Hear blink-182’s Untitled album reimagined into lullabies
From opener Feeling This to closing track I’m Lost Without You, Sparrow Sleeps have worked their wonderful, peaceful magic all over blink-182’s classic Untitled album.
Even two decades since the undeniable artistic watershed of their Untitled LP, there remains a strange consensus amongst many fans that there’s something insubstantial about blink-182’s body of work. Perhaps it’s an impression informed by the throwaway façade of their early years (an endless barrage of toilet humour fronting, as it does for so many young men, the well of more complex emotion within) having been mistaken for genuine numbskullery.
Maybe it’s that their stop-start output, numerous side-projects and the changing faces of their line-up have undermined their monumental significance as pop-punk figureheads in some fans’ minds. Original drummer Scott Raynor was replaced by the untouchable Travis Barker in 1998, while guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge was swapped out for Alkaline Trio mainman Matt Skiba for their last two LPs. Bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus, however, remains a rocksteady constant.
Dig into their eight albums (nine if, like the band, you wish to count 1994’s Buddha demo), however, and you’ll find an artistic evolution drawn out over three decades that few others in rock can match. With such shifting tones – both sonically and philosophically – different fans from contrasting eras will surely have their own opinions on which sorts of songs belong on a list like this. We’ve done our best, however, to provide a comprehensive overview of the finest milestones on blink’s ever-onward path…
Arriving six years after blink’s initial hiatus and four before Tom’s departure from the band, 2011’s sixth LP Neighborhoods feels like an overlooked, underrated anomaly in their back-catalogue. There’re no shortage of memorable tracks on there, though, with the likes of Natives, Heart’s All Gone and Even If She Falls being well worth your time. Chief amongst them, however, is album opener Ghost On The Dance Floor. Still processing the horrific 2008 plane crash he barely survived, Travis comes to the fore with a remarkable percussive performance laying the basis for one of blink’s most purely infectious riffs. Although the spectral imagery and atmosphere is a callback to Mark’s love of bands like Depeche Mode and Oingo Boingo, the song is a compelling marriage of all three members’ influences, with pop-punk pace and understated hip-hop style also bleeding through.
A myriad of factors led to the jarring change of tone in the two years between Take Off Your Pants And Jacket and 2003's game-changing Untitled release. On a globalist scale, the events of September 11, 2001 had rocked the sense of self-satisfied suburban safety that had so long been the foundation for blink's schtick. Drawn to weightier subject matter and, like so may of their punk peers, dreadfully captivated by America's inexorable lurch towards the second Gulf War, Stockholm Syndrome's title might refer to the phenomena of the captured becoming dependent on their captors, but its lyrical content ('I'm sick with apprehension / I'm crippled from exhaustion…') deals more with its authors' feelings of paranoia. On record, the song is preceded powerfully by the Stockholm Syndrome Interlude, featuring actress Joanne Whalley reading a letter written by Mark's grandfather to his grandmother during WWII.
Serendipitously, Mutt would prove to be a pivotal track in blink's eventual big-time breakthrough. First cut with original drummer Scott Raynor as a contribution to the soundtrack of seminal teen sex comedy American Pie (the band even cameoing in the infamous 'webcam scene'), it brought them into the orbit of producer Jerry Finn, who would in turn be invited aboard and contribute heavily to the mainstream-conquering formula of Enema Of The State. Fixated on a couple whose attraction seems to know no standards (love being blind and all that), it becomes the ultimate vehicle for blink's bawdy humour. 'She smokes a dozen and he doesn't seem to notice the smell / He took the seat off his own bike because the way that it felt / He wants to bone, this I know, she is ready to blow.' Hard as it may be to believe, for a generation of goofballs, those lyrics actually felt kinda sweet way back when.
With a few years' successful hindsight, it’s easy to forget how brave progressing blink-182 without Tom was. As accomplished an addition as Matt Skiba is, his eccentricities are different and far darker than Tom’s. Could this new blink offer more than Mark and Travis’ earlier side-project +44 (whose hit When Your Heart Stops Beating would walk onto this list, by the way)? Yes, they could. Although tracks like She’s Out Of Her Mind and Bored To Death showcased modern blink’s dexterity in combining old-school pop-punk and murkier introspection, it wasn’t until Misery cropped up on California’s Deluxe Edition that it felt like they were really reaching their potential. Intriguing with its contradictory call-and-reply chorus (‘Misery loves company / I don’t need anyone!’) this showcased a more settled maturation that felt like a natural progression for this band.
NINE marked a further progression of blink's sound, with higher production, more electronica and an unashamed pop hookiness pushing stridently forward. It’s one of the more conservative compositions on there, however, that ended up a stand-out. Tapping into the airy, intelligent musicality of that 2003 Untitled and letting Matt really cut loose for the first time in its depiction of lovelorn depression, No Heart To Speak Of proves that blink still pack the ability to match the feats of their past. Featuring some of their murkiest ever lyrical content, though (‘On a crumbling edge, watch me falling apart, feel the birds of prey circle over our home’), they’re unafraid to admit that life’s scars have changed them as the years have passed.
