Welcome to Record Club, a new monthly feature in which the Wondering Sound staff spends a week discussing and investigating a single record. For our inaugural edition, we chose an album that turned 15 this year: Blink-182‘s Enema of the State. The record was a commercial monster when it was released, spawning three hit singles, establishing the band as teen heartthrobs and defining the sound of the early ’00s. Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker’s unabashed embrace of joyously juvenile humor — perfectly encapsulated in the video for “What’s My Age Again?” in which the trio streak through the streets of Los Angeles — became their calling card, and the songs on Enema capture that spirit of impish adolescence. Returning to the record a decade and a half after its release, we digested the album over several weeks and separated the No. 1s from the stinkers. Also check out our interview with guitarist Tom Delonge and a celebration of 1999′s other pop-punk greats.
J. Edward Keyes, Editor in Chief
Jayson Greene, Senior Editor
Puja Patel, Senior Editor
Laura Leebove, Managing Editor
Claire Lobenfeld, Features Editor
Lindsay Hood, News Editor
Tess Duncan, Production Editor
J. Edward Keyes: So, I wanted to start by pointing out the irony in the fact that, for the first edition of Record Club, Laura picked a record where the chorus to the first song is “I need a girl that I can train.” Which, for me, gets at one of the most surprising things about Enema of the State. For context: I was teaching high school when this band hit, so they were only on my radar because my students liked them. I sort of assumed they were Green Day 2.0. But listening to the album for the first time for Record Club, I was alarmed at how anti-lady so many of the songs were. For those of you who grew up with this record: How much did that register with you at the time? And what do you think about it now? Am I looking at this like a high school teacher? What did you all love about this record?
Tess Duncan: I was raised in a pretty non-feminist household. My brother and sister loved the album and went to see Blink live (I wasn’t allowed to go). I didn’t understand or think much about what the lyrics meant. I hadn’t revisited the album in a long time but only now realize how much angst and misogyny was in it.
Laura Leebove: I was 12 when this record came out, and had no idea what the hell I was saying when I was singing along with that line in “Dumpweed,” or really most of these lyrics. I definitely responded to the music itself — I had started listening to more “alternative” bands like the Offspring and Green Day in fifth and sixth grade (this came out the summer after sixth grade for me), and when friends in high school introduced me to new music, bands like the Get Up Kids and Saves the Day and Less Than Jake, it made a lot of sense to me. But, when this album came out I was also super into the more pop-oriented boy bands, so this was pretty much an intersection of those two worlds. This album is so shiny and catchy and obviously my friends and I all thought Mark, Tom and Travis were super cute.
Puja Patel: I was young enough to think that these guys were operating under some vaguely self-aware veil of irony? (Note: I realize that is extending them a hefty line of credit.) I had already heard petulant, pouty, hate-thyself lyrics from other rock-y bro boy-band predecessors and had grown used to telling myself they were sarcastic. Sublime’s “Date Rape” was mad confusing to me — and still is, to be honest — but the band released it with explicit qualifier that they made the song in flabbergasted response to an idiot bro at a party joking about date rape. (They used his quote, “If it wasn’t for date rape, I’d never get laid” as the hook.)
The same went for Weezer‘s “No One Else,” where Rivers Cuomo begs for a girl who “laughs for no one else.” That felt so obviously self-loathing and pathetic that the band must have been poking fun at themselves… right? I applied a similar mentality to Blink-182 back then; they were whiny, sad-sack dummies and they knew it. They were easily bored, often rejected, and refused BJs when they were actually offered. They were impulsive and bratty and not even that cute. That’s why they were fun, though. That’s why they were forgiven and lived on in my Discman. We were allowed and encouraged to laugh at them.
Duncan: I really can’t tell how self-aware they were at the time, to be honest. Just because when you read interviews with them, they seemed totally in support of the mentality in their songs. They talk about how much they love when girls show them their tits at shows and how they’re proud of their potty-mouth humor. And in “The Party Song,” Mark hates on dudes who want to get girls drunk to give them head after the party, but their whole persona indicates that they would do the same thing. It’s all super contradictory and mystifying. It’s the same feeling I have about “Wendy Clear,” where Mark mentions the girl ending up with a guy who pretends not to hear her when she cries.
Greene: Yeah, I mean, there was an interview where Tom was asked about the idea that they were promoting misogyny at their shows, and his response doesn’t exactly scream “self-awareness”: “I think it’s so much more punk to piss people off than to conform to all those veganistic views.” Veganistic, people. Those people who were mad at them were clearly just vegans.
Also, this was truly the era of proctology in album titles — it was only a few years removed from Enema that Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water shattered Billboard album-sales records. It was the peak of the industry, and you could essentially name your album some variant on “ass water” and sell untold millions of copies. (Reminder: This album has sold 15 million fucking copies, and Dookie has sold more than 20 million.)
