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blink-182 Albums Ranked Worst To Best

blink-182

Even more so than Green Day, blink-182 were the single most important band in bringing punk to a wide millennial audience. After their massive 1999 breakthrough Enema of the State, the world changed. Countless bands popped up that sounded like them, pre-existing bands reworked their approach to sound more like them, and a lot of these bands got very, very popular. blink-182 have endured more than many of their peers, partially because their influence can still be felt today in both mainstream and underground bands. They’ve been called a “gateway” band, but that’s an unfairly backhanded compliment. It implies that they’re a band you outgrow, a band you use to get to something better. blink-182 remain important, influential, and popular because their songs are built to last. Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge are a truly special songwriting team, the kind you don’t see all that often. Once they hooked up with Travis Barker, the best mainstream rock drummer of the past twenty years, they were an unstoppable power trio. In celebration of this band’s work, here’s a ranking of their albums from worst to best.

The list doesn’t include Buddha because most of the songs were re-recorded for their proper debut album Cheshire Cat. It also doesn’t include any EPs or the Greatest Hits, but does include their sole live album. With the goal of keeping this list just to albums recorded under the name blink-182, it doesn’t include Tom and Travis’ band Box Car Racer’s album, even though — unlike the latest blink-182 album, California — Mark, Tom, and Travis do all appear on that one thanks to Mark’s guest vocal on “Elevator.” If it did include Box Car Racer, that’d be one of the highest-ranking albums on this list. It came out during blink’s prime era (1997-2003), and it’s not only just as good as the blink-182 albums from that era, but crucial to the development of blink-182. If not for the darker, heavier direction of Box Car Racer, it’s hard to believe blink-182’s untitled album would have ever sounded the way it did.

To get a little hypothetical for a second, I always find it fun to think about what could’ve been the followup to blink-182’s untitled album, the last of their initial run as a band. If you take the best songs from Angels & Airwaves’ 2006 debut (Tom’s band) and the best songs from +44’s sole 2006 LP (Mark and Travis’ band), and try to picture Mark taming Tom’s U2-style bombast but Tom fighting to add experimentation to Mark’s more straightforward rock songs, that could’ve been a great album. Maybe throw in “Not Now” off the Greatest Hits for good measure. Plus, those +44 songs are the last songs any blink-182 members worked on with producer Jerry Finn, whose contributions to blink-182 and Box Car Racer were crucial, before his untimely passing.

Read on below for the list, and let us know how you agree or disagree in the comments. blink-182 are on tour this year, including Lollapalooza, Life Is Beautiful Festival, and a big show at NYC’s Citi Field with Linkin Park and rap legends Wu-Tang Clan.

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8. California (2016)

As the only blink-182 album to not feature founding member and co-frontman Tom Delonge, California was bound to be the lowest on the list, but that reason alone isn’t what ranks it below everything else they’ve done. They replaced Tom with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, one of the most perfectly respectable replacements around. Mark, Matt, and Travis entering into a studio to record an album of punk rock songs should’ve worked out pretty well in theory. A big flaw was John Feldmann’s overly-polished, overly-auto-tuned production, but the biggest flaw was that it was the first album where blink-182 looked backwards. Several songs sounded like specific songs from blink’s most popular era, they brought back the joke songs that had been retired long ago, and virtually ignored all the progressions they had made as a band since the untitled album (possibly due to Tom’s absence). It has its fun moments, but it lacks the power and substance that shows up on every other blink-182 album.

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7. Cheshire Cat (1995)

blink-182 didn’t knock it out of the park on the first swing. Their 16-song debut album has some filler and the guys hadn’t really learned to sing yet, but it also proves they were pulling off some stone cold classics from day one. The album’s best moments are its singles, “Carousel,” “M+M’s,” and “Wasting Time,” songs that still rival the hits blink had on MTV. “Carousel” remains a fan favorite at live shows, and it helped establish a songwriting formula they’d use again and again — one major-key melody after another, slowly adding in more instruments until the song finally kicks in. “Wasting Time” is arguably better, with its speedy lead guitar and Mark’s prettiest vocal melodies on the album. “Peggy Sue” and “Strings” are nearly as addictive as the singles, and the breakneck-speed “Sometimes” reminds you that blink were still in an actual punk scene in 1995.

