Blink 182 have always struck me as the band version of Matthew McConaughey’s character from the movie Dazed and Confused: the one who spends