That said, opening with a poop joke feels weirdly necessary with these guys, and the fact that they conflate porn star Janice — who, of course, is on the cover, snapping a rubber glove salaciously — with an enema, something so gross and yucky that to even mention it is to collapse into fits, says a lot about these guys and their view of sex. After all, what is sex, at the age when you’re aware of it, but not yet having much of it, but something gross and funny that bodies do? What makes it different?
Keyes: You know, I’m glad you brought this up, Jayson, because one of the things that struck me about the record is how there actually isn’t a lot of sex on it. In “What’s My Age Again?” she takes his pants off, but he turns on the TV. In “Mutt,” he’s openly disdainful of the couple that only wants to hook up. In “The Party Song,” which Tess mentioned, he’s disgusted by a girl who comes off as “too easy” or trying too hard.
Greene: I feel like I slot this album in the same era as American Pie and There’s Something About Mary, but I think I’m just grouping things under a mind state rather than by year. This was definitely a Farrelly Bros-heavy time in pop culture.
Leebove: Well, they made a cameo in American Pie, so, you’re not far off. (“Mutt” was part of the soundtrack too.)
Claire Lobenfeld: Oddly enough, Mary is sort of the quintessential anti-Cool Girl. She wants to eat hot dogs and drink beers with you, etc. but she also demands emotional support, so the juxtaposition of those things is interesting because, frank and beans aside, maybe there was more going on in that movie and we didn’t realize it?
— Keyes ’
Keyes: Not to make a groaner of a reference here, but what they reminded me of more than anything else on this record was kind of a more immature Holden Caulfield, repulsed by a lot of the cooler kids around them, mystified by sex (to the point of almost total disinterest) and, honestly, mostly singing about love in the context of some kind of mushy romantic ideal. Except for that part about wanting a girl they could train.
Lobenfeld: That’s one of the things that confuses the shit out of me in 2014. Like, exactly what are the nightmarish qualities — Tom literally sings “she’s a fucking nightmare” in “Dumpweed” — that need to be trained into of someone? That she needs to love fart jokes? What’s the possibility that not being interested in sex is the thing? It sort of belies the idea that adolescent men are only concerned with sex and suggests this idea of fear, which is totally normal when you’re that young, but it isn’t a “cool” feeling. I am obviously giving too much credit here, but, you know, sometimes you gotta read between the lines.
Leebove: Claire, I was just going to say something about them being afraid of girls. I think that’s what reconciles some of the super-misogynistic lyrics for me. It makes me think of that Buzzfeed video, “What Men Are Really Saying When Catcalling Women,” where the meaning behind the offensive shit men yell is actually their (completely insane) way of expressing their insecurities. Obviously, they saw women as having power over them.
Lindsay Hood: Jayson, I’m glad you brought up Janine Lindemulder on the cover because I had completely forgotten about it, and when I saw it again I was pretty horrified. Especially when it’s accompanied by a slew of lyrics about how to train women, or how much better women would be if only they did exactly what you wanted them to do — because a porn star is just a fantasy that cooperates. And yet, as Joe mentions, there’s also this inherent fear of a woman being sexual in any way. So basically, I can sum up this record as, “I’m scared of girls, you guys,” which was incredibly off-putting. Also, I think it’s important to note that some of the members were not that young when they made this album. Mark Hoppus was 27.
Lobenfeld: It is my experience that 27-year-old dudes are still afraid of women. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Duncan: In their tour booklet from 2000, Tom talks about how “Dumpweed” is about girls being smarter than dudes, and how frustrating it is that you can’t get them to do what you want them to do, like you can with a dog. (See also: “Dysentery Gary,” where Tom sings, “Where’s my dog?” after getting rejected by the girl he wants to be with.)
Patel: I have to ask: At first listen, when we were kids, did it ever feel (as women) that the bro-hooks of this band might actually speak to us in some instances? HEAR ME OUT. Through the raucousness of “The Party Song,” hearing the kicker of the hook that rose above it — “Some girls try too hard” — felt like a fucking victory on my first few listens as an insecure teen. I eventually actually listened to the lyrics and realized that this was some bullshit, but there was a reason that even my fellow nerdy-nerd girlfriends loved that song. It was because a couple of cool kids on the radio were acknowledging the petty things we’d grumble about when the stereotypically “hot” girl in our class would impress a dude “with the way that they dressed/ with those things on their chest” with the same fervor. I never wanted to be those girls but, as someone who felt awkward and invisible to guys my age, that hook was stupidly fulfilling in some ways.
Hood: I understand what you’re saying and I definitely remember feeling that way, but on the flipside it also promotes the idea of the “cool girl.” And that is its own dangerous mythology.
