1999, Music

Enema of the State (1999) by Blink-182

This record, or, rather, its videos, were everywhere in my final year of high school. Because at least one of them made fun of Boy Bands, I generally laughed along. (Also, I was 18!) I remember thinking they were a harmless jokey band, and at least they had a sense of humour and made fun of music I didn’t like. (Even if I didn’t like their music.) But I had no idea of “punk”, its history and what it meant or the debates about its essence and whether or not it can even be said to exist any more. Since then I have listened to a lot of punk, to put in mildly, and have strong opinions about what is and isn’t punk, even if I don’t give a shit about essentialist arguments, which I think are generally stupid and coming from an absurd point of view. (Essentialism utterly misunderstands the nature of reality.)

So let’s get the elephant out of the way: this music is not “punk” in any meaningful sense of the term. To use “punk” to describe this music is to essentially render the word meaningless. The only “punk” thing about this band is the fact that they whine their way through their songs. (Well, there are a couple of musical moments when you can hear the influence of actual punk on their music, but these are few and far between and to categorize other music that is influenced so minimally by a genre as that genre is to essentially render all genre definitions worthless.) Alas, we must discuss it as part of the punk tradition because that is how it has been characterized.

That happened because, over the previous 15 years or so, bands (mostly in California) had been making less and less aggressive and more and more poppy punk-influenced pop rock where the one common feature among all those bands was a whine. The whine became synonymous with punk, which is how we get to the point where a band that has written a bunch of songs on the spectrum between pop rock and power pop as “punk” music.

Also, at some point, the skate punk/pop punk bands began to sing about the things that Blink sing about – relationships, growing up, going to parties – rather than, you know, overthrowing the political establishment or what have you. Both Hoppus and Delonge are reasonably decent lyricists and both have a reasonably good sense of melody. Their songs would be better if they either decided to play them as if they were actually punk songs or if they stopped whining. One or the other.

The record is extremely slick, which is the other thing that completely obliterates the idea that his band is a punk band. This is a polished pop product and, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s fairly easy to understand why it was so damn successful. It is catchy, it is in turns (reasonably) funny and earnest, and it is super accessible and safe. (Think about what punk music is and then think about those things. How are they compatible beyond catchiness and earnestness?)

This feels to the adult me as if it is basically the logical end of pop punk and skate punk. It’s where it goes to die. If this is what punk wrought, it poses serious questions as to the nature of any kind of musical project that seeks to reinvigorate music – or any art-form – from the bottom up. On the other hand, we can hardly blame the early punk bands for what Californians did to their music.

But hey, these guys are good at what they do. And when I was younger than 23, their videos made me laugh.


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