Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Mike Waters – Blink-182, ‘Blink 182’(2003)
I’m a firm believer that the popularisation of emo can be traced definitively to Blink 182’s 2001 anthem ‘Stay Together For The Kids’. That song marks the discovery of the “sound” of teenage angst. It was a special moment in the album it was on – full of absolutely great pop-punk tracks – and then, this song. It stood out. Mark, Tom and Travis had, either consciously or unconsciously, stumbled on the tones, the chords, the melodies and the chord progressions that captured exactly what it meant to be a teenager. Regardless of how they found it, they embraced it wholeheartedly, and perhaps more importantly they were able to reproduce it. They reproduced it 14 times over in fact, in every track of their 2003 self-titled album, known to fans as Untitled.
As a long-time Blink 182 fan and someone who remembers life before the internet ruined us, I didn’t know anything about this album until I heard one of the songs on the radio. I knew just about every lyric to every song from their previous four studio albums, and when I heard the opening track ‘I’m Feeling This’ on the radio I knew something special was happening. It was on super low volume in my friend’s car, but I picked out the distinctive vocal tones of Tom Delonge and Mark Hoppus singing melodies and words I didn’t recognise and I lurched for the volume control. Fast-forward about a week and I knew every word of this album, too.
A stirring mix of punk-inspired drum patterns, unique production elements, emotional melodies, undeniable pop hooks (‘Blink-182 I Miss You (Tom’s Verse 10 Hour Loop)’ on YouTube, anyone?), experimental instrumentals and even a duet with Robert Smith of The Cure, this album just felt like the band had always sounded like this. Like this wasn’t their first foray into this level of experimentation, but it was. They were taking a huge gamble; a bold and brave departure from a sound and a style that had served them very well. They were the quintessential late 90’s skate-punk-rockers, known and loved for their childish on-stage personas, but you could tell that through the process of putting this record together, they’d changed. They had grown as musicians and as individuals, and they were gambling on the hope that their audience would be willing to grow with them. They were right.
This album is a pivotal moment in pop music history, equal, in my opinion, to any in the last century. It’s not only technically brilliant and musically beautiful, it’s deeply and continually influential. Bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco are widely credited with the success of the emo movement of the mid to late naughties, but – as much as I love them too – they built their legacy from the shoulders of this record. The genre they cultivated wouldn’t have been in the spotlight without it. Listening back, it’s hard to grasp how different this album was at the time. In the decades since, many of the things that made this record so unique have been copied, borrowed, emulated to the point where a lot of it just sounds, well, emo. But this album was the original. It was the catalyst for whole genres and sub-genres. It was a risk; an experimental record that kickstarted an entire pop-culture revolution and still influences pop music today. Many of the songwriters writing hits for the world’s biggest artists today formed their musical sensibilities in “the scene”.
After this album, Blink 182 split up. They went on to start a whole range of different projects, sometimes with each other, sometimes apart. They made beautiful music, they made fun music, and the three of them even got back together to record 2011’s Neighbourhood (worth a listen in its own right). But they never did quite capture the magic of Untitled again.
I listened to this album endlessly. I would drive the long way home, just to sing my heart out to a few more of the songs. I listened to it when I was happy, when I was angry, and when I wanted to cry. I listened with friends, and I listened alone. I’ve never loved an album quite so much since, and I never will. It’s my youth, my nostalgia, captured in a sound. A snapshot of a time, never to be repeated. I’ll never feel that way again, but in the end, wasn’t that the whole point?
Listen to Mike Waters’ new single ‘Keep On Dancing’, here.