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6. Neighborhoods (2011)

Neighborhoods, the first album blink-182 released since returning from hiatus (and their first after Jerry Finn’s passing), turned out way better than I expected it would. Before its release, I was afraid Neighborhoods would be what California ended up being — a retread of their most popular songs. Instead, it picked up right where their last album had left off, with darker, more experimental songs than their strictly pop punk period. The album has some of the heaviest riffs in blink-182’s discography. It has the synthy, spacey atmospheres that Tom further explored in Angels & Airwaves, but this time Travis’ furious drumming and Mark’s interest in rawer indie rock is keeping the album from sounding like Coldplay. They’ve also got those classic blink-182 melodies on every song. The late Jerry Finn’s production is missed — and the self-produced album proved that the guys did have room to grow as producers — but Mark and Tom proved their pop smarts before they ever worked with Jerry, and the album has them sounding way more like a rock band than they do on the overly-polished California. Some diehards of blink’s early material may balk at the idea of this ranking above Cheshire Cat, but given the circumstances, the turnout of Neighborhoods was more impressive.

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5. The Mark, Tom and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back) (2000)

Released just one year after blink-182’s mainstream breakthrough Enema of the State, blink-182’s live album was nearly as crucial to their rise to fame as their studio albums. It helped reinforce earlier singles like “Carousel” and “Dammit” as live staples and fan favorites even as the band entered super stardom, and this time those songs had Travis Barker drumming on them. So — with all due respect to Scott Raynor — they sounded tighter. It’s also the home of one of the band’s best songs, “Man Overboard,” which was written during the Enema sessions but didn’t make it onto that album. For better or for worse, The Mark, Tom and Travis Show also introduced the world to their potty-humor stage banter, which was as much a part of their live show as their songs. It’s an aspect of blink-182 that landed better with the band’s preteen fans in 2000 than it lands with adults, but a major aspect nonetheless.

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blink-toypaj

4. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001)

We’ve now reached the top four albums, just about any of which could be #1 depending on the day. blink-182 were unstoppable between 1997 and 2003, and their studio output at the time was nearly flawless. The fact that TOYPAJ is only their fourth best album, and still an all-time classic of pop punk, speaks to just how unstoppable they truly were. It’s the lowest-ranking of the four because of some minor setbacks, and most of those setbacks weren’t even fully the band’s fault. Legend has it that when the band showed the album to their manager, he told them it lacked any real singles (which is kind of ridiculous, considering that while TOYPAJ is ever so slightly darker and more “mature” than Enema, it was still some of the brightest, most sugary pop punk around in 2001). The angered Tom and Mark quickly wrote the substance-lacking “First Date” and “Rock Show” (respectively) as something of a “fuck you” to their manager, both of which made the album and indeed became massive singles. Despite the popularity, it’s not hard to tell how much those songs do lack in substance compared to the rest of the album. Non-album songs from that session like “Time to Break Up” and “Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over” are far superior, and far more in line with the rest of the album. The progression from Enema of the State was minor, but it was there.

Where Enema had one slow song (“Adam’s Song”), this one had a whopping two (“Stay Together for the Kids” and “Story of a Lonely Guy”), and they proved that blink’s lyrics were getting progressively more serious. Album opener “Anthem Pt. 2″ is one of the all-time great blink-182 songs, with a “Carousel”-style building intro and some of Travis’ best drumming ever set to tape. The sleeper hit is “Everytime I Look For You,” one of Mark’s greatest mid-tempo rock songs. When people say they hear blink’s influence in modern indie rock bands like Cloud Nothings and Japandroids, songs like this are why. Non-singles like “Online Songs,” “Roller Coaster,” “Reckless Abandon,” “Give Me One Good Reason” and “Shut Up” rank among the band’s best, and could’ve easily dominated MTV if they had videos. (Take that, manager!) Another minor setback is, given the more mature tone, the joke song “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” is skippable and out of place. At least it’s only 42 seconds.

