One late summer in 1999 I found myself flirting with a hot British chick seated at a table next to mine at a sidewalk café in Montreal on the kind of warm night that oscillates the hormones. We were both drinking Cosmos and talking bullshit when, aggressive bitch that I’ve been since puberty, I asked her to share my table. She shot me a wicked look with a raised eyebrow and moved over, not to the seat across from me, but the seat next to me.
Starting to feel wet, I naturally reached in my purse for one of my long, white cigarettes. On cue, she pulled out her pack and waited for a light.
Love was in the air.
The conversation naturally turned to music, and I shared my fervent admiration of her country’s great bands. “That’s funny,” she said. “I’ve recently fallen in love some American music.” “Oh, really?” said I, hoping to God she wouldn’t say something stupid like Lenny Kravitz. “And who might that be?”
“Blink-182,” she smiled, taking a drag off her cigarette.
“Enema of the State?” I cried.
“Yes! Isn’t that a fantastic fucking album?” she gushed, breathless with delight.
I leaned over and whispered in her lightly perfumed ear, “I have the CD back in my hotel room. Let’s go fuck to it.”
She looked at me at first with surprise, then heat, and whispered back, “Lead the way.”
What a night! What a woman! And what a record!
No other album summed up the 90’s for me as well as Enema of the State. Teenage angst, sexual frustration and suicide fantasies. The awkwardness of growing up and not really wanting to grow up. Relationships that fall short but are easily replaced with more relationships that fall short. People trying to be cool and coming off like they know shit at a time when nobody knew what the fuck they were talking about, not Bill Clinton, not Bill Gates and not the losers waiting to hit the lottery at a dot.com.
It was the perfect marriage of punk and pop.
Some might say (to borrow a phrase) that Enema of the State is sophomoric and lacks depth. Well, what were the Nineties? We had a whole world getting rich on money that didn’t really exist! It was like the Earth had been overrun by naïve, confused teenagers who took over our countries and businesses and turned the world into Fantasyland. Enema of the State was no more sophomoric than the President of the United States telling us that leaving semen on a dress really wasn’t sex. How childish can you get?
The album opens with “Dumpweed,” a kick-ass expression of intense frustration that women never do exactly what you want them to do. We are wicked bitches, aren’t we? Rather than come off as offensive, the song is an honest admission of the failure of expectations in relationships and the childish need to control powerful emotions:
She’s a dove, she’s a fuckin’ nightmare
Unpredictable, it’s my mistake to stay here
On the go and it’s way too late to play
I need a girl that I can train
You have no time to catch your breath on Enema of the State; all the songs are high-energy drivers. Many of the songs are also goddamned funny, as revealed in the next song, “Don’t Leave Me:”
And she said that I’m not the one that she thinks about,
And she said it stopped being fun, I just bring her down.
I said, “Don’t let your future be destroyed by my past.”
She said, “Don’t let my door hit your ass.”
There is also honest emotion as well. Jumping ahead two songs to “Going Away to College,” we hear the wit dissolve into frank admission:
And if young love is just a game
Then I must have missed the kickoff
Don’t depend on me to ever follow through on anything
But I’d go through hell for you and
I haven’t been this scared in a long time
And I’m so unprepared so here’s your Valentine
Bouquet of clumsy words, a simple melody
This world’s an ugly place, but you’re so beautiful to me
This brings us to the first major hit, “What’s My Age Again,” one of those songs so unique and unusual, you remember where you were when you first heard it (I was at Sparky’s on Church Street in SF at 1 a. m.). The song expresses a deep wish that all of us have had at one time or another: to not grow up. The spin in this song has little to do with youth being delightful but the apprehension that adulthood is going to populated with a bunch of judgmental pricks. The arrangement is simply brilliant: moving from a steady start, Travis Barker picks up the pace mid-verse and then “and that’s about the time she walked BOOM away from me.” Simply one of the great originals in rock.
I was less impressed with the next two, “Dysentery Gary” and “Adam’s Song,” but my perceptions are probably biased because I know what comes next. “All the Small Things” is a relentlessly thrilling pop-punk ride with driving guitar, unabashed drumming and perfect vocal harmonies. The structure of crash-quiet-drive-it-home that makes a great rock song is on display here, and nobody drives it home quite like these guys.
The underrated “Party Song” with its unusual beat and life-lesson lyrics comes next, teaching us that the name-dropping broads with fake tits who dominate L. A. conversation are as far from Venus as one can get (the goddess, not the planet). “Mutt” describes the life of a loser couple, memorable more for the drumming than the lyrics. Things pick up again with “Wendy Clear,” a mover that fails to answer the age-old question, “Why do I want what I can’t get?” but since it’s a core human paradox, no answer is required. The cymbal work and harmonies on this cut are especially bright and compelling.
The closing song, “Anthem” is an ode to that wasteland of normalcy, the American suburb, where every year hundreds of thousands of teenagers dream of escape to a reality characterized by more reality. The music is suitably intense and the musical theme appropriately anthem-like . . . at least as far as rock music goes. You can tell from the passion with which this song is sung that Tom and Mark shared not only disgust at the state of things but also had tremendous empathy for those who have to live in the dreary world of tract homes.
More important than the individual songs, Enema of the State creates a mood that perfectly reflected the mood of the times for the dot-com generation. Its combination of punk-pop-rock, humor and disgusted commentary on the state of things in Fantasyland made it one of those unique works that express the things that were on everyone’s mind but hadn’t yet gelled into something communicable.
And when I was eighteen, it was a great album to fuck to.