Leebove: It’s probably worth mentioning that not only were girls in love with the members of Blink-182, but teenage boys wanted to be them. I had friends who started playing guitar because of them and wanted lip piercings so they could look like Tom. (I also have a guitar tab book for this album somewhere at my dad’s house.)
Duncan: I wonder if they realized that a lot of kids saw them as their older brothers or role models? I feel like they tricked kids in a way into thinking that they were “one of them” when they were actually more like the popular kids in high school who would beat you up after gym class. As older guys, they were teaching these younger listeners how to react or respond to different life events. “Dysentery Gary” is what you do when you don’t get the girl (make fun of her boyfriend). “Dumpweed” is what you do when a girl doesn’t do what you want her to (get angry, “girls are such a drag,” so blame it on her). “The Party Song” is what you do when you meet a girl you think is lame or desperate (make fun of her but use her when you’re desperate: “So I said I’d call her but never would bother/ Until I got turned down by another girl at a party”).
Patel: Yeah, I mean the working title for “What’s My Age Again?” was “Peter Pan Syndrome.” In an interview, Tom once said that he went straight from high school to being in a band; he never had the “normal” 18-22 teenage-becoming-an-adult experience, where you might actually do all the things he so vividly describes in the album. The idea of these guys being a “cool, renegade older brother” figure to teenage boys is spot on, and is actualized by the fact that the band is so obsessed with a particular age range and the idea of growing up all together. Age comes into this thing outside of “What’s My Age Again?” — “Anthem”‘s hook is “Wish my friends were 21,” while “Adam’s Song” hinges on a lonely boy’s nostalgia for the glory days of being 16. And the most heartfelt, sentimental song on the album, in my opinion, is about hitting 17 or 18 (maybe the last time that the singer felt like a normal teenager) and being genuinely scared of change on “Going Away to College.”
Hood: I feel like when you’re in middle and high school, one of the hallmarks of “cool” is being able to cultivate a dismissive attitude; toward sex and women, and on occasions when you feel threatened by other men. So the album feeds into that type of insecurity. It’s one of the reasons it registered with that age group.
Patel: Yes, totally, Lindsay. Also, Backstreet Boys’ Millennium came out the same year and was huge. (Not gonna lie: I probably know all the words to that album, too.) And Blink openly made fun of that band. That said, I would argue that these bands had some crossover in their fan base. The Backstreet Boys were assembled by someone close to Mark in age (BSB’s Kevin was 28), but gave us a totally romantic, ridiculous vision of young love: devoted men who wanted to be there for you and coddle you and stayed home crying when you weren’t around. Blink-182 were sneering fart-bros who didn’t care if you went out with them (or at least tried to pretend they didn’t). Like you said, the latter seemed cooler because of it.
Leebove: They definitely were positioned that way by their label — when I talked with him a couple weeks ago, Tom Delonge said they had no idea they were going to be portrayed that way (like pinups, basically, which led to the teen-girl magazines, and therefore my bedroom walls), and while the masturbation jokes didn’t go away they did start to take their image a little bit more seriously after this record. I think they were especially marketed the way they were because Enema came out at a time when music videos were actually a huge part of MTV’s programming and it was near the beginning of the TRL era. So they were directly competing with *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys.
Jayson Greene: Yeah, Laura, I remember that they were definitely marketed as a “boy band,” only in scare quotes. It seemed novel at the time. The video for “All the Small Things” was a parody of a boy-band video that traded openly on their unthreatening hotness. It seems like they were being consciously positioned by their label and marketing as a nice little stepping stone from the world of boy bands into the — well, whatever world they represented. The leap from elementary school to middle school, basically.
Lobenfeld: Boy bands tap into an early notion of sexuality that has barely cracked the surface. You have a sense that one day you will experience romantic relationships, but the reality of it is so foreign that you need training wheels. That’s why they elicit guttural reactions that make you think their tween heads will explode in some Cronenbergian fashion. It’s interesting that Blink-182 would be lumped in with those guys when they’re espousing essentially the same feeling for their heterosexual male counterparts. I’m lost on the age range of who would have a Blink-182 poster on his or her wall as an object of lust, but I wonder if it’s part of some evolutionary pattern: Subtle discovery of romance, realization that it can be real, and then total unmitigated fear.
Hood: I would also make the argument that they still appeal to older women because we have these ideas implanted in our brains very early on, so the identification still resonates. But maybe part of these boy bands being lumped together has to do with what we were discussing earlier re: Blink-182′s aversion to sex in general. Condoning sexual activity, in a way, makes it “safer.” Even when they’re naked in the video for “All the Small Things,” the focus is on humor and not sexuality.
Keyes: Another reason the record was a little alarming to me was because the punk bands who had gotten really popular when I was a teenager in the ’90s — specifically, bands like Green Day — all grew, more or less, out of the DIY community, and still had those ethics, even if they were recording for a “big, bad major label.” Dookie, for all its juvenilia, isn’t really sexist, it’s just immature. So the transition from that being “commercial punk” to this being “commercial punk” was jarring to me.