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blink-untitled

3. blink-182 (aka “untitled”) (2003)

There are two main reasons that blink-182 hold up better than their other TRL-friendly pop punk peers. One reason is that blink-182, at the height of their fame, moved on from their classic sound and took things in a more experimental direction. blink-182’s untitled album is a move like Nirvana’s In Utero, Radiohead’s Kid A, Kanye West’s Yeezus — albums by superstars that forced their massive fanbases to embrace more difficult, underground styles of music. blink-182 were a band that grew with their fans. If someone tells you that blink-182 helped them get from pop punk to indie rock or post-punk or post-hardcore, the untitled album is surely part of why. It’s easier to get into Dischord and SST bands after hearing the heavy-riffing “Obvious” or the off-kilter “Violence.” It’s easier to get into The Cure after hearing Cure frontman Robert Smith sing guest lead vocals on “All of This.” It’s easier to get into ’80s new wave in general after hearing “Always,” a song that took on danceable ’80s rock as good as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, or anyone else doing that kind of thing in the early/mid 2000s. Travis’ love of drum & bass came through on “The Fallen Interlude,” and he gave another of his career-best performances on “Asthenia,” a song I still can’t figure out how to categorize. The album’s biggest hit, “I Miss You,” didn’t have a single thing to do with pop punk. It’s a dark, grim song that had to have something to do with the rise of emo around that time. Like “Everytime I Look For You” on TOYPAJ, this album has one of Mark’s best straight-up rock songs too: “Here’s Your Letter.” In some ways, that song was ahead of its time. It’s the one song on that album that might actually be received better if it came out today.

The songwriting alone wasn’t the only way blink were experimenting on this album. They experimented with unique recording techniques and various non-traditional (for rock) instruments, and you can hear it in the songs. You can hear Travis toying with various drum sounds, you can hear Tom toying with backgrounded screams. And, thanks of course to Jerry Finn, it’s their best-sounding album by a mile. Every drum hit, guitar strum, and bass pluck sound louder and clearer than on the early records, and realer and more human than on Enema and TOYPAJ.

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blink-enema

2. Enema of the State (1999)

This is the album that started it all. The band already had the momentum thanks to the success of “Dammit” but Enema of the State is what skyrocketed blink-182 and punk rock to the top of the world. It was their first with Travis Barker, who really helped tighten blink’s sound and bring it to the next level, and their first with producer Jerry Finn, who proved again and again that he could help bands turn punk songs into actual pop songs. He mixed Green Day’s breakthrough Dookie and produced Rancid’s breakthrough …And Out Come the Wolves, but Enema of the State was his moment. After that album, a flood of pop punk bands came to him and many of them benefited from his touch. Not only were blink now writing the kind of pop songs that could compete with Backstreet Boys and *NYSNC, they were good-looking enough to compete with the boy bands too. But blink-182 came from a world where boy bands were a joke, and Enema‘s success gave them the opportunity to make fun of boy bands with the very platform those boy bands occupied, MTV. Compare blink to other pop punk bands all you want, the only other artist doing something like this at the time was the equally good-looking Eminem, whose breakthrough album came out the same year as Enema (and whose boy band bashing was way more vulgar). While he was telling suburban kids to study a tape of NWA and referencing Rakim rhymes, blink-182 were introducing those kids to the Descendents.

It’s easy to see what turned the punks off about Enema of the State though. It’s so polished that even Dookie sounds raw in comparison. blink’s guitars never sounded so rubbery and synthetic before or after (at least not until California). Their punk roots are in your face but Enema is truly a pop album. And it’s one of the best damn pop albums ever written. The first section of the album, tracks one through five (which all segue right into the next), is the best section of music in the band’s entire discography. They begin with “Dumpweed,” which kicks off with one of the band’s strongest guitar riffs and shows off the new ferocity and technicality that Travis was bringing to the band. That leads right into “Don’t Leave Me,” Mark’s best straight-up punk song on Enema. Then we’re at “Aliens Exist,” the song Tom used to introduce the world to his obsession with UFOs and aliens that he’s now famous for (and also a really fucking catchy song). Then it’s “Going Away to College,” a teenage love song about exactly what the title implies, which really should’ve been released as a single. It’s one of the most memorable, accessible songs the band ever wrote. Finally, “Going Away” fades out into the iconic intro of “What’s My Age Again.” This is blink-182’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” their “Stairway to Heaven.” This is the massive hit song that you always think you’re tired of hearing, and then it comes on and you’re transported back to the first time you ever heard it. It’s a perfect song, and the attention to detail at the end (the overlapping vocals, bringing the intro back into the mix) is the kind of in-studio work that blink had never mastered before Enema.

