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Holy Hell! Enema of the State Turns 20

Holy Hell! Enema of the State Turns 20

One could argue about who invented pop-punk for days on end, but it’s nearly indisputable that blink-182 turned the sub-genre into a cultural phenomenon.

One could argue about who invented pop-punk for days on end, but it’s nearly indisputable that blink-182 turned the sub-genre into a cultural phenomenon. True, the path was cleared for them earlier in the ‘90s by the likes of Green Day and the Offspring, but blink captured a certain subset of the public’s imagination in a way that their predecessors never came close to doing. With Enema of the State, blink-182 became pop stars; for a while, the idea of a band like them headlining punk and alt events like Lollapalooza or Warped Tour was kind of ridiculous because they were just too big for something like that. They had ascended to the same status as the biggest boy bands and teen idols of the time in 1999, even if they defiantly refused to look the part. Enema of the State was and still is one of the most important albums of its era in terms of how it shaped pop culture afterwards, even if, in the scope of the band’s whole discography, it lands somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about listening to blink-182 now, when the hormones have calmed down and the dick jokes have lost their luster, is the dichotomy between the two songwriters. Looking back, this is easily the defining trait of the band, the thing that sets them apart from their pop-punk peers who always presented a united songwriting front. Instead, in Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge, we get two songwriters with distinct voices (both in terms of songwriting and actual singing) who are much further apart from each other than one would think. While there’s a shared immaturity that unites the two–let’s not forget that this was music aimed at teenagers and that they called the album Enema of the State–that immaturity is expressed in very different ways by each person, and Enema also finds one half of the duo struggling to free himself from that immaturity while the other is content to wallow in it.

Neither Hoppus nor DeLonge have ever portrayed life as sunshine and roses throughout their time as songwriters. However, the way that each man approaches their strife is remarkable in just how they contrast. Hoppus’ gaze is turned inward to the point that it occasionally reaches self-flagellation. While his characters maintain a certain level of immaturity, they seem to be aware of it and often blame it (and, by extension, themselves) for their problems in life. One need only look to the coupling of “Going Away to College” and hit single “What’s My Age Again?” for evidence. DeLonge, on the other hand, lashes out and fixes his ire on outside forces as the source for the problems his speakers face. Women bear the brunt of this rage: between his proclamations that “Girls are such a drag” on “Dysentery Gary” and asking for “a girl that I can train” on “Dumpweed,” it’s safe to say that DeLonge isn’t portraying the most forward-thinking people in the world. Aside from his misogynist streak, DeLonge goes after parents and the structures of suburban life (all neatly encapsulated in “Anthem”), and, yes, aliens. In fact, the closest DeLonge comes to anything other than despondent rage is “All the Small Things,” which has a near-insubstantial lyric about depending on someone to care for him when times are rough. Naturally, it’s the band’s biggest-ever hit single.

The fact that DeLonge was so open about the grounded nature of “All the Small Things” brings up another aspect of Enema of the State that may hold the key to explaining why this is the pop-punk album for so many people: there’s very little real experience here. Both men were well into their twenties by the time Enema was written and recorded. It’s possible that the whole album is based on honest, lived experience, but I would argue that it’s more likely that the pair was putting themselves in the shoes of their audience. These songs were written deliberately to appeal to teens, with a particular focus on romantic strife and suburban monotony. Pair that with sterling production from Jerry Finn (seriously, the leap in sound quality from Dude Ranch to this is astonishing), and the groundwork for Enema of the State becoming a massive hit is laid perfectly.

One can debate whether Enema of the State is the best blink-182 album (my money’s on Dude Ranch, personally), but it is still fitting that this became the blink-182 album that most people gravitated towards. Unlike the substance-addled shenanigans of early Green Day or the noxious cynicism of the Offspring, there’s a surprising empathy to what blink-182 did here, even if they were trying to be immature shitheads at the same time. Rather than make everything about themselves, they created a pop-punk mirror for listeners to hold up and see themselves into, which is the kind of thing that the best pop musicians strive for. That’s also what so many of the imitators that followed Enema never quite grasped. As art, Enema of the State is the sort of thing one can take or leave. As pop, however, it ticks all the boxes.

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