In Defence Of: Blink 182 ‘Enema Of The State’
Here at FL, we think everyone deserves a fair go – even Nickelback – which is why we’ve created a new series where we go into bat for a divisive act. This week, it’s Soundwave headliners Blink 182, who turned the punk world upside down with their 1999 hit Enema of the State. Words by SARAH SMITH.
It was the worst of times…
Blink 182 is to punk what Silvio Berlusconi (allegedly) is to Italian politics: boobs, blowjobs and bunga bunga parties. Blasting onto the scene in 1995 all fudged-hair and cargo shorts, they couldn’t have cared less about Jello Biafra’s plight to save California from the grips of “hippie-fascists” or Henry Rollins’ war on middle-class America – they just wanted to play guitar and get laid.
Ploughing the Descendents back-cat for inspiration Blink dumbed it down and hammed it up, tapping into the hyper-sexual cerebral cortex of adolescent guys (and girls) the world over. Somehow their whiney voices and incessant “mum jokes” broke through to a generation of kids who were tired of flannelette and ready to admit that MTV had won the war. Kurt was dead and pop punk was alive.
Enter: Enema of the State.
The year was 1999 and the world was about to become infatuated with Britney Spear’s virginity, Ricky Martin’s sexuality and Christina Aguilera’s midriff. The Backstreet Boys third record Millennium sat atop the Billboard charts and by years end would shift 9.5 million units – one million clear of Creed’s Human Clay and four million more than Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other.
Amid these earnest rockers and chaste pop stars Enema Of The State proved a welcome relief; it was fast, fun and unashamedly dumb. And as Homer Simpson and Fat Mike can attest – sometimes dumb works.
‘Na, na, na, na’
As an awkward teen whose mutating body was better served by skate clothing than crop tops, Enema of The State was a revelation. While girls gyrated around the schoolyard in their regulation-length uniforms mouthing, “I’m a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way” – completely ignorant to which way the right way really was – I took refuge in songs which were written about one of two things: making failed passes at members of the opposite sex and partying.
Blink’s lyrics came ready made to be scratched with the tip of a compass into ply-wood desks, or sung off-key, in protest at your dad’s refusal to let you attend that under-age show headlined by Area 7, 28 Days or One Dollar short. In the words of Rolling Stone, “Blink 182 make being pissed off sound as inviting as the pop of a beer-can tab.”
While Anthony Kiedis was taking time out from his oxygen injections to rap about “first born unicorns” and de-construct the life of the rich and the famous on Californication, Mark, Tom and Travis were wining about the existence of aliens and guys called Tony, “He’s a player, diarrhoea giver. Tried to grow his hair out, friends were listening to Slayer.” And frankly, I had far more friends listening to Slayer than riding mythical beasts while trying to overcome an existential crisis in the Hollywood Hills.
Their lyrics also provided a welcome relief from the saccharine love ballads that were dominating the charts in the late 90s. A comparison:
“Like Dr. Zhivago . All my love I’ll be sending” – ‘The Hardest Thing’, 98 degrees
“Like a rock, you waited so patiently” – What A Girl Wants, Christina Aguilera
“Like a bullet to your brain. Upside, inside out she’s livin la vida loca” – Livin La Vida Loca, Ricky Martin
“Like the ocean under the moon .Well that’s the same as the emotion that I get from you. You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth” – Smooth, Santana feat. Rob Thomas
“Say it ain’t so, I will not go. Turn the lights off, carry me home. Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na” – All The Small Things, Blink 182.
‘Crappy punk music’
“Instead of trying to do everything a little okay, we like to do one thing really awfully.” – Mark Hoppus.
Blink never took themselves or their music particularly seriously. They weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel and they certainly didn’t consider themselves saviours of punk rock. Tom and Mark favour three chords, simple melodies and – while they eventually matured into talented song writers – were never ashamed to label their brand of party punk “crappy”. Heck, they even have merchandise that says as much. Arguing that a band writes crap songs when they wholeheartedly agree is redundant and exactly the kind of reaction three bratty 20-somethings wanted to incite when they penned a song called ‘Dumpweed’.
Even if you consider their brand of pop-punk unworthy of its punk suffix, their “easy access” tunes act as a perfect gateway to a whole world of “important” punk music. For many teens Blink 182 was the older sibling who passed down the classics. Chesire Cat and Enema Of The State opened a window to NOFX, Screeching Weasel, Descendents, The Vandals, Buzzcocks and eventually The Clash. If a handful of crappy punks songs with “a bouquet of clumsy words and a simple melody” can lead one teenager to the genius of Joe Strummer, then it’s served its purpose, right?
No Blink, no Paramore
While saying that Paramore wouldn’t have existed without Blink may not be much of a defence, it does highlight their influence on the state of modern guitar pop. In 2011 the New York Times declared “no punk band of the 1990s has been more influential than Blink-182 [their] sound and style can be heard in the muscular pop punk of Fall Out Boy or in the current wave of high-gloss Warped Tour punk bands”.
In fact, dozens of Soundwave bands (past and present) cite Blink as a musical influence – from Paramore and New Found Glory to All Time Low. And over and above the direct impact of their songwriting on modern music – much like Nirvana used its mainstream success to introduce the world to their lesser known contemporaries like The Melvins and Meat Puppets – Blink used their newfound popularity to bring bands like Jimmy Eat World and Motion City Soundtrack out of obscurity.
Giving porn stars a leg up
When Enema Of The State hit record stores in 1999 the RIAA immediately slapped a “15+ warning” sticker on its cover. Meanwhile, teenage boys the world over fell in love with the “hot nurse” who adorned it.
Believe it or not, the woman featured isn’t really a nurse at all, but adult actress Janine Lindemulder, who Tom DeLonge once said was chosen because the band admired her preference for “girl on girl” action. Can’t accuse them of not knowing their audience.
Wikipedia authoritatively tells us, ”[Enema Of The State] is a humorous pun on the term enemy of the state”, however the original working title was actually ‘Turn Your Head and Cough’, which is why the artwork features a voluptuous nurse pulling on a glove. As the photographer David Goldman earnestly explains, “Obviously an enema is not really a glove type of thing.”
Lindemulder would go on to appear in two of the band’s videos and marry Sandra Bullock’s ex Jesse James. Following her arrest for tax evasion and domestic violence (against James) earlier this year, she became the subject of an internet meme which highlighted her dramatic transformation from cover girl to prison inmate. But would anyone even care if it weren’t for Blink?