Lobenfeld: I think it’s the first musical artifact of my life where the notions (although, nothing concrete) of selling out, and on the total opposite end, misogyny to started to seep into my psyche. I don’t know how precisely conscious of it I was, but I learned about Kathleen Hanna almost immediately after Enema of the State came out. There was probably a number of forces at work there, and having the message that you need “a girl that [you] can train” exist in your head at the same time as “Does it scare you that we don’t need you?” is a pretty powerful way to cultivate your identity and relate to your male peers as a young woman.
Keyes: That aside, as a pop record, it’s pretty excellent. It kind of struck me in points as this weird hybrid of high-gloss ’80s hair metal delivered with punk rock velocity. I might be alone in that one, but some of the guitar leads definitely recalled that time and place for me.
Duncan: It is a weird hybrid — I totally hear those influences, Joe. It appealed to the kid who loved metal, the kid who loved punk, but the songs were still so fucking hooky. All of the singing was crystal clear and so everyone could sing along — the way you could with a boy band.
Leebove: Yeah, the first time I re-listened to this, I got so freaking giddy hearing the first few notes of “Dumpweed.” A lot of the sound had to do with Jerry Finn (RIP), who produced it, and also worked on a ton of Green Day’s records, plus stuff like Pennywise, Rancid, MxPx, Sum 41 etc. (and Morrissey!). It was definitely one of the shiniest punk records up to that point, and it influenced a bazillion other bands. They also were a gateway band to kids who were just starting to get into punk — they’d hear Blink-182 and then go back and listen to more “traditional”-or-whatever punk bands that weren’t this poppy.
Greene: Whether or not they were self-aware in their lyrics, they certainly knew what they were going for with their sound. This record sounds incredible. I’m with you on the hair metal, Joe; I think Blink-182 permanently upped the hair-metal quotient in all of pop-punk. That guitar line that flies in behind Tom’s voice on the chorus to “Dysentery Gary” is essentially piped in directly from Van Halen’s 1984.
Also, a side note: Pop-punk is basically perfect children’s music. The weightlessness of the sound, the relative lack of bass, the childlike voices, the nyah-nyah melodies. If I weren’t grievously concerned with what it would do to her developing psyche, I am positive that my toddler daughter would jump up and down and squeal if I played her “What’s My Age Again?”
Keyes: I never noticed this before, but the opening bass line to “What’s My Age Again?” is identical to the bass line of “Debaser.” OK, to wrap up: Favorite song? I’m going with “Mutt,” which I started liking more every time it came around, especially the way he sings “he tells himself that he is the bomb.” “All the Small Things” is probably a close second.
Greene: “Going Away to College.” I mean, it’s hardly even close. The existence of “Going Away to College” is the only real argument anyone could offer as evidence that Mark and Tom had any self-awareness at all. That chorus is so perfect on every available level — musically, emotionally, fucking metrically. “I haven’t been this scared/ In a long time” is already devastating in its simplicity — who isn’t moved by someone admitting they’re terrified? But the way he rolls the rest of it out: “And I’m so unprepared/ But here’s your valentine/ Bouquet of clumsy words/ A simple melody/ The world’s an ugly place/ But you’re so beautiful…” I mean, just typing all that out gave me chills. And then, the title, which feels like it’s intentionally trying to remind you of the Descendents’ Milo Goes to College (they were Tom’s favorite band) adds resonance. I don’t think anyone’s ever written a better pop-punk love song. There, I said it.
Patel: “Going Away to College” is my favorite, too. I was in eighth grade and the idea of starting something new (high school) and being terrified about it was so real. You could scrawl that song’s hook in a binder or print it out and tape into a locker (dude explicitly says as much in the song) and not be embarrassed by the fact that you felt emotional about a song as plainly stated and simply arranged as that one. It had that vulnerable, heart-on-my-sleeve pull.
Duncan: Plus that classically self-deprecating line “If young love is just a game then/ I must have missed the kick-off.”
Leebove: “Going Away to College” is pretty great, for all of those reasons. I know this is a total cop-out but I don’t have a favorite. “Adam’s Song” is definitely up there and “All the Small Things” because it’s fun to sing at karaoke. With all of you guys.
Duncan: “Adam’s Song” probably just because it’s universally relatable, but maybe I just had the sads. Maybe I just liked it because I felt like it was one where Mark is actually showing his humanity in a real way? I love depressing shit. But I still love “Alien’s Exist.”
Lobenfeld: “Anthem” forever! That was the one thing on that album that was actually aspirational for me. “Home show, Mom won’t know”? Yes, let’s do this.
Hood: Have to say, I hate this whole record. But if you’re forcing me, then “All the Small Things.” Even though that girl should stop watching his shows and form her own band.