Dude Ranch can never be made again, and should never be replicated.
This summer, Blink-182, the outrageously influential and monumentally successful pop punk powerhouse from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, is returning with their seventh full length album, California. They’re also returning without one of their founding members, Tom DeLonge. While DeLonge’s long, strange spiral into whacko-land is well documented and his bizarre take on the state of the band (i.e. he believes he’s still involved) is a bit concerning a well, it’s the fact that Blink has re-stoked their fans with their newest member (Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio) and their newest single “Bored to Death” that is nothing short of impressive. Blink-182 may not be the Mark, Tom and Travis show anymore, but it seems their newest iteration is poised to make serious waves once again.
With that said, now would be a great moment to go back and revisit how this dick-and-fart-joke obsessed San Diego power punk trio set the world on fire originally. While 1997’s Dude Ranch wasn’t their first or most successful album, it was the first in which Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and original drummer Scott Raynor showed the world that skate and pop punk, when atomically bonded under a special set of circumstances, can be just what angsty teens and bitter punks need to prove that they’re one in the same in most cases. Dude Ranch is 15 tracks of upbeat pop punk rock with the volume turned to 11 and the speed hovering somewhere around 100 miles per hour. With the dual vocal contrast of Hoppus’ low melody and DeLonge’s raspy whine, each song tells intimate stories about pain and heartbreak and suckin’ and fuckin’ by equal measure from two perspectives that seem to have come from two sides of the same perfect coin. It’s a fuzzily polished, childishly mature iconic pop punk lynchpin of a record that has influenced millions, entertained millions more and launched the careers of three goofballs from California who, for better or worse, shaped two radio-ready, punk-tinged-pop decades following its release.
Consider first track “Pathetic”: this song has literally everything the rest of Dude Ranch has to offer. Blistering speed, catchy, simple riffage and hooks for days, as Hoppus and DeLonge trade vocal duties line for line throughout. As far as opening songs go, this is brilliant song placement. What better way to introduce people to a band’s sound that giving them snippets of every single stylistic choice they make moving forward. There is none. And considering this is the song that leads off an album that allowed fans to let Green Day pass the baton on to their natural successors, there really can’t be an argument there.
But, in order for people to go out and buy Dude Ranch, they needed to get lassoed and hogtied (see what I did there?). “Dammit” – the poppest pop punk song of all pop punk songs, the most covered tune by any and every aspiring pop punk band, the featured single from teen classic Can’t Hardly Wait – was the rope with which Blink took care of business. This angst-ridden bubblegum chewer has an earworm riff and a chorus that makes everyone believe they could come up with something just as good but know, in their hearts, that this song is unique and everything attempted in emulation will be the cheapest knockoff of this or any time period. “Dammit” is immortal. 19 years have passed since its release, and you could walk into any local punk band’s show to this day and hear its riff during soundcheck.
“Waggy,” “Enthused,” “Apple Shampoo,” “Emo” and “Josie” are the more serious tunes on Dude Ranch. And yet most of them have bits of masturbation jokes peppered all over them. What’s fantastic about these tunes, however, is their ability to skate the line between adult emotion and teenage melodrama while acknowledging both their importance and their stupidity. That perspective makes the silliness bittersweet and the sadness more manageable. Hoppus and DeLonge, without even having to try, wrote some of their best work while trying to make each other laugh. In doing so, they managed to reach a level of sincerity in their music that most bands only wish they were capable of.
While this set of tunes is capped off with “A New Hope,” (a love song sent across the galaxy and back through time to court Princess Leia) and “Degenerate” (a hilarious and disgusting little song about, well, being a degenerate), Blink brings the goofiness to a standstill by closing Dude Ranch with “Lemmings” and “I’m Sorry.” “Lemmings” is a fairly brutal song that discusses the loss of friendships and connections. Sure, it’s fast and fun, but it’s equally as somber. You can probably guess where DeLonge went with a tune called “I’m Sorry.” Point is, amidst the hilarity and the sick inside jokes, there is a true emotional center on Dude Ranch that makes the album work to this day. 19 years later, no matter how much folks may want to lump this album’s listening experience into nostalgia land, Dude Ranch is relevant because it’s real. It’s stupid, it’s sad, it’s gross, it’s poignant, it’s everything a positive life experience can offer wrapped in power chords and catchy riffs. The 45 minutes spent reconnecting with this pop punk opus will do nothing short of remind listeners just how good Blink-182 can be.
While only one remaining Blink-182 member recorded Dude Ranch, using the album as a primer for California may pay off mightily. In an attempt to get back to basics, Hoppus, Barker and Skiba have stripped down the densely layered compositions heard on 2003’s self-titled full length and 2011’s Neighborboods in favor for music that sounds more natural and more like Blink used to. While Dude Ranch can never be made again, and should never be replicated, it may be the baseline for the band’s new material. And, for those who have recently been reminded of Blink-182’s magic, that is very exciting.