latter being much more serious. And I think that is because emotions expressed by the young can sound vacuous no matter what they are about and thus lies the root of the frustrations between the generations- teenagers don’t feel they are taken seriously because adults don’t think them capable of thinking about serious things. That is something that pop punk has always provided an outlet for- expressing the highs and lows of the ‘young experience’, validating those emotions, acknowledging the fact that when you break up with your first love because they snogged someone else at a party it genuinely feels like you will never love again and no one has ever hurt this much. Romeo and Juliet can go fuck themselves- they were poseurs.
Of course, TOYPAJ had the bouncy high energy and mood songs that some of us had come to rely on Blink for- ‘Rock Show’ and ‘First Date’ giving a sweeter edge to the whole boy-wants-girl thing. It’s no longer holding hands in the hallway with your hormones ricocheting around the school walls- now we’re going on dates and entering ‘relationships’. Shit got real.
‘Anthem Part 2’ set the tone of the album where the last track of ‘Enema’ left off. Old and stale need not apply- this is for our generation- we’ve been fucked over, but we know it and we’re gonna unite and fight anyway.
‘Online Songs’ remains my favourite song on that album, partly because I knew as soon as I heard the line ‘your screenname used to be mine’ that that was going to become a dated reference very fast! It conjures the image of Myspace and Messenger and chat rooms and things that a generation before or after just wouldn’t quite be able to place. Another signal to the outside that this band is for us and we’re growing up together.
Even the colour scheme for the album was more serious- black backdrops, minimal images, fully clothed musicians. Not a bare chest or a midget in sight. We’re all in big school now.
Then life continues with ever more responsibilities and pressures and relationships follow the same trajectory- everything more sombre and loaded and needing more careful decisions and future planning.
And then BOOM- out come the self-titled album and it’s like it took the words right out of our mouths. It was darker, it branched out, it had Robert Smith (!) The complexities of love and lust; of betrayal and reconciliation were all stripped down and put under the microscope. Long term Blink fans were in their 20s now and we needed songs to reflect the dull aching pain of being an adult. It wasn’t parties and take outs anymore- it was jobs, co-habiting and general pressures and hardships.
There was still the trademark melodies and guitar riffs, songs such as ‘Always’ and ‘Feeling This’ playing the part of the Golden Thread, the tracks that put you right back at the start of the journey. There’s still Delonge’s booming, echoey vocals on tracks such as ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Obvious’. But like many bands before them (Greenday, The Clash) their sound had to experiment and push the boundaries of their paradigm to see what else they might be capable of. Tracks like ‘All Of This’ and ‘Down’ progress on the earlier attempts at Indie, Joy Division-esque beautiful darkness.
Those four albums had the biggest effect on me, coming into my life at exactly the right times as all impactful records have the knack to do. Songs like ‘Story of a Lonely Guy’; ‘Going Away to College’; ‘What Went Wrong’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ are all bound up in memories of events long gone and the opening salvo of any of those tracks takes me right back there.
And with Blink 182 surviving a rollercoaster of side projects; departures; marriages; children and a changing musical landscape, I’m just thrilled to bits we’ve all survived.