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[whitespace] Blink-182 What's Their Age Again? Like Green Day, Blink-182 play music that is tight, fast and catchy, but they may soon outgrow their core audience.

Signs of Aging

Blink-182--still trying to shock--doesn't know how to grow up

By Gina Arnold

WHEN YOU'RE a thirtysomething female rock critic, it's always a bit disconcerting to talk to real kids about which bands they think are cool and which ones aren't. But the other day, I was driving three 16-year-old boys up the peninsula, so of course the topic came up.

They didn't seem to care much for U2 or Dave Matthews, which didn't really surprise me, since the members of those bands are old enough to have fathered these kids. What about Lit, I asked, or Marilyn Manson or Korn or Limp Bizket or the Offspring? "They're so middle school!" was the contemptuous reply--to my great joy.

Less joyous was the fact that the hallowed local band Green Day--which has long represented the true punk ideal to me--did nothing for them. But Blink-182, now ... they, apparently, still rock.

I found this observation hard to fathom. Nothing against Blink, which has written some good tunes in its day, but in my eyes the band learned everything it knows from Green Day, a punk-rock group with a grassroots following that made it up the hard way: by crafting tight, hard, catchy songs that exuded an attitude reeking of adolescent angst and punk authenticity.

Unfortunately, Green Day wrote its formula for success a little too large, and Blink-182 (as well as many other bands) copped it whole hog: the tempos, the chord changes and, especially, the bratty persona that infused simple, three-chord punk rock with a certain late-'90s je ne sais quoi that now permeates the genre.

This is not to say that Blink-182 doesn't do it well--perhaps, at this point, even better than Green Day, which has outgrown some of the necessary elements of its formula without finding a good replacement (yet). Certainly the Blink songs "Dammit," "All the Small Things" and "What's My Age Again?" are better Green Day singles than Green Day's own later work. And there's no doubt that Blink's three members--Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker--put more of their hearts into the act, which may be why, at the moment, the all-important "kids" like them better.

THAT, HOWEVER, DOESN'T lessen an older listener's sense that Blink-182 hasn't got an imaginative bone in its collective body, and the group's new album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (MCA), proves it. If anything, the record demonstrates a de-evolution of sorts.

It's not just that Take Off Your Pants sounds the same as the band's previous two major-label releases (Enema of the State and Dude Ranch), but now that the band members are trying so hard to be what "the kids" want, you can practically see big thought bubbles forming over their heads. (Their thought processes are easy to track if you log onto their website, www.Loserkids.com, which sells Blink and related merchandise. Blink may be one of the few punk-rock bands in existence that have alter egos as entrepreneurs.)

Where Blink succeeds is musically. Its members really possess a knack for tunefulness, and in former Aquabat Barker, they have that all important ingredient for greatness: a good drummer. Like Green Day, Blink plays music that is tight, fast and catchy. If you happen to buy into their tattooed, sensitive rebel-boy persona, it's apparently hard to resist.

Nevertheless, there's a bit of a problem with the new material. Previous Blink-182 records exuded a certain believable snottiness. That attitude was augmented by childish attention-getting devices like using a real stripper on the cover of the last LP, appearing nude onstage (and on a recent Spin cover) and peppering their sets with dirty jokes and babyish obscenities.

Those tricks were forgivable in that they at least seemed slightly off-the-cuff, but the new CD is one long adolescent cliché, composed with great care to appeal to a very specific demographic. Thus, Blink-182 has invented a stock character for each song: a guy who is outwardly brash and disaffected but inwardly shy and sensitive--a guy who girls can kick around and who pretends not to give a damn.

Song upon song tells the story of a mixed-up teenage boy who either (A) hates authority or (B) loves a girl, often one who's treated him badly. The first song, "Anthem Part Two," is the most blatant example: it's an ode to how "the kids" are victimized by the adult world of rules and regulations with a chorus that goes, "If we're fucked up, you're to blame."

"Anthem" really made me think about how much better the classic punk-rock song "Institutionalized," by Suicidal Tendencies, made its case. That song told a specific story that wooed kids who felt disaffected over to its side.

Blink's stories come across as totally generic--particularly the ones about teenage romance/breakups ("First Date" and "Online Songs," "Roller Coaster," etc.). Ditto the ones about dysfunctional families ("Stay Together for the Kids"), suburban restlessness ("Reckless Abandon") and the perfidiousness of "gurls."

"Happy Birthday, You Bastard" is the band's rote "shocking" song, which--along with the constant use of the F-word as an adjective--probably earned Blink-182 its much-coveted (but undeserved) Parental Warning label--a must-have item for bands like this one. (Blink-182's records can actually be purchased as either "explicit" or "edited" versions.)

THE WHOLE PROCESS is all pretty tired and, well, "middle school," if you ask me, and terribly contrived compared to previous CDs. It's as if the band had plugged a few key ideas about adolescent angst into a computer program and came up with generic lyrics on the subject, the way that car companies come up with names for their new vehicles.

What, for example, is one to make of the single "Rock Show," on which the band has the gall to set the action at the Warped Tour--an event where Blink-182 (which hails from San Diego, where Warped magazine and the tour itself originates) made its name? The idea may seem cool now, while Warped is still a going concern, but in the future, it will date the song like nothing else. Imagine if you heard a song set at Lilith Fair or Lollapalooza. That fact alone would tell you more than you wanted to know about the artist who was singing it.

Basically, Blink-182 is suffering from the same problem as Green Day--with a lot less grace. This is to say, as its members age (they're in their mid-20s now), they find it harder and harder to retain their authentically youthful/don't-give-a-rat's-ass edge. Green Day hasn't dealt perfectly with the problem either, but it hasn't resorted to fakery.

Blink's desperate attempt to stay young and hip is actually perfectly in keeping with its original premise, which was to imitate a band that (no doubt) the guys genuinely loved. I think that there are probably elements of the boys that love Blink-182 deeply imbedded in the members of the band, otherwise, they couldn't be half as successful as they are. But in order to continue to succeed as a band, they're going to have to start expressing feelings and attitudes that are more quirky, more believable and a lot more real--or else "the kids" are going to move on.

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From the June 28-July 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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