Classic Record Review: “Enema of the State” by Blink-182 (1999)

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Five words or less: Punk without the politics.

Best track: “Adam’s Song”

It’s really all there in Tom DeLonge’s voice. I mean, he sounds like a twelve year-old stuck in a twenty-five year-old’s body. Whether or not he’s consciously perking up his voice to resemble that of a snot-nosed tween, it shows that this record is not really about adolescence, as it might seem on the surface. No, what Enema of the State is really about is the nostalgia of looking back at adolescence. There’s learned melancholy lurking underneath the juvenile antics.

Maybe that’s why it resonated with so many people back in 1999. To the tune of four million copies sold, Blink-182 put out a pop-punk record that represented a neatly packaged eulogy for the teen years, a time that is already so fleeting and idealized for many people. But they never act a day above sixteen. Bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus, guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge, and drummer Travis Barker really understood the male teenage mindset, stuck between the immaturity of childhood and the daunting responsibility of adulthood. On Enema of the State, they nailed a much-imitated brand of arrogant humor. Or maybe the secret behind the album’s commercial success was the fact that it had three of the best and most addictive singles of the 90’s. Hell, of all time.

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Like many great pop records, the singles are the focus here. They collectively form the mission statement of Enema of the State. “What’s My Age Again?” was made to soundtrack the likes of American Pie. It’s immature and cocky to the extreme. “No one should take themselves so seriously”, Mark Hoppus barks at a recently ex-girlfriend, in response to her inability to handle his TV addiction and prank phone calls at her expense. “Adam’s Song” is the best track on the album, treading darker territory that the band only glances over on the album’s other songs. It’s the best representative of Mark Hoppus’s vocal contributions to the album, which are generally more introspective than DeLonge’s whiny tantrums. The song reads as a suicide note, but gains a hopeful edge in the last stanza as the line “Sixteen just held such better days” changes to “Tomorrow holds such better days”.

The transition from the heft of “Adam’s Song” to the next single and next track, “All the Small Things”, is one of the most glorious moments in music. That is not an overstatement. One moment we’re sitting in our rooms alone, just passing the time, and the next we’re riding along in someone’s car, feeling the breeze and “na na na”-ing along with the radio. Those rolling, brightly colored guitar chords symbolize more than just a segue between songs. It’s moving out of the darkness and into the light. “All the Small Things” is the most anthemic song here, even more than the final song, “Anthem”. And, of course, all three singles melodically soar with radio-ready choruses that never feel stale.

The rest of the album wavers between great and forgettable. Some of the songs unfortunately resemble generic pop-punk and don’t even approach the heights reached by the singles. Try as I might, I still can’t recall the melodies to songs like “Mutt” and “Wendy Clear”. They sort of float in one ear and out the other. “The Party Song” and “Dysentery Gary” are fun but kind of fillerish.  “Aliens Exist” and “Don’t Leave Me” are great songs though, and the latter boasts the funniest and smartest line of the album: “I said ‘Don’t let your future be destroyed by my past.’ She said ‘Don’t let my door hit your ass.'”

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The only album tracks that can compare to the singles are the opening and closing tracks that bookend the album. “Dumpweed” is a fantastic and break-neck opener that revels in its own undeveloped misogyny. “I need a girl that I can train,” wails DeLonge over rocket-fueled drums. And the closer “Anthem” is an anti-parent and pro-running away fist-bumper.

Some might say that this record (and Blink-182 as a whole) is just a watered-down, overly commercialized hybrid of punk and pop. Some might say that pianos and synthesizers don’t belong anywhere near punk music. Some might say that this is just a record for frustrated losers to play on their junky car stereos during the daily drive to their local community college. To those punk purists out there, I echo what Blink-182 proclaim over crashing guitars on “What’s My Age Again?”: no one should take themselves so seriously.

Rating: 8.3 out of 10

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Comment Question: Which of the three Enema of the State singles is your favorite?

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7 Comments

  1. Great line about the 12-year old.
    Favourite of the 3? Tough to say, as Adam’s song was so different from the other 2. I’ll go with What’s my age again as the song, all the small things as the favourite video.
    Like you/they said, No one should take themselves so seriously and I’m glad they didn’t.

    1. Well, I would say that “What’s My Age Again?” was the best and funniest video, but that’s just my opinion. Thanks for commenting! You are the first one to actually answer one of my comment questions!

  2. I love that album so much, I can’t choose a favourite song because it changes so often. Currently it’s aliens exist though… Though my ultimate blink song will always be Dammit.

    Adam’s song is quality, full of pathos. I’m also pretty sure it’s about a Blink 182 fan called Adam who killed himself, though I could be wrong about that. Adds something to it, I think anyway

    1. I’ve heard that story about “Adam’s Song” too. I love the Nirvana reference in there: “I took my time, I hurried up, the choice was mine, I didn’t think enough”, referencing Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”. I think it shows that Blink were trying to position themselves as sort of the anti-Nirvana, really hedonistic and youthful instead of heavy and serious like Nirvana. “Adam’s Song” has a positive message overall in my opinion, even though it’s about suicide. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I would definitely pick Adams song & All the Small things together as one because what you said was absolutely spot on about the transition of Adams song segue into All the small things . I still feel goose pimples and emotional when I play the album all the way through and it gets to both those two tracks and small things is still emotional but in a more optimistic way . At almost 35 years old Blink are still one of my top bands & Enema of the state is an emotional roller coaster that I still very much Enjoy riding every so often . Awesome times.

    1. yeah i love those two, this album captures a lot of emotion even if it’s kind of a silly album. im not a big blink fan, but it’s cool that they encapsulated this pop-punk culture in the late 90s and beyond

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