Ten Years On: Blink-182 - Untitled
One of my closest friends keeps an old Papa John's pizza box in his closet. He's carried it from his childhood bedroom to all subsequent apartments and temporary crash pads. The box, now nearly ten years old, doesn't smell of rotten cheese and mystery pepperonis. In fact, it doesn't smell like anything. Sometime during 2004, somewhere near Atlanta, Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus reportedly ate common man's pizza from this very box. My friend, waiting outside the venue for hopes of seeing Blink exit their buses, asked for the box after a security guard passed near the gate to dispose of it. The release Blink were promoting on that tour, 2003's iconic Untitled Album, turns 10 this week, but it's not typical, "good old days" nostalgia that has me thinking of that pizza box. It's a weird sort of nostalgia for things that have, in fact, not even happened yet. Nostalgia for the future. Anti-nostalgia.
Whenever I start slipping into a diatribe about the admittedly self-concerned difficulties of nearing the age of 30 (I turn 27 next March), I'm inclined to end the conversation entirely by simply sending whoever is currently receiving my diatribe a link to Blink's 2004 performance of "Down" on The Late Show with David Letterman. Specifically, I'd point to the 2:20 mark. How does it feel to be 26 and no more self-assured than at 16? It feels like this:
DeLonge's Cure-esque guitar work, Hoppus's sturdy bass foundation, and Travis Barker's frenetic and almost violently BPM-straddling beat come together, but not in a settling way. There's a discourse here, perhaps among the individuals themselves (the band, of course, would enter their much-discussed hiatus not even a year later), perhaps between the artistic visions of these individuals (similarities between each of their respective hiatus-born projects, for example, are almost nonexistent), or - maybe - the discourse lies in both the artist and the listener, a remarkably clear tone of adult angst and absolute despair which I feel defines the entire Untitled album.
The very first sung phrase of the album - DeLonge's perfectly screeched "I got no regret right now!" - is beautifully fitting and undeniably indicative of much of what follows on the album's 14 tracks. DeLonge, specifically, had shown little regret, artistically, since his one-off 2002 Box Car Racer project. At the time, Box Car Racer was simply meant to serve as a proverbial collection point for anything "not Blink enough." However, the well-received album, showcasing newfound themes of distinctly post-9/11 paranoia, depression, and a loss of youth (save for "My First Punk Song") clearly permeated the writing and recording process behind Untitled, a process which began in January of 2003 and didn't fully end until weeks before the album's release in November. The album, released on the 18th, debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 chart, spawning four hit singles - the aforementioned album opener "Feeling This," the brilliant ballad "I Miss You," "Down," and the taut New Romanticism-haunted "Always."
At the time; DeLonge, Barker, and Hoppus had all recently become fathers. DeLonge, always outspoken on his obsessive knowledge of government conspiracy theories, had grown politically active and sought to better understand the post-9/11 world with both Box Car Racer and Blink's Untitled album, hinting at seemingly sudden interests in spirituality, freemasonry, the burgeoning "social disconnect" spawned by the impending though faint emergence (and eventual explosion) of social media, and an admittance of drug addiction - an addiction which clearly defined, in often painfully direct ways, much of DeLonge's post-Box Car Racer output, until Blink's return in 2009 (following Barker's brush with death on a plane in 2008). Hoppus was slower to accept the band's exploration of these themes, but certainly grew into an apt co-pilot during the Untitled sessions.
"Once the door was opened by Tom and Travis with Box Car Racer, Mark started to be more on board with that concept." said assistant engineer Sam Boukas in a 2003 interview. "I think the three of them wanted to be more creative and have more creative liberty on [Untitled.]" The once-naked man-children who inadvertently came to represent an entire generation of teenagers had now, much like their fans and even their fans' parents, been thrust into the throes of adulthood; but this generation's "adulthood" had very different connotations and an increasingly complicated and ever-broadening series of supposed rites of passage. As our post 9/11 paranoia began to wear off, we had to decide: who are we now? Years blinded by patriotism and promises of better futures had numbed us to achieving true individuality. The truth was: we didn't know who we were. We were building from the ground up.
As I'm nearing the median age of Blink-182 during the Untitled era myself, I find that the album hasn't lost even the slightest bit of social or personal relevance, even ten years on. The album - recently hailed by LA Times writer Chris Lee as the band's "masterwork" - stands more than a fighting chance of achieving a very real relevance for many generations to come, especially given the increasing phenomenon of technology-born social isolation, the ongoing mourning of the collective loss of the American dream (itself a universal concept), and even subsequent generations' ever-evolving ways of coping with one's loss of youth - topics visited earnestly and often on these 14 songs.
And as for nostalgia?
It's somewhere in that old Papa John's pizza box.
- Trace William Cowen