For those of a certain generation, Blink-182 is viewed as Green Day's younger brothers, a band who took their predecessors' saccharine hooks and schoolboy delinquency and made it even more commercial. From outside the pop-punk canon, it makes sense: GD was playfully immature and had a brilliant ear for digestible riffs, a sonic mentality that inevitably interested Mark, Tom and drummer Scott Rayner—later the ineffable force of Travis Barker—but Green Day and Blink's narrative arcs couldn't be more disparate.
From the very beginning, Green Day felt a certain investment in political prowess while making weed jokes (hell, even their name is a weed joke.) Self-parody was always met with a level of self-seriousness, before the latter completely overtook the former on 2004's punk rock opera, American Idiot. Blink's thematic development, however, is much more linear. You can pinpoint the moment the transition away from the jokes began to happen: June 2001, with their fourth full-length, Take Off Your Pants & Jacket.
To best position the release in Blink's chronology, we have to go back to the album that paved the way for it, 1999's Enema of the State. It was the band's second full-length on a major label (an often overlooked fact: 1997's Dude Ranch was a joint release on indie Cargo and major MCA, subsidiary to Universal Music Group—an important distinction when considering the money accessible to them very early on), but ultimately the launching point for their soon-to-be massive moment. Enema birthed "All The Small Things," the song that would place them on a mainstream platform; it rivaled the boy bands they spent most of their time mocking, eventually inspiring a certain golden age of mall punk music. Warped Tour went from punk to pop-punk lightning quick.
Enema of the State as a whole is pretty straightforward teenage misbehavior: the title itself is bathroom humor, songs like "The Party Song," "What's My Age Again?" and "Dumpweed" reinforce a certain macho misogyny, the kind that operates in the fictional friend-zone space. But even for all its thematic shortcomings, Enema is largely a life-loving record, one unconcerned for reality's greater (and darker) questions.
The exception, of course, is the anti-suicide anthem "Adam's Song," which manages to both hide within and stand out on the release simultaneously, a virtue Blink has mastered. That song aside, Enema is an album about a band leaving childhood, a band whose main concern is having a good time and welcoming us to join in the fun.
Then something happened: the millennium, Y2K, an unsure future, professional pressure. In 1999 and 2000, Blink enjoyed their fame and were forced to group up fast within it, eventually birthing Take Off Your Pants & Jacket, an album at a crossroads.
There are moments on Take Off that feel directly reflexive of Enema: the title, for example, is a masturbation joke. "The Rock Show" feels like a sibling to "All The Small Things," and "Anthem Part Two" is literally a sequel to "Anthem." Still girl-obsessed, the boys of Blink spent less time pining over overzealous-yet-disinterested female others and more time on wanting to do something bigger and better. They'd been given a microphone; perhaps it was time to do something with it.
That mentality bred "Stay Together For The Kids," a hopeful song for children of divorce; the capitalism critique of "Reckless Abandon"; and the voice-of-a-generation scream-along "Give Me One Good Reason." In the midst of all this self-seriousness—the very same that comes with adolescence—Blink refused to give up their light-hearted nature. "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" is a fine example of this, each line featuring a profanity (if you had the edited version of the release, it was listed as "Happy Holidays" and is a 40-second instrumental before bassist Mark Hoppus comes in with "I'll never talk to you again" at the song's end.)
It's a unique tension. Take Off Your Pants & Jacket is a great, cohesive album, one of the best in the band's repertoire, and the sound of Blink working through its identity. It's Mark, Tom and Travis trying to figure out who they are: the funny guys, the serious artists, or both? It's puberty and adolescence personified. The perfect band for your teen years lived through their teen years on record.
In retrospect, that feels obvious. Their next album, 2003's Blink-182, was completely stripped of the humor from their past. The sex is still there, but this time it's real, not a wet dream. In my experience, when you ask a Blink-182 fan what their favorite record is, they'll typically name the first one they listened to or the one with most mass appeal—Enema and self-titled (a Dude Ranch in there if you're a purist or over the age of 25). Take Off Your Pants & Jacket feels slightly ignored. Like puberty, it's not something people like to ruminate on, but it's beautiful and part of the process.