“Let’s make this last forever,” once yowled Tom DeLonge, dragging his trademark sneer across a melee of skate-rock guitars and breathlessly thwacked drums. For a while, it seemed like Blink-182 might have lived up to that pledge, the hook to fizzing 2001 single ‘First Date’. Four years after an acrimonious 2005 split – sparked by guitarist DeLonge who described himself as tired of writing “bullshit pop songs” to people “singing along like 14-year-old girls” – the band returned in 2009, with a new album in the works and a world tour planned. It was a series of life-threatening dramas, far removed from the breezy abandon of their smirking give-a-fuck prankster-punk sound, that did it: a freak 2008 plane crash that left drummer Travis Barker in a hospital burns ward for eleven weeks, and a brush with skin cancer for DeLonge, convincing the trio to try again. Blink were back, “picking up where we left off and then some”, as a statement to fans put it.
But questions loomed. What exactly were they returning to? The 300mph grinning goof-rock they made their names with, dragging pop punk into the mainstream in a way not even Green Day had managed? Or the melancholy they’d flirted with on 2003’s eponymous fifth album? When their sixth album finally arrived, 2011’s little-bit-of-both ‘Neighborhoods’, it did so flanked by troubling rumours: that each of the trio had their own manager who they communicated through, and that the album was recorded in three separate studios around the world, with each member contributing their parts alone.
‘Neighbourhoods’ was warmly received, but no ‘Dude Ranch’ or ‘Enema of the State’. Nor was it ever going to be. Those records, full of dick jokes and missives from the brink of adulthood delivered over breakneck beats and Vandals-ish riffs, are relics of a late ‘90s American pop culture where sex seeped from everything – as if President Bill Clinton’s White House affair with Monica Lewinski had brimmed over into the nation’s psyche. Suddenly US media was full of misbehaving men, comically unable to control their impulses: from the MTV miscreants on ‘Jackass’ to the characters of ‘American Pie’. The likeable screwballs aiming ‘your mom’ barbs at one another over gleefully dumb three chord frenzies on these early Blink records slotted right in.
World tours came and went. Then came Reading and Leeds Festival 2014. I can’t speak for the Leeds leg but Reading was – to someone who grew up amid their ‘Enema of the State’-era domination of music TV, who saw them play shows during their peak, and whose copy of ‘Take Off Your Pants And Jacket’ was a gateway into more blistering and gritty punk like Jawbreaker and Fugazi – was massively dispiriting. DeLonge spent the night buried beneath the peak of his baseball cap, as if he didn’t want to be spotted beneath the bright lights of the Main Stage, going through the motions. His heart was clearly not in it anymore. Worse still, their gags felt scripted and sexist. In 1999, the dick jokes were on them, poking fun at their sorry state of arrested development – pop-punk Peter Pans, who just couldn’t grow up. At Reading, watching bassist Mark Hoppus implore a 50,000-strong festival crowd to shout “bitch” and “cunt” in unison, sniggering about Kelis’ song ‘Milkshake’ being about semen, felt like watching a man who’d forgotten his own punchline.
So maybe it’s time for the Californian trio to call it quits. At their best, Blink’s camaraderie was electric and infectious. Now, as the three sling insults and accusations back and forth in magazine interviews, that’s a distant memory. In a pretty revelatory Rolling Stone interview today, Hoppus – who I interviewed in 2011 and came across every bit the bounding thunderbolt of enthusiasm he is onstage and on record – pulled back the curtain on just how bad things have been, bending over backwards to accommodate his guitarist and co-vocalist:
“Tom calls up in October 2013 and says, “I want to do an EP for Christmas release.” I live in London and five days later, I’m on an airplane to Los Angeles to record because he wanted to. We’ve done everything that we could to give Tom what he says he needs. It’s been years of pushing back and I have to tell you: It feels humiliating to be in a band where you have to be apologising for one person all the time.”
The full story, or at least DeLonge’s side of it, is yet to be revealed, and the future of the band is uncertain – though Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba will replace DeLonge at forthcoming shows, including Barker’s own Musink Festival in March, a legal wrangle is expected to break out over the group’s name and songs. Maybe it’d be better for all parties to simply walk away.