The only way to understand the weirdness of I Miss You is also the key to understanding how and why Blink-182 exists- it is the product of a band catching wind of burgeoning (fourth wave?) ’emo’ but only conceptually, and preparing a pre-emptive strike on this hypothetical threat. Through this response they show their age and influences, appearing like elder statespeople rather than upstarts. Blink-182 were already well versed in flattening the dichotomies that emo promised it would traverse- self-loathing and fun, melody and ‘punk’, petty relationship woes and mental illness, and so believing that it might not be enough, the band shot for the Cure as well as the Descendents. They rolled out singles the way they always had- with a shithead summer anthem (All the Small Things, The Rock Show, First Date) followed by an exercise in sap (Adam’s Song, Stay Together for the Kids), only this time two things had changed. First, the world all but ignored the first single (Feeling This) while the sappy follow-up satisfied if not defined the time/people in which it was received. Second, the follow-up and not the first single was indicative of the record’s tone. Blink-182 is a misguided and unassuming masterpiece pop-punk concept album, liberated and encouraged by the abstract idea of emo within the parameters of the band’s already established sound.
This hunger and anxiety to weather the storm or rise above it account for a ‘Drive’ in the album that is undeniable. Their decision to stand by the past while finding new ways to present it means the construction of new contexts with which to house it- concepts specifically, or downer vibes generally. The shithead anthem opens the album and it’s the last moment of outright shitheaddery that we receive- the conceptual context of the album means that it serves a function within a wider narrative rather than one beginning and ending with the track. It is a plot-point to demarcate a period of hope and happiness before things go sour. The same thing is done by The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds– love or hate Wouldn’t it be Nice, following the trajectory from that song to Caroline, No is part of what makes the album so powerful. With the ‘fun’ ostensibly gone, restless pop punk sections either carry unexpected lyrical weight or take place within a wider sonic palette.
On that first point, Hoppus and DeLonge identify that simplicity was always their strong suit (attempts to deal with things poetically in I Miss You equate to just riffing on The Nightmare Before Christmas rather than penning new pop goth images), expressing thoughts and sentiments without obfuscation. As literary clarity can do, this makes for as much discomfort as it does catharsis (which in itself is ideal) but moments such as Hoppus saving Go from its own mock-upbeat chorus with “Why do evil men get away with it?” is a freakshow awkward move which weighs a tonne. On the second, there are numerous outright formal detours throughout the album, but even when the band plays straightforward and right ahead there’s fetishistic attention paid to the bass and drum sounds; the former grumbles and creaks so organically you can feel the human presence, and the latter opts for space rather than compression. The impact of that space cannot be overstated. This weird sound-fetishism is Sgt. Pepper‘s-ish in its hermetic pedanticism but where that one aimed to exist in a Nowhere Time of schizoid cultural memoria and obsolete cultural artefacts, Blink-182 longs to fit it into a broader narrative of Good Music, calling on the ghosts of shoegaze, goth rock, synthpop, and post-hardcore to stand by them for their opus.
Blink-182 is secretly one of the Great Oddities in music. Its hunger and anxiety to stick it out with emo’s theoretical challenge to the band’s ‘relevance’ (fans already relished the pathos and neuroses of even their stupidest songs) account for its undeniable Drive, but its commitment to the past makes for a sort of identity crisis whereby the record is more and less odd than its weirdo acquaintances- it does not break from form outright as Trans and Low do, nor does it push its popular form to boiling point as does In Utero. It stays within the parameters of Blink-182-the-band, but it tweaks enough for its ‘new vision’ to work. It recontextualises expected forms so that they say something new, while intermittently deviating so that they matter more when they do happen. Blink-182 is not the end-point in a style, movement, or thematic trajectory, but the penultimate step towards that. It is Radio City if Third never came, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from Graduation and never to Yeezus. The traces of collapse are all there, but it took off instead, into prog, which leaves the record as a swansong frozen.