Pop punk, as big as it’s become over the years, has never been truly taken seriously by the music press (or most people for that matter). There are a lot of reasons for that, like the music isn’t exactly intricate or it takes most of the rebellion and brute force out of the punk genre, but a big reason is its immaturity. Bands like Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, New Found Glory, Paramore and (in their early years) Green Day gained huge popularity for songs about being awkward in teenage relationships, trying to break out of mundane American youth culture, getting back at mean girls, parents not understanding where one is in life, or just hanging out with your buddies. And no band of the genre emphasized and succeeded from the emphasis of those traits as much as Blink-182. But how long can a band sing about those things before they decide they want something different?
Today is the 15th anniversary of the collision course between Blink’s ambition and Blink’s genre. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket came two years after Blink’s commercial breakthrough album, Enema of the State, featuring hits like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things.” Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was the album that cemented Blink as legitimate rock stars with over ten million copies sold and the first album identified as “punk” to debut at number one on the Billboard album charts (how about that, Ramones fans?). However, it also stands as the moment where Blink started to drift away from the genre that made them big and the one they arguably helped bring into the mainstream. At the time of recording, MCA Records wanted Blink to keep the sound from Enema going into the new album. Blink must’ve had trouble with that request, considering Take Off ended up with a much heavier sound and some faster songs. There’s much more aggression and attitude on this album, but that clashes with the childish songs like “The Rock Show,” “First Date,” “Online Song,” and “Happy Holidays, You Bastard.” So the question becomes which band does Blink want to be: the pissed-off twenty-somethings creeping towards adulthood or the forever young punks reminiscing about high school relationships and being cooler than mom and dad?
As a band, Blink sounds and plays like a tight knit unit. Tracks like “Online Song,” Anthem Part Two” and “The Rock Show” show how fast Blink can play and how amazing it is that they can keep up with each other. When a band has a machine-gun drummer like Travis Barker (the Keith Moon of punk), it’s a miracle that they can create a tune around him, let alone a catchy one. “First Date” and “The Rock Show” are two of Blink’s best songs combining a faster beat and sharp riffs. “Roller Coaster” features a bouncy beat between guitarist Tom DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus, with Barker filling in the gaps with drums. Despite reports that the band recorded some of the album in separate studio sessions, songs like “Reckless Abandon” leading into “Everytime I Look For You” are an example of a band reading each other extremely well and knowing when to sync up on tracks. There are even slight hints of Blink’s self-titled 2003 album on TOYPAJ on tracks like “Story of a Lonely Guy” and “Stay Together for the Kids.” Guitar effects, drum machines and a slower tempo show a good range for the band and the desire for a different mood. It brought in the idea that pop punk could be more than just fast chords and bouncing rhythms.
All three band members were in their mid-to-late twenties at the time of recording, so what did they want to talk about? Ex-girlfriends from high school, first dates, Warped Tour, and grandpa defecating himself. Yeah, Blink had a hard time getting away with stuff they sang about at 23-years-old when they were 26-years-old (time’s a funny thing, isn’t it). “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” is one of the dumbest 42 seconds you’ll ever hear and be categorized as a “song.” While nothing else on the album reached that stupidity, there are moments where Blink’s songs don’t fit their age. “Reckless Abandon” features lyrics not entirely fitting for men of their age (“Not sure if I’ll get laid and/ Not sure if I’ll fail or pass / Kissed every girl in class”) and “Give Me One Good Reason” sounds like DeLonge pandering to the younger fans of the pop punk genre by whining about other genres (“Hate the jocks and the preps, the hippie f***ing scum bags / Heavy metalers with their awful p***y hair bands”). “Shut Up” is just the sound of a couple cursing each other out, no cleverness or interesting dialogue to it at all making both parties seem undesirable. There’s no redeeming quality to them and no interest to the story. It’s the equivalent of listening to a couple shouting in the upstairs apartment while you’re just trying to go to sleep at 1 a.m. That said, Blink do have brief moments of maturity here. “The Rock Show” is actually bittersweet at the end about time gone by and always wanting what ended in disaster (“And if I ever got another chance I’d still ask her to dance / Because she kept me waiting”). “Story of a Lonely Guy” is emo done right, with the story of DeLonge failing to have the nerve to talk to a girl. Then there’s “Stay Together for the Kids,” one of the first times pop punk could hit close to home for listeners.
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket could’ve been Blink’s victory lap for finally hitting it big, but instead a realization about pop punk and how it can’t last. Pop punk is definitely a young person’s music genre, clearly written and meant for teenagers (or people in their early twenties like myself) and every band faces a moment where they need to age gracefully. Paramore’s done it, Fall Out Boy turned into stadium rock and Green Day made TWO rock operas. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is the transitional record, something that doesn’t entirely work but something that needed to be made. It’s not a bad record, but certainly the awkward middle child in their discography. Better yet, it’s a lesson for all pop punk bands to know your own age as much as your audience.