Pop-punk is making a comeback. With everyone from Olivia Rodrigo to Young Thug trying their hand at the genre this year, I thought it worthwhile to take a stroll through the long and eventful career of pop-punk’s premiere statesmen, blink-182.
At first characterised by the lo-fi punk rock of albums such as Buddha and Cheshire Cat, the trio (at the time consisting of Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Scott Raynor) first achieved mainstream success with 1997’s Dude Ranch. After the departure of Raynor, replaced by the now-legendary Travis Barker, the band released Enema of the State, changing the landscape of pop-punk – and by extension pop music itself – in the process.
The album was sugary sweet, overflowing with bright choruses and infectious hooks, its subsequent popularity turning the smarmy punk-rock trio into genuine pop superstars. From then on they remained at the forefront of pop-punk as a genre, their distinct sound evolving with it in the process – culminating with what many fans consider to be their masterpiece, 2003’s blink-182.
After line-up changes, break-ups and reunions, the band are still cranking out music to this day. Let’s look back at the band that undoubtedly had a hand in making pop-punk what it is today, and attempt – attempt – to rank their 30 best tracks. Wish me luck.
30. “remember to forget me”
Built from a delicately arranged backdrop of acoustic guitar and electronic drums, “remember to forget me” stands out as a clear highlight amongst late-period blink-182, the final track on 2019’s NINE. The song’s terrific pre-chorus, which has Hoppus proclaiming “Hey Mum I’m on my own, scared to death and far from home” is particularly affecting.
29. “boxing day”
Counterposed against the track’s mostly acoustic instrumentation, Delonge’s signature drawl is at its most outright melodic here, with Hoppus providing a typically downbeat chorus for good measure. As close as the band has ever gotten to writing an acoustic ballad.
The opening track to California – the band’s first release following the departure of Tom Delonge (who was replaced by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba) – Cynical read like something of a mission statement. Decidedly fast-paced with crisp, clean guitar-work reminiscent of the band’s early Enema of the State days, Cynical melds nostalgic sensibility with the matured angst of the band’s later work.
27. “when i was young”
A welcome throwback to the teen melodrama of early blink-182 records, tapered by the insights of middle age. As the thunderous chorus arrives, Delonge yelps (in wonderfully exaggerated tones) that “It’s the worst damn day of my life”, only to be met with Hoppus’s grounded response: “It doesn’t hurt that much”. I guess this is growing up?
26. “21 days”
Written and recorded when he was only 19, Delonge’s nasally, mumbled verses in 21 Days remain some of his most forthright and vulnerable, the adolescent anxiety practically palpable. The song’s slow-burn opening is gorgeous and lo-fi in a way almost reminiscent of early Built to Spill, not a band generally associated with the pop-punk trio.
25. “wishing well”
With a bright, lively guitar riff at its centre and an undeniably catchy chorus – sometimes “da-da-da-da” is all you need – this ranks among one of the most infectious tracks on blink-182’s 2011 reunion record Neighbourhoods. Although their music may have drifted from the glossy pop-punk of Enema of the State, “Wishing Well” illustrates just how effortless the trio can make the pop part of this equation sound.
Though portrayed as snot-nosed punks for much of their career, blink-182 have always been romantics at heart. M+M’s is one of the band’s earliest and best love songs, built around the affectionate reprise: “When I’m with you there’s nothing I wouldn’t do, I just want to be your only one”.
A break-up song as self-pitying as it is self-critical (“I let you down now like you let me down then”), “Untitled” is one of the many highlights of 1997’s Dude Ranch. Hoppus’s harmonies – tasteful and melodic – give a good indication of the more refined direction which the band would later head in.
22. “stay together for the kids”
The appeal of this song is really all in that chorus – as heavy and guttural as anything blink-182 ever wrote – with DeLonge’s piercing vocals pre-empting his turn towards grunge with 2001 side-project Box Car Racer.
21. “man overboard”
Anchored by a bouncy, upbeat bassline, “Man Overboard” is one of blink-182’s most energetic singles, with Hoppus and DeLonge breathlessly trading lines in the song’s spirited chorus. Written in the aftermath of Scott Raynor’s departure, the song is bitter in ways that aren’t always flattering to the trio, but lends the track a stark, personal edge.
A sombre meditation on all the anxieties inherent in recording an album – particularly relevant to a band making their first ‘reunion’ record – Hoppus’s mellow, contemplative verses are the highlight here. DeLonge’s melodramatic chorus proves a productive counterpoint, adding a larger-than-life sensibility to Hoppus’ lyrical specificity.
Though their music may have gotten more complex as the years went on, there are few blink-182 songs which feel as downright epic as “Carousel”, the opening 1994’s sophomore record, Cheshire Cat. It has remained a live staple for the band, deservedly so.
Whereas jealousy was a persistent theme in blink-182’s earlier records, it has rarely felt as raw and nakedly pathetic as it does in “Obvious”. DeLonge’s thunderous guitar riff introduces us to this thrashing ode to suspicion, his vocals wringing the song's callous lyrics for all the petty, miserable pathos they’re worth.
17. “what’s my age again?”
Hoppus’ goofy, self-deprecating lyrics are as charming now as they were in 1999. The song’s glossy production, courtesy of Jeff Finn, set the standard for pop-punk music going forward. Above all else, this is simply a terrific pop song – sickeningly sweet, and all the better for it.
