What's Their Age Again?

Anticipatory asthenia bogart conundrum criminally spazzy zing: Look 'em up, suckers!

Although their last album title, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, had a pranksterish literary spirit, Blink-182 is the first of the band's brilliant albums that will have you reaching for a dictionary. ("Ejaculate" gets taught in sex ed.) The vocab puzzler in question is handclap-accented yelper "Asthenia." I've got the title as "a lack or loss of bodily strength"—images of SoCal sand kicked in a punk's pierced face come to mind. And then there's one you surely recognize, "Stockholm Syndrome." I had to look it up anyway: It's a condition in which hostages identify with their captors. These are the twentysomethings who once told us, "If we're fucked up, you're to blame," and clearly, they've been thinking about it.

Though the boys have grown tired of asking "What's My Age Again," though shiny unhappy understudies like Good Charlotte have taken TRL, the Mark, Tom, and Travis show must go on. And maybe, just maybe, they've powerslided through a hairpin. I'll leave the question of whether they're better than Green Day to future pop-punk historians. Let it be noted, however, that the latter's criminally underrated adult album, Warning(arrest Greg Kot!), searches for subject matter where Blink-182 searches for meaning. I miss the penis jokes, I sincerely do, but when life's little fuckups sound like cosmic conundrums—and here I'm referring not just to the new disc's big choruses but, more importantly, to its snaking structures and unrelentingly urgent harmonies—now-and-then comparisons fail. Size matters.

Also, time passes. Teens grok that and indulge in anticipatory nostalgia, an adult intoxicant sneaked like any other. No longer willing or able to bogart that joint, Blink face a late-twenties-and-up single-person dilemma: Do we date Tanya, Tamika, Karen, Sharon, Tina, Stacy, Julie, and Tracy till, having parted with all of them, death does us in?

Blink ain't tryin' to hear that; the disc's only miss trails off of "Violence" 's spring-shooting fuzz lead. Over melodramatic piano and wilting electronica, a Brit-accented lady writes a love-lost lament to her absentee soldier husband: "I guess the war has spoiled a lot of things." This played just as I read the Times' Veterans Day spread of letters sent home by American troops later killed occupying Iraq. Needless to say, it wasn't the music that made me cry.

But what moved me about the letters was how full of life they sounded, even when an author anticipated death. There's a tiny bit of that in these songs, which mark time by ups and downs as vividly as anything you'll hear this year. "Obvious" lurches between two monster chords, then opens into an airily expansive verse, which spazzy drummer-of-the-year Travis Barker threads with dubby accents, rapid-fire rolls, and deft hiccups. Tom Delonge, the guitarist with the high, boyish voice, sings: "I saw you again/I know you fucked him again." It's no "I heard you let that little friend of mine/take off your party dress," but we get the picture, all thousand words of it. After a midsong break, the song leaps into double time, and in a sweeping close, Tom harmonizes with himself (studio wonders never cease), stretching out "It's ob-vee-uhhhhs" while rushing through "I saw you again and again and again/It's time to move on to move on to move on." A pull like hers needs a push like Travis Barker's.

Lead single "Feeling This," a first-date snapshot that anticipates both getting ass and getting dumped, ends with harmonies, too, but Mark Hoppus, the bassist with the deeper, more authoritative voice, grounds Tom's double-tracked tangle. Meanwhile, the shuffling, string-gilded slow burner "All of This" features Robert Smith, who has more presence than both of Blink's singers combined. But it's how Tom and Mark zing off of one another that makes Blink-182 one of the greats. Name another two dudes who can so naturally share a tender, swelling ballad like "I Miss You." Penis jokes aside, these boys are meant to grow old together.

 
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