Blink-182 is now twenty-eight years old, lasting as one of the most popular pop-punk bands of all time — only behind Green Day. But before their third release, Enema of the State (1999), they found very limited success. Their second album, Dude Ranch (1997), produced one hit single, “Dammit,” and was a decent sophomore record, but wasn’t a legendary record; selling just a fraction over a million in its first four years on the market. Its follow-up, however, would manage to eclipse fifteen million worldwide, making them an overnight success. But what was it that made it so successful, and why is it the most remembered release out of their discography, til this day?
Enema of the State finds itself, arguably, at one of the weirdest sections in Blink-182’s history. Dude Ranch had been their first major-label record, after signing with MCA, and was, by far their most successful release to date. They also managed to pick up a bit of notice and momentum after the album was released, appearing at Warped Tour, and eventually with “Dammit” finding radio play. For a second release, it wasn’t bad, and was a stark improvement over Cheshire Cat (1995).
What ended up threatening this growing popularity, though, was the removal of drummer Scott Raynor, and producer, Mark Trombino. After six years with the band, Raynor took a brief leave in the middle of their 1998 tour, due to substance abuse issues. This forced the drummer of their touring partner (the Aquabats), Travis Barker, to fill-in last minute (apparently learning twenty tracks in the forty-five minutes before the set). Then, as the substance issues worsened, Raynor was eventually kicked out, and Barker became the new, permanent drummer. Pairing with this was the removal of Trombino, and the joining of Jerry Finn, as they began their new recording sessions. But rather than ruin their progress and traction, these changes would allow them to take it to the next level.
Cover of a 1999 Rolling Stone.
When you look at the formula for both Dude Ranch and Enema of the State, they’re relatively the same. Fast drums, catchy, driving guitars, immature, suburban teenage humor, and not-great-but-somehow-enjoyable vocals. It’s true that, from a general sense, nothing changed. But I think anyone would tell you Enema feels much more technical, polished, and enjoyable. The first place this starts, is Travis Barker on drums. Sure, the pace of the percussion never really changed, but Travis’ technical prowess melds it with the music, creating a tighter, prettier, seemingly-faster sound. The perfect example of this is “The Party Song,” which is built entirely around Travis’ drumming, timing the vocals and guitar riffs with his beats. Nothing like that happened or even could’ve happened with Raynor on the drums, and it’s clear this change was just a pure upgrade of quality.
The other large source of this shift is indeed, Jerry Finn. When I kept trying to find bands and albums to compare this release to, I always came back to Dookie (1994), and it’s not coincidental that he helped on its production as well. Prior to this album, his main partners had been Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, and The Presidents of the United States of America; all three pop-friendly rock groups. The chord progression on so many of these tracks (“Aliens Exist,” and “Don’t Leave Me” to name a couple) are so reminiscent of early 90’s Green Day in their style and sound. So much so, that I could easily see these being Green Day instrumentals, at times. Once again, he didn’t change the general idea behind each of these tracks. But the substance and the mixing is much more melodic, and for-radio, to make it digestible and catchy.
Now that we’ve established what set them apart from previous Blink projects, what makes it so good compared to their following records? After all, Jerry Finn produced both Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001) and Blink-182 (2003), and Travis has been with the band since 1998. Well, to me, it’s everything mentioned before, a lighthearted, adolescent attitude, and a self-awareness that makes all of that okay. Similar to the transition from Dude Ranch to Enema of the State, is the transition from Enema of the State to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket; where much of it stayed the exact same. But what makes Enema of the State so much more memorable and fun, to me, is the teenage angst rather than the more mature problems the latter touches on. Sure, “Adam’s Song” is definitely a depressing, self-reflective track, but they took that, and doubled-down going forward. I think their sound suits the attitudes of Enema much better. Fast and aggressive pop-punk isn’t really meant to be slowed down and thought about. Also, simply, Enema did it first. Take Off is almost a direct sequel to the album, and because it didn’t change too much, it seems to play second fiddle now.
Blink-182 is perhaps THE image of the early 2000’s.
The important thing about this immaturity, though, is its limited, self-aware state throughout this record. Blink-182’s first two records can only be described as immature, low-brow humor, and there’s definitely a lot of that here. But with track’s like “Adam’s Song,” “Wendy Clear,” and “Going Away to College,” (honestly, just about every track Mark Hoppus sings), it curtails the fun to a reasonable manner, and instead, shows that they’re human too. You can only laugh and relate to poop jokes so much, until it becomes stale or unacceptable, but with the more variety of topics and issues, it’s easier to listen to in entirety. While I admit, and they would too, that everything is painted through a very male-heavy lens, it’s also true that a lot of these experiences are universal. Rejection, not being good enough, being forced apart by circumstance; all of these are relationship problems are ones we’ve been through.
This all being said, it’s not an album for everyone, and probably is best suited for those already invested in pop-punk, or other related areas. After thinking it over, and writing this, I would say it’s just the secondary Dookie, not only in sound, but by essentially reviving mainstream pop-punk with its release. Where Green Day brought the genre to the 90’s, Blink-182 took it and placed it back into the 2000’s, with the same, simplistic-but-fun sound. Many of the tracks on it continue to be played to this day, and the success of the one record trumps pretty much everything else they’ve done. While Blink-182 found immense success with their two records following Enema of the State, nothing had the same influence on music, or media, like their first, breakout record. And I think it’s safe there are very few after it that have managed to replicate its impact.