One of the very first things I remember loving was blink-182’s “The Rock Show”. Yeah, I was like five at the time, young as shit blah blah blah, but that put me right in the targets of blink’s music. I was the archetype of the demographic that found “The Rock Show” a refreshing change of pace from MTV’s usual fare, which at the turn of the millennium was Coldplay’s “Yellow”, Coldplay’s “Trouble”, a few spins of U2’s “Beautiful Day” and then “Yellow” again. “The Rock Show” was nothing if not a gear shift: it was short, brash and stupid, it demanded to get stuck in your head, Tom spat on the camera in the video. To me it was cool as all fuck.
I lead with this partly because “The Rock Show” is blink’s best single – one of the best singles of the 2000s, really – and partly because there’s no other way to broach the topic of Enema of the State than via what it means to the listener personally, subjectively. From the outside, it’s not hard to see why this is disposable, trashy music to some: pop-punk in general is the most maligned genre, outside of those that actually deserve it like fucking nu-metal. Pop-punk wants to get inside your head and stay there at any cost – the best pop-punk bands understood that it was a multi-approach task, pulling together not just the best hooks but the best production, the best instrumentals, and every now and then a good old appeal to the emotions.
This is where Mark Hoppus comes in, surprisingly vulnerable and straight-faced just one album after he imitated a dog giving him a blowjob. Even on Dude Ranch signs were there that a more emotionally honest songwriter was struggling to get out; in the brutal “Apple Shampoo”, the rawness of “Emo”, even the weirdly existential asides in “Dammit” there are seeds of what would eventually grow into one of the darkest and most nihilistic pop-punk albums ever released, When Your Heart Stops Beating. Fluff like “What’s My Age Again” and “The Party Song” would ensure that his reputation was basically intact, but elsewhere Hoppus was already yearning for connections in a way that would dominate his writing on Untitled. “Don’t Leave Me” and “Going Away to College”, two less immediate cuts which have bloomed into some of Enema‘s best over time, make with “Adam’s Song” (which demands its own paragraph) a trilogy which defines the first half of the album with the sexy nurse on the cover – one of deceptively catchy but somber songs, yearning for closure or absolution for relationships which have fallen apart.
But fuck that, because we came here to party to Tom DeLonge before he started to suck, right?? Much as Dude Ranch was very clearly Hoppus’ album, with three singles “Dammit”, “Josie” and “Apple Shampoo” being his, Enema is without a doubt the album where DeLonge took over. It exploded onto your friend’s shitty Walkman earbuds with “Dumpweed”, the best opener on any pop-punk album of its time. It swept the radio stations and MTV with “All the Small Things”, a song about which nothing new can possibly be said. It closed on the ‘if you know you know’ fan favourite “Anthem”, the farewell to this first and hilariously dumb, carefree era of blink; when they returned with “Part Two” they were already in transition, angrier and sadder and more introspective.
Even Tom’s more minor cuts here, terribly as their lyrics have aged, are wall-to-wall with brilliant hooks and songcraft. “Mutt” is a longtime favourite of mine, a song which boldly attempts to psychoanalyse a failing relationship side by side with the lyric “he took the seat off his own bike because the way that it felt” – it’s hard to picture a better bridge between Dude Ranch‘s chunkier hooks and Enema‘s streamlined sound. “Aliens Exist” will go the fuck off at any show, as The Mark, Tom and Travis Show evinces, regardless of how unfortunate it is in today’s context. Last but far from least, “Dysentery Gary” is an awfully misogynistic three-minute self-own from Tom, which nevertheless boasts some of the best chemistry of any blink song; a truly inspired singer changeover provides one of the best moments on the whole album. No matter the good work Mark put in here, Tom’s nasal whine is the core of the album, burned in my mind as part and parcel with the album cover.
But much as he’s the essence and image of Enema of the State, Tom is not the heart. That belongs to “Adam’s Song”. This is a tune I know logically is basic as hell, slowing blink’s three chords down a bit and adding some piano and Nirvana references for emotional impact. This is also a tune which brought me to tears reading the damn lyrics just yesterday. As NME rightly pointed out, the redemption at the song’s end is what’s really important, especially after the suicidal first three minutes. That final chorus, when Travis’ drums kick in a little bit earlier and the high wailing backing vocals transform the song’s landscape, when Mark demonstrates how a slightly altered few words changes a depressed song into optimism, is the best and most gratifying minute in the blink canon. It’s pure evidence of how Travis Barker, Tom DeLonge and the dearly missed Jerry Finn could pull together to take a Mark Hoppus song to the next level; proof positive of what put this band above all others of their ilk, bands that would sound basically the same to our hypothetical outsider. It’s the small moments of grace inside the poop jokes, sexism and unrelenting hook after hook.
The members of blink-182 made better, longer-lasting works after this – the trilogy of Box Car Racer, Untitled and When Your Heart Stops Beating. They maybe never made something as lovable as Enema of the State again, though. As far as albums for keggers, hungover pilgrimages to fast food joints and crushing on girls in class, there may be no better album in existence. God knows there’s reason to celebrate – the tour is over, we all survived.