'He took a shit in the bathroom tub and fed the dog brownie drugs / Tried hard not to get caught / He fucked a chick in the parking lot / On and on, reckless abandon…' Distilling the thrill of embarking on teenage rebellion for the simple sake of it into 186 seconds of breathless excitement, Reckless Abandon is a heartfelt celebration of life without real consequences. Performed by men for whom that phase of their lives was fast fading, there's a bittersweet undercurrent with a sense of mourning for carefree times slipped past that makes the song hit all the harder years later.
A sole studio recording tacked on as the promotional lead single for infamously scatological live album The Mark, Tom And Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back), Man Overboard should not be overlooked. Feeling like a subtle bridge between the outright juvenilia of Enema Of The State and Take Off Your Pants And Jacket’s (slightly) more mature brand of pop-punk, it charts the experience of losing a friend – persistently rumoured, though never confirmed, to be Scott Raynor – to alcoholism. Driven along by a propulsive bassline, and featuring a music video that recasts scenes from their most famous past clips with dwarf actors, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
Contributing to and drawing from the rich font of teen culture in the late ’90s/early ’00s, blink thoroughly ingrained themselves as part of the knockabout zeitgeist. Watching Jennifer Love Hewitt teen comedy Can't Hardly Wait on Valentine's Day 1999, for instance, Mark found himself inspired to write about the sadness and excitement of the uncertain future that awaits kids at the end of high school. With lyrics scribbled on a napkin ('I haven't been this scared in a long time, and I'm so unprepared, so here's your valentine') the song uncannily captures the sensations of panic and exhilaration as time – and opportunity – seem to slip away from beneath our feet, dropping us involuntarily into whatever comes next.
The third single from 2003's Untitled LP was a relatively straightforward showcase of their creative ripening, and its potency has only increased with time. Depicting a scene where one half of a couple begs the other to stay as the raindrops plummet outside, it luxuriates in the raw emotion of that bargaining and ultimate loss. Featuring vocals from all three members (Travis' whispered contributions are a real rarity), bolstered by a sprung guitar riff and featuring blink's most unashamedly sweeping chorus ('Tidal waves, they rip right through me / Tears from eyes worn cold and sad') it's a song that seems often overlooked nowadays but one which deserves to be remembered. The video – featuring over 100 former gang members, and uber-jacked action hero Terry Crews as a cop giving chase along the LA river – is another classic.
A sort-of sequel to Enema Of The State standout Adam's Song, Stay Together For The Kids again found blink playing evocatively on the high contrast between blustering juvenilia and very real adolescent anxiety. Opening with a clean, melancholic melody and continuing through a stripped-back composition, the lyrics tap earnestly into Mark and (particularly) Tom's painful experiences of parental divorce. 'Their anger hurts my ears,' they plead, calling to mind an almost childlike sense of helplessness and vulnerability. 'Been running strong for seven years / Rather than fix the problems, they never solve them / It makes no sense at all.' Gently heartbreaking, still.
The success of All The Small Things as a song can't really be extricated from its astonishing, MTV-crashing music video. Lampooning the absurdly polished boyband craze of the late ’90s, they crafted a clip actively parodying the likes of *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees – somehow even filming at the exact same part of Santa Monica beach that One Direction would later commandeer for What Makes You Beautiful – but which ended up on heavy rotation alongside the bands they were ripping on. Strip all that away, though, and there's real romance delivered with endearing bluntness at the heart of the song, penned by Tom for his then-girlfriend who really did leave him roses by the stairs. Mark would meet his future wife Skye Everly on the video shoot, too.
A purer, more pointed precursor to Reckless Abandon, the final song on Enema Of the state was the distillation of blink's pre-millennial raison d'etre and a snapshot of what every one of their fans wanted to be. Following a classic narrative of Tom throwing a house party, attempting to cover it up, getting busted by his parents and fantasising about a time when he's able to cause trouble on his own terms, Anthem found the trio at their most recklessly relatable. Tapping into the immortal themes of parental oppression ('Mom and dad possess the key – instant slavery!') and longing to be grown up ('Good things come to those who wait'), it remains a landmark in their catalogue. The song was followed up by the first track on Take Off Your Pants… (named, aptly, Anthem, Pt. 2) with a greater degree of seriousness, as the band lament the future damage wrought by their parents' poor decisions.
The fourth and final single from the Untitled arrived with a greater sense of creative freedom, unfolding on its own terms, its straightforwardly romantic lyrics afloat on a contagious swell of layered guitars, nu-wave synthesisers and one of Tom's all-time great vocal performances. Indeed, all three members of the band commented on release that the song reflected their rich 1980s influences more than anything contemporary. There's an irony in that as this was the clearest signpost for the pop-punk trail blink would continue to blaze. The three-panelled, Joseph Kahn-directed music video, shot in a studio space normally used by Australian children's band The Wiggles and featuring pop singer Sophie Monk, remains one of their most artful.
