istening to Blink-182’s Greatest Hits, I can pretty much place where I was in my life at the time of each song’s release, from the 6th grade revelation of “Dammit” in 1997 to the sad news that “Always” would be the band’s swansong in late 2004. And though I was never hugely into them while they were around—even as a middle schooler I never owned one of their full-lengths, and as a high schooler, I considered myself beyond them—they were still always there. I remember watching their performance of “All the Small Things” at the ’99 VMAs and knowing that this song was going to be the big one, as I do always seeing the video for “The Rock Show” while fighting for control of the only TV at a summer program in ’01, as I do debating the annoyingness of Tom DeLonge’s pronunciation of “my ‘yed” on the chorus to “I Miss You” with my friends last year.
It’s not the nostalgia that makes Greatest Hits my favorite compilation of 2005, though. If anything, the fact that the songs evoke such vivid memories is a testament to just how good and memorable the songs are to begin with. You couldn’t possibly count the number of both indie kids and pop fans who’ve said at some point in Blink’s career, “yeah, they’re not bad, I wouldn’t buy an album of theirs but if they ever released a greatest hits I’d probably buy it.” That’s because over the course of eight years of modern rock smashes, they never released a bum single, and collected on Greatest Hits, it makes for one of the sweetest, catchiest, most enjoyable collections of pop-punk ever released.
Compared to Blink-182, even Green Day sound like The Damned. For a band that would be most easily classified as “punk,” Blink are missing one essential factor for the genre—the sneer. Over the course of the 16 tracks on Greatest Hits, you won’t find a second of defiance, rebellion, or even any perceivable form of attitude. No, these guys are more Raspberries than Ramones, more liable to crush on their English teacher than to burn down the school. Even the comp’s earliest, most immature songs, “Carousel” and “M+Ms” are basically just “I Wanna Be With You,” with lyrics like “my love life was getting so bland / There are only so many ways I can make love to my hand” sounding more loveable than transgressive.
“Dammit” is where the comp really kicks off, and it remains one of the great breakout singles of the second half of the 90s. It was the perfect introduction to the band, from the instantly recognizable opening guitar lick to the still-classic “did you hear he fucked her?” line, to the redemptive, reluctantly mature chorus. Even better is “Josie,” possibly the band’s best love song to date, and quite likely the only pop-punk song in history that contains a thank-you to the singer’s girlfriend for not minding his having a small dick.
It wasn’t until ‘99’s “What’s My Age Again,” however, that the band became one of the biggest in America. Possibly more famous for the streak the three Blinkers took in the video than for the song itself, it was nevertheless possibly the definitive rock single of the year, though I hated it at the time. It helps that the lyrics included with Greatest Hits finally help explicate the song as more of a self-knowing lament about immaturity, rather than a tribute to it as I always thought. And of course, there’s “All the Small Things,” probably the band’s most well-known song and certainly one of their best, a song that sounds just as effervescent as it did back when it was first released.
Blink were also one of those rare bands that did their audience the favor of evolving with them. They never grow up too fast, thankfully, but they did grow up, moving from the Elementary School juvenilia and three-chord pop-punk of their first few hits to more serious, self-doubting, Middle School territory with songs like “Adam’s Song” and “Stay Together for the Kids.” The former is, along with Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper,” a sort of “Jeremy” for the end of the 90s, and though the lyrics are appropriately clumsy for a teenage suicide note, they also contain some surprisingly insightful lines like “I never conquered, rarely came / Sixteen just held such better days” and the both life-affirming and depressing concluding sentiment, “I can’t wait ‘til I get home / To pass the time in my room alone.” The latter is simply one of the most devastating singles of the 00s, a similarly awkward narrative of a teenager’s parents splitting, whose relatively restrained verses provide the perfect set-up for the tornado crash of the guitars in the chorus.
Of course, that’s not to say that Blink wasn’t still cranking out naïve love songs like “The Rock Show” and the comp’s only near-dud, “First Date.” But it’s the more serious stuff that would foreshadow the band’s first, and regrettably, only attempt at a near “mature” sound with their self-titled album in 2003. That album is represented here first by “Feeling This,” a song that essentially follows the power-pop blast formula of the last three albums’ lead singles, but shows the band’s increasing sophistication in the frequent tempo changes and the gorgeous a capella harmonies that close the song.. And then there’s “I Miss You,” bearing the distinctive bad-poetry trademark of high school (“webs from all the spiders / Catching things and eating their insides / Like indecision to call you” being the biggest howler) yet sounding just as sweet and innocent as their earlier love songs. It also could be described as Blink’s only true ballad, the shuffling jazz beat and newfound discovery of cello and piano nearly put the song in prom territory.
The last two s/t singles, “Down” and “Always,” are enjoyable enough, despite not adding much new to the compilation. Then there are the two “bonus” tracks, the new single “Not Now” and their cover of the Only Ones’ classic “Another Girl, Another Planet.” The former, originally found as a b-side to “I Miss You,” is a nice enough extension of the s/t sound, and the “Another Girl, Another Planet” cover removes most of the shading and drug connotations of the Only Ones’ version to become just another sweet Blink love song, which, if you’re not too tied to the original, is pretty OK. They’re acceptable bonuses, and don’t disrupt the album’s flow or consistency, but if you’ve already got the rest of the tracks on Greatest Hits, they’re not worth buying the comp for.
It’s sad that Blink had to split before ever truly being afforded rock respectability. In another album or two, they might have come up with their American Idiot (which I firmly believe they were capable of) and convinced people they were a true standout from the legions of unfortunately inferior bands that they spawned. Still, after the band’s moved on to obnoxious reality TV shows and side projects destined to disappoint, it was nice of them to leave us with Greatest Hits, a reminder of what a shining light Blink-182 has been in the occasionally dismal world of modern rock over the last decade—a band you could turn to that always understands, and sees through the master plan.