They used to be irreverent punks out for cheap thrills and even cheaper laughs, but now Blink-182 are a changed band.
Their untitled new record is more experimental and multidimensional than 2001's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, adding a variety of styles (electronic rock; jangly, melancholy pop; reflective alt-rock) to their foundation of bouncy beats and kinetic guitars (see "No Album Title, No Preconceptions: The New Blink-182"). It's also more lyrically developed, trading tales of adolescent relationships for more serious dilemmas of adulthood. As singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge sang in the band's 1997 breakthrough hit "Dammit," "I guess this is growing up."
Growing up has a lot to do with Blink-182's development. Since the release of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, singer/bassist Mark Hoppus passed the big 3-0, and all three bandmembers have become fathers. "I think you do things better when you have children," drummer Travis Barker said of the changes. "It's weird, but somehow it gives you extra energy or extra power or something."
"We're just not 18 years old anymore," said DeLonge, now 27. "We have so many different things on our mind, and I think it's appropriate for us to show different parts of our personality through our music now. Would you believe that in my bag at the hotel right now I have a book about how the State Department threatens our national security? That's my reading material. People wouldn't know that about us, and that's what's exciting about this record. These are a bunch of things that people don't know about us, musically."
In addition to internal motivations, there were also external events that contributed to the sobering quality of the new LP, including the 9-11 attacks and the onset of war. The second Gulf War was all the more unsettling for Blink, since DeLonge's brother is a Navy officer.
"It was so weird because we'd all be glued to the TV, watching these bombs explode over another country," the guitarist said. "So I'd see all this and wonder where he was at, and then we'd have to go into the next room and sing or finish writing lyrics. I think it affected our moods throughout the day."
The tension of being at war echoes through the music, lyrics and bonus features on the CD; included are six music videos filled with footage from Blink-182's visit to the Middle East, where they performed for U.S. troops.
"Doing that was like being in a movie," DeLonge said. "You felt all these different emotions. At the same time as you're signing autographs for just another one of those guys, [you notice that] there's a big chunk out of his skull from a bullet and you're in 130 degree heat with sand blowing so hard that you can't even open your eyes outside. ... I was thinking, 'These guys are doing things I could never do.' "
If you're worried that Blink-182 have gotten too adult to have fun, check out their live show, where their humorous side still shines. " 'Penis' is still a good word, and it will always be funny," DeLonge said. "And would you believe that the first 50 days we made the record we had nonstop pornographic films on a big-screen TV? ... We're the same guys we've always been, but we're a lot more cerebral and we like to challenge our minds."
The band's current single is the insistent "Feeling This." The next single, the more delicate cello- and piano-embellished "I Miss You," will hit radio in the new year.
One of Blink's favorite new songs is "All of This," a duet with the Cure's Robert Smith. The collaboration started as a fantasy and evolved from there. "We were talking about how amazing it would be to collaborate with him, since we're such gigantic Cure fans," Hoppus said. "So we sent him the song in England and he was into it. He wrote the words and the melody, sang it and sent the song back."
As busy as Barker will be for the next couple of years in Blink-182, he plans to spend two weeks in January working on the second Transplants album at Tim Armstrong's house in Los Angeles. As for DeLonge, he's got no plans to continue with his and Barker's side project, Box Car Racer, and will focus all his energies on Blink.
"We've been through a few roller coasters in this career, but I feel like the biggest roller coaster of all is just starting," he said. "And it's gonna be a long, busy ride."