Cheshire Cat Blink 182
DeLonge, at the time of its release, called the album's musical style "not punk rock [...] We're nothing like the Sex Pistols, but our music kind of flowed from this genre of fast music with melody." The Los Angeles Times described the album's lyrical themes in a 1995 profile: "Most of blink-182's songs poke fun at their own youthful escapades, focusing on raging hormones, candy, masturbation, intestinal gas and other topics of interest to adolescents." The refusal to grow up, which arises in many later Blink-182 songs (most notably "What's My Age Again?") is a common lyrical theme on the record. The album's sound is inspired by punk groups the band idolized, such as the Vandals, the Descendents and NOFX. "Every song of ours is a version of another punk song that I've heard and tried to make better," DeLonge remarked at the time. "In the end, ours wind up a little different, but I know where the influence came from, and I think it's important to acknowledge that." A number of the tracks on Cheshire Cat are recycled from the band's previous demos.
Cheshire Cat Blink 182
Looking back, it's possible to see the roots of blink-182's tuneful frat punk on Cheshire Cat, but the fact of the matter is, this isn't as good an album as the ones that came later. That doesn't mean it's bad, since it skates by on its impish pranks and brash musicality, but the group is rather scattershot here, hitting the target as often as they miss it. There's enough here to dig into if you're a fan, but you have to be a fan to appreciate it.
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.
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 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.
Together, they were one of pop punk's most unrivaled songwriting teams, but Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus also wrote some of their best music separately, outside of blink-182. For this edition of 'In Defense of the Genre,' I run down the 15 best songs by blink-182 side projects.
Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus are one of those classic songwriting duos whose chemistry is undeniable, even when they wanna tear each other's heads off. When they sing and write together, they bring out the best in each other and sometimes push each other in directions they otherwise never would've gone (especially on blink-182's untitled album, where their individual ideas were most noticeably different). They were able to further develop their songs with the addition of drum god Travis Barker and production wiz Jerry Finn, but even before those two were involved, you could hear Mark and Tom's undeniable chemistry on the rawer, near-perfect Dude Ranch, recorded with original blink drummer Scott Raynor and producer Mark Trombino (who drummed in fellow San Diego band Drive Like Jehu and frequently produced for Tom DeLonge's beloved Jimmy Eat World). Dude Ranch's production was more modest and the songs were more straightforward, but Mark and Tom's melodies, harmonies, and vocal interplay were already on the level they'd be at on the band's more mainstream records.
They're at their best when they're together, but like they were during blink-182's mid/late 2000s hiatus, they've now been apart for going on five years. blink-182 have been touring and making music without Tom (who was replaced by Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba), and after years of UFO-related work, Tom finally made his return to music last year with the first Angels & Airwaves tour in seven years and their first new song in three years. At those shows, he played a solo acoustic medley with blink-182 and Box Car Racer songs. Last year, he posted video from the studio of a new song that he said "kind of sounds like Box Car Racer." Travis Barker (amazingly) replied, Never will sound like Box Car Racer without me [hugging face emoji]." Angels & Airwaves are scheduled to tour and play festivals again this year, as are blink-182. With both Tom and Mark separately active, and all this talk of Box Car Racer, and because last year Mark said he "[thinks] it'd be fun" to do a tour with all the side projects, the timing feels right to look at the best music that Tom and Mark wrote apart from each other.
The blink-182 side projects have been as much a part of blink-182 as blink-182 themselves, and oftentimes the teams that made them looked as much like blink-182 as blink-182 do today. Box Car Racer -- which Tom did on the side during the height of blink-182's fame -- had Travis Barker on drums and Jerry Finn producing, and it even had one song with guest vocals by Mark Hoppus. It created tensions within blink-182, but if its darker, heavier, more serious sound wasn't so successful, blink-182 may have never made their now-classic untitled album. After the band first split, Mark and Travis formed +44, and their sole album was also made with Jerry Finn. (So there's one Tom/Travis/Jerry album, and one Mark/Travis/Jerry album.) The same year as the +44 album, Tom released the first album by Angels & Airwaves (which also included and still includes Box Car Racer guitarist David Kennedy), and if you fuse those albums together in your mind, you kind of end up with the mid 2000s blink-182 album that never was.
I've already written about blink-182's discography at length, but if you only listen to the songs released as "blink-182," you'll miss out on some of the best music that Mark and Tom (and Travis) ever wrote. There's a lot of it out there (especially by Angels & Airwaves), but for this list I've narrowed it all down to the 15 best songs by blink-182 side projects. In my humble opinion, every song on this list is as good as just about anything by blink-182, and they all sound like songs that could have been written for blink-182. On that note, no disrespect to The Transplants (Travis' punk/rap supergroup fronted by Rancid's Tim Armstrong) or Give the Drummer Some (Travis' guest-filled rap album), it's just that those songs don't necessarily register as "blink-182 side project" songs when you listen to them.
Lastly, everything on this list either comes from the Box Car Racer album, the +44 album, or the first Angels & Airwaves album, all of which were released in or around blink-182's most creatively and commercially successful era. That leaves off the more recent material, but in this writer's opinion, the 15 best songs all came from those three albums. Your mileage may vary, and feel free to leave your own favorites in the comments.
No Transplants on this list, but here's the Box Car Racer/Transplants crossover episode that remains one of the most distinct songs to come out of the whole pop punk boom. Travis leads off the song with a more relaxed, mid-tempo beat than you'd usually expect from blink and BCR, and then Tom splits lead vocals with Tim Armstrong, with Tom on the hook (harmonizing with New Found Glory's Jordan Pundik) and Tim delivering near-stream-of-consciousness verses with the same laid back, hip hop-inspired drawl he used on much of that first Transplants album (released five months later). It's an anomaly that doesn't really sound like anything else Tom or Tim ever released, but it's not out of their comfort zones or out of place in their discographies either. It scans as "weird" if you're expecting "All the Small Things" or "Ruby Soho," but it reveals itself to be hauntingly beautiful.