The 1980s new wave song you didn’t know blink-182 had in them. DeLonge’s desperate, romantic chorus (“Let me hold you, touch you, feel you, always”) is as infectious as it is sincere.
15. “snake charmer”
Barker’s drumming is the glue which holds this song together, with Delonge’s sincere affinity for 1980’s synth pop melding together with the grungy, guttural guitar riffs found in much of his later work.
14. “i miss you”
With Delonge’s now-iconic inflection having been memed to death (remember it’s “yead” not “head”), it’s easy to forget how truly delicate this pop-punk nursery rhyme really is. The contrast between the band’s two vocalists has never been more apparent nor effective, Hoppus’ restrained reprise of “I miss you” the perfect counterpoint to DeLonge’s pained, self-pitying drawl.
13. “everytime i look for you”
Hoppus’ lyrics are incredibly perceptive here, the song’s narrator cycling through a barrage of miscommunications – “I never found out why you left him, but this answer begs that question” – the cause of which is eventually articulated in the song’s gritty, self-lacerating bridge – “I never let what happened stay in the past, in spite of everything”. DeLonge’s guitar finds a productive middle-ground between the clean, crunchy sound of Enema of the State and the heavier tones which he would pursue in Box Car Racer and beyond.
Held together by Barker’s explosive, high-impact drumming, this is the most outright aggressive track on Neighbourhoods. Delonge’s anxious verses wrap themselves around a growling, seemingly unstoppable guitar riff, only letting up to make space for Hoppus’ bleak chorus.
All energy and no filler, “Go” is the shortest song on 2003’s blink-182 – clocking in at only 1:53. The track contains one of Mark Hoppus’ most impressive vocal performances, screaming his way through a dark, borderline-nihilistic tale of familial breakdown, punctuated by DeLonge’s yelps of “GO!” which permeate the song’s high-octane chorus.
This song is above all else a testament to Tom DeLonge’s talent as a lead guitarist. On “Asthenia” he cycles through an array of differing (and equally pleasing) tones, remaining elegant and considered without ever sacrificing his typical blunt-force simplicit. Barker’s drumming, both urgent and complimentary, is icing on the cake.
9. “i’m lost without you”
The distant, heavily reverbed vocals which open this track eventually give way to epic and enveloping balladry, complicated by the band’s punk-rock sensibility and DeLonge’s signature drawl. Emotionally resonant, grandiose in both structure and tone, the song is proof of the strength of blink-182’s songwriting at the time.
8. “aliens exist”
DeLonge’s crunchy, clean guitar tones have never sounded better, with the song’s layered vocal-work giving his nasally affectations a radio-friendly sheen. Like much of Enema of the State, this remains a masterclass in how to write simple, unpretentious power-pop.
Though very much a break-up song, there is an unexpected vulnerability here. The chorus built around a cry for help, with Hoppus’ reprise of “I guess this is growing up” resonating in ways that transcend the song’s generally mundane details. It’s as perceptive as it is petty, with a gritty vocal performance by Hoppus to boot.
Delonge’s garbled guitar tone and Barker’s pulsating electronic drums form the backbone of the anxious, claustrophobic “Violence”. Jumping between an anthemic, thrashing pop-punk chorus and restless spoken word verses, this is among the most unique tracks the trio ever recorded, with the adolescent angst of their early work transforming into something genuinely volatile.
5. “adam’s song”
Melancholy and anthemic in equal measure, “Adam’s Song” is one of blink-182’s most deeply-felt pop-punk ballads. Held together by Hoppus’ blunt, pained delivery, the song’s lyrics are introspective and hauntingly specific. “Remember the time that I spilt the cup of apple juice in the hall? Please tell Mum this is not her fault” may seem like a non-sequitur, but it also gives us very real insight into a life lived.
4. “stockholm syndrome”
One of the moody, propulsive highlights of blink-182, “Stockholm Syndrome” does away with pop-punk’s traditional verse-chorus-verse structure for something more jagged and patchwork. The mood is decidedly helpless, a song pregnant with pain and frustrations of miscommunication. As Hoppus screams of being the “last contagious victim of this plague between us”, it’s hard not to see the cracks which had begun to form within the band rearing their ugly head.
3. “feeling this”
DeLonge’s half-yelled verses here – frantic and lusting and hormonal – are met by Hoppus’ wistful, elegant chorus. The song is a perfect representation of the two forces generally at play within blink-182’s best work. On one end of the spectrum: naïve, adolescent melodrama. On the other: a thoughtful, unabashed romanticism. Does pop-punk get much better than this?
2. “going away to college”
This song is, to put it very simply, gorgeous. Jumping effortlessly between open-hearted longing and wistful reflection, one is never quite sure if what Hoppus’ narrator is describing is taking place now or in the past – and that is key to the song’s charm.
“Why does it feel the same to fall in love or break it off?” he asks. The opening riff just aches with affection, Hoppus’s tender vocals much the same. A love song in the truest sense of the word.
1. “not now”
“Please stay, until I’m gone” yelps Delonge in the desperate and emotive chorus of “Not Now”, Blink-182’s final single before their initial break-up in 2004. This song is perhaps the best representation of the sophisticated brand of pop-punk – or perhaps more accurately, post-pop-punk? – which the band perfected in their 2003 self-titled record. Angst executed with such artfulness that it almost seems cosmic.
This is an opinion piece written by Luke McCarthy, a filmmaker, writer and critic based in Naarm (Melbourne). Follow him on Twitter @lukempmccarthy.