LOUDER FEATURES: Why 'Take Off Your Pants and Jacket' remains the best blink 182 album, 20 years on
When an album opens with a track entitled ‘Anthem, Part 2’, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is simply a continuation of what came before. A band had stormed the world’s stages and charts with their tongue-in-cheek brand of feel-good pop punk mania, and now they were looking to capitalise on doing more of the same with their following release.
The band in question is, of course, pop punk heavyweights blink 182. But while their pedestal-building 1999 release, the iconic ‘Enema of the State’, remains one of the most resonant albums in the genre’s history, its successor, 2001’s ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’, transcends its more popular cousin, bringing a slicker style and more heartfelt substance to blink’s happy-go-lucky image. It is this delicate balance which, even twenty years on from its release, means that TOYPAJ remains, arguably, the best album of blink’s career.
Of course, there is still just as much light-hearted juvenile joy to be found on this record as there should be on any pop punk record worth its salt and skateboard. Smash-hit single ‘The Rock Show’ was penned as a deliberately irreverent middle finger to a label which demanded a rollicking radio single with no need for substance– and yet, that is exactly what has made it so beloved. Giving even older blink fans the excuse to scream unabashedly about the joys of the youth they never had, with a nod and wink as to the track’s true backstory, is a wondrous experience. They got their radio single, and we got our three minutes of unapologetic youthful anarchy – that’s as close to a win-win situation as you can get when you’re talking about a band who were one of the biggest commercial assets in the musical world at the time.
For the darker months of the year, when “the summer and the Warped Tour” seem like distant memories, blink also have you covered with the hilariously juvenile ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’. Breakneck guitars covered in radio-effect fuzz drive away beneath beautifully crass lyrics (which are always cause to turn the volume in your headphones down slightly on the bus for fear of getting startled looks from the old woman sat next to you!) – it set the bar for all future humorous interludes on blink’s records inordinately high.
And, of course, there is the track which to this day, remains this writer’s favourite blink 182 track of all time: ‘Reckless Abandon’. From the pacey, rumbling introduction which builds the adrenaline inside your chest, to the huge crashing wave of the chorus which still has no problem whipping crowds up into a swirling frenzy, there is no way that this track cannot conjure even a wry smile with every repeat outing. It encompasses everything that it means to be young and free, telling stories of late nights making your own adventure in a world which only wants to tie you down. It meant everything to me as a teenager who felt just as trapped in suburbia as generations of pop punk kids did before and will after me, and still gives me the same feeling of being seen and understood today as it did for me back then.
In many ways, that is the true heart of what makes ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ so important. It was written for the kids that blink used to be. It made so many young music fans feel as though they belonged, that their struggles were shared by people who had made it out alive, and who were now taking the world’s stages by storm. It made people feel like they mattered.
Nowhere is that truer than on the album’s most sombre tracks. ‘Story Of A Lonely Guy’ speaks of the universal experience of having your heart broken by someone who held everything you are in their hands, and chose to snuff that light out. Countless broken hearts have been soothed by Tom’s idiosyncratic vocals, as he intones that, while you might be receiving ‘Worthless answers from friends of mine’, there are perhaps answers to be found in music, and in solidarity.
The most poignant track of all, however, is irrefutably ‘Stay Together for the Kids’. An ode to every kid whose life was shaped by a broken home, it is impossible not to feel tears pricking at the corners of your eyes as the thunderous drums in the chorus come pounding down like hailstones, and Tom’s vocals strain with the kind of grief that burns quietly inside as you grow older, but never quite fading down to ashes. The sense of a spiralling loss of control is littered throughout the lyrics, a sad desperation that your world is falling apart, and nothing you can do will be able to stop it. Yet, for those kids who were experiencing these exact feelings, songs like these are a lifeline. You can lose yourself in the music, and use it as an anchor to cling to while you work through your own struggles, safe in the knowledge that you are not alone, and while you will always carry these experiences with you, things can get better as you grow up, and grow stronger.
Personally, that is what music like blink’s is all about. Some see pop punk as being infantile and something that grown men should have left behind by the time they hit their late twenties or early thirties. However, what blink managed to do with ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ was create something that speaks to the kids that they were, while representing the men they have become. Paying your success and your wisdom forward is a powerful thing for a musician to be able to do, and that this exactly what this record does. It is mature and reflective (‘Happy Holidays…’ perhaps aside – but who doesn’t want to still have some fun now and again in amongst paying taxes and doing the washing up?!). But it is also something of a time capsule, reminiscing on the past, but with the hindsight of knowing that it gets so much better if you can make it to the other side. Life is tough, but because of bands and records like this, it is better.
Some will still argue that, when it comes to the question of the best blink 182 album, ‘Enema…’ better encapsulates the cultural peak of blink 182’s influence on the trajectory of music, or that 2003’s Untitled record has more technical musicianship behind it. But, in terms of a record made simply of pure heart, for me, ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ will always take the crown.
'Take Off Your Pants and Jacket' is available to stream on Spotify here: