"Well I guess this is growing up," sings Mark Hoppus in blink-182's "Dammit," an introspective lyric from a band who became famous for being the complete opposite of introspective. It’s interesting to hear a line like that so early in blink-182’s career. Pretty much every one of the band's earlier records focused on the outer surface of things, never venturing too deep or looking too far into the issues they presented. It was a sound that worked for them, one that their semi-shallow teenage audience could relate to. Somehow, when you're having a bad day, hearing Tom Delonge sing "Shi
t Dad, please don't kick my a
ss" just hits the spot. So, again, it's interesting to hear a song like "Dammit," which captures not only the angst of being a teen (my girlfriend left me, I’m a day late and a buck short, etc.), but also the resignation that comes after the angst, the part of you that says “Sure this sucks, but it won’t last forever.” That second part is rarely seen in pop-punk anymore; these days most bands just seem to focus on the angst. Blink-182, on the other hand, were able to tap into the teenage spirit better than almost any other band ever has, and they were able to convey this in most of their songs, and I think, more than the catchiness and more than the humor, that’s why they were so hugely popular with young people. On Dude Ranch, blink-182 were kids being kids, and that’s precisely what they should have been doing.
Ten years ago, blink-182 were just breaking through as a young band whose sound was a bit rough around the edges, not too polished or refined yet. Thanks to Green Day, pop-punk was now a legitimate musical force in the mainstream, and blink-182 were able to find their home catering to what the young people wanted to hear. After a few less than impressive releases, they put out Dude Ranch and the single “Dammit,” which kicked off a long and fruitful career for the band. When this album was recorded back in 1997, the band members were all very young, around the age of 19, and it certainly shows. Mark’s and Tom’s singing is rough and scratchy (although Tom’s was always sort of that way), and the production, while not bad, is certainly nothing to write home about. Still, it’s charming and the flaws are endearing. It’s nice to hear a blink-182 record that isn’t shiny and polished from studio magic. Dude Ranch is a completely bare and honest record; its pros and cons are all apparent right from the get-go. It’s not tedious or overbearing, it’s just fun, catchy, and extremely sincere in its approach and delivery. While blink-182’s self-titled album may be their best, Dude Ranch is perhaps the one that best showcases what they were all about.
“Pathetic” is a rousing album opener, showing right away the band’s penchant for dual vocals. Mark and Tom trade off lines in the verses and join in together for the chorus, singing about identity and becoming comfortable with oneself. Right away it’s apparent that there’s a high level of immaturity on the album, but it feels completely warranted, unlike on the band’s next few albums. They were kids singing about being teenagers, something that was still very real to them at the time. On later albums, they would try to recapture this effect, but they never could quite make it as heartfelt and believable as it is on Dude Ranch. “Voyeur” is about lust, “Dick Lips” is about how your parents lose all semblance of trust in you after you screw up once, “Josie” is about the best girlfriend ever, “Emo” is about just wanting more, etc. Every song on this album is about something that everyone can relate to at some point in their lives (except maybe “Degenerate,” heh).
Surprisingly, this album is actually one of the band’s better performances musically. Tom’s riffs are catchy and original, and he doesn’t always rely on the same power chords to get his point across. Mark hadn’t quite settled all the way into playing only root notes, and he busts out some impressive licks here and there (check out “Boring”) and as an added bonus, you can always hear him underneath everything else, providing a solid musical floor for everything to stand on. At this point, drummer Scott Raynor was still in the band, and while he isn’t nearly as impressive as Travis Barker would be, his tight, albeit repetitive, style of drumming fits Dude Ranch perfectly.
Dude Ranch is raw pop-punk perfection. If pop-punk bands these days could consistently put out records like this one, the genre wouldn’t be such an utter shi
thole. The band’s sound is tight, the songs are catchy, and the lyrics are fun and well-written. Dude Ranch shows a young band who had no idea they would become such a huge musical force, and they were just fine with that. They were just out having fun. Growing up indeed.