"It’s the apex of blink-182," Mark would tweet in April 2020, having crowned the opening track and lead single from his band's Untitled album his favourite-ever blink song. "[It was] the best of all of us. It was different and new and (in my opinion) groundbreaking." Although we can't agree that it's the very best, Mark's reasoning stands. Tasked with introducing a much more grown-up version of the band two short years after Take Off Your Pants… had seemingly cemented their place as pop-punk clown princes, it found them covering familiar territory (teenage sexual appetite) with far more consideration than before. Powered by Travis' Latin-inspired backbeat and switching between Tom's breathless desire ('I wanna take off your clothes') and Mark's more considered sensuality ('Place your hand in mine'), it rightly shocked a majority of their then-dick-joke-obsessed fanbase, but has defiantly stood the test of time.
Less a song title than a tongue-in-cheek mission statement, What's My Age Again? found the band bravely facing up to the question of whether they might be getting too old for this sophomoric shit – then flicking a punkish two-fingered salute and carrying on regardless. For many, the idea of men in their late-twenties (writing as men in their early 20s) continuing to fixate on high school hijinks and the flutters of first romance seemed strange, if not a little sad. They missed the point, though. These guys understand that you don't truly appreciate the comedy, tragedy and low-key beauty of your teenage years until they're behind you. And as us fans have grown up with the music we've come to understand that revisiting them is as satisfying – and even more poignant – a form of rock escapism as ploughing through battlefields alongside Iron Maiden or tearing up the Sunset Strip with Guns N' Roses. The streaking music video (featuring porn actress/Enema cover star Janine Lindemulder) is arguably the most iconic in all of pop-punk, and has been endlessly parodied – twice by the band themselves for the aforementioned Man Overboard and She's Out Of Her Mind.
There's a soft sense of melancholia – fixated as much on the swift passage of carefree youth as on garden variety teenage angst – that undercuts even the bawdiest, most immature moments on blink's 1999 breakthrough. It shifts into stark focus, however, with the album's seventh track and third single. Inspired by the sadness Mark felt on being sent the note left by a young man who'd taken his own life for his family, it found the band unflinchingly facing up to the dark realities of depression and suicide in a way that felt all the more relatable for their otherwise playful attitudes. Invoking Nirvana's Come As You Are ('I took my time, I hurried up, the choice was mine, I didn't think enough' echoing the grunge heroes' 'Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don't be late') this was a strong early indication of their more soulful tendencies and deeper songwriting capabilities – and one that's scarcely been surpassed.
The song that started it all, Carousel dates all the way back to Mark and Tom's first meeting in 1992 where the gruesome twosome selected it as their first garage jam. Sparks flew, evidently. Starting with a playful bassline before piling into their trademark high tempo, the track actually pulsates with a sense of existential anxiety that feels as rooted in grunge as the proto-pop-punk scene from which it emerged. 'Here I am standing on my own,' it muses, with endearing adolescent simplicity, but adult weight on its shoulders. First appearing on 1994's Buddha demo before being finalised on 1995's debut LP, it has proven to be their most enduring fan-favourite.
For teenagers at the time, who'd been brought up on the band's signature cocktail of 100mph pop-punk and unapologetic puerility, the second single from blink's Untitled album felt less like a betrayal than a bewildering, breakneck change of pace. The haunting orchestration of piano, strings and acoustic guitar was matched thematically by songwriting that had moved on from the sugar rush of teenage infatuation to the slow burn of adult relationships, proving that the pranksters supreme had finally come of age. Veering into emo territory, then on out into a soundscape that still feels daringly unique – elements of hip-hop and post-punk mingling in the layered darkness – it remains one of their most emotionally and artistically rewarding moments.
The lead single from Take Off Your Pants And Jacket was a triumph, not only in introducing the subtly matured pop-punk of their fourth album, but also in crystallising the thrill of finding romance (no matter how fleeting) at a show into 171 unforgettable seconds that fans have spun forever since. Inspired by the band's early experiences around the rock clubs of Southern California (particularly Mark's visits to San Diego's Soma) and influenced by renowned punk forbearers like Descendents, Ramones and Screeching Weasel, there was a rawness and purity in its sense of longing to live in the moment that spoke as much to older audiences as the teenage hardcore. Any excess sobriety was duly offset with a music video that saw the band spunking a wad of cash (reportedly $500,000) on the silliest shit they could think of.
In a certain sense, the standout track from 1997's Dude Ranch pre-empted the same rollercoaster career that it played a pivotal role in kickstarting. Written spontaneously by Mark while the band were still in their early-20s yet to taste real success, it imagines the situation of crossing paths with a former lover after they've met someone new as a prism through which to channel their anxieties about getting older and moving on. Rattled off at high tempo, with effervescent six-strings and no shortage of youthful fire, of course, it helped cement blink-182's trademark sound and became their breakthrough hit single. A quarter-century since its release, though, its poignancy has only increased as a reckoning on the frustration and futility of the universal human experience (always 'a day late, a buck short') and coming to terms with the cyclical 'master plan' of romantic entanglement. So this is growing up…
From opener Feeling This to closing track I’m Lost Without You, Sparrow Sleeps have worked their wonderful, peaceful magic all over blink-182’s classic Untitled album.
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