As perfect as that five-song section is, the rest of Enema hits some road bumps. “Dysentery Gary” is sub-par, “All the Small Things” is the overplayed single that hasn’t aged nearly as well as “What’s My Age Again,” and the potty humor and casual misogyny of “The Party Song” doesn’t help the album out. Still, the second half is peppered with more classic songs. “Adam’s Song” was a rare sign of exactly how serious blink could get in the early days, slowing the tempo down and addressing teen suicide. If their fans were gonna skew young, the least blink could do was address a topic many of those young fans needed to hear about. “Mutt” and “Wendy Clear” are these little pop punk gems that show up towards the end and rival any of the first five. And Tom ends the album with one of his snottiest, punkiest odes to teenage feelings, “Anthem.” Enema of the State will always be blink-182’s most important, most generation-defining album. And yet, it falls ever so short of being their best.

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1. Dude Ranch (1997)

The second reason that blink-182 hold up better than their TRL-friendly pop punk peers, is that before all the fame, blink were a true punk band. Hardly any of these bands — not Sum 41, not Simple Plan, not Good Charlotte, not The All-American Rejects, not Fall Out Boy, not Panic! at the Disco — have ever written an album as truly punk as Dude Ranch. For all the talk of how significantly Travis Barker and Jerry Finn elevated blink-182 as a band, Mark and Tom wrote their best album without either of them. Scott Raynor, a less technical but rock-solid drummer, was behind the kit, and Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino produced. At the time, Trombino had mostly worked with emo and post-hardcore bands like his own, the DLJ-related Rocket from the Crypt, Jimmy Eat World, and Knapsack. blink-182 weren’t emo (though there’s a song on this album called “Emo” that was inspired by Jimmy Eat World), but they aimed to mix melody with raw power and that was Trombino’s specialty. blink-182 were only beginning to figure out their sound on Dude Ranch‘s predecessor Cheshire Cat. Just two years later, they had fully mastered the approach that would soon make them gigantic.

blink let you know right away that they aren’t messing around, by kicking things off with “Pathetic.” It’s one of Mark and Tom’s more collaborative songs, with the two frontmen bouncing lines back and forth throughout the verses and the choruses. It’s also one of the band’s fastest, most aggressive songs, and it proved they could do melodic SoCal punk as well as their heroes in the Descendents. It’s the highest point on Dude Ranch, but only by a hair. Every song is sharply performed. The guitars are raw and the vocals are rawer, and Mark and Tom had learned how to stay on key since recording Cheshire Cat. blink prove song after song how much they’ve nailed the pop punk formula on Dude Ranch. It’s their only album where I never skip a song.

After “Pathetic” it’s the horny skate punk of “Voyeur,” and then blink prove their hit-making abilities with “Dammit.” “Dammit” remains one of their biggest songs, but it’s really Dude Ranch‘s other big single, the circle-pit-inducing “Josie,” where their ability to mix true punk and true pop shines the brightest. Tom, a sometimes sloppy but also underrated guitarist, really gets to show off his riffs on “Boring” and “Enthused.” The band is undeniably juvenile on the album, with song titles like “Dick Lips” and post-song skits that reference STDs and dogs drinking piss, but somehow it all works on Dude Ranch. The jokes land in part because it’s never long before another great melody kicks in. You may not want to talk too loudly about your love of “Dick Lips,” but it’s one of Dude Ranch‘s most well-constructed songs.

I mentioned earlier that California is blink-182’s worst album because it’s the first time they repeated themselves. For the five studio albums in blink’s initial run as a band, each one was different. On Cheshire Cat they were figuring things out. Enema was their pop album. TOYPAJ was transitioning away from pop. The untitled record was their experimental moment. Dude Ranch was the one and only time that blink-182 made a true, and truly great, punk album. Considering their greatest contribution to culture is bringing punk to the widest audience the genre had ever had, their punk album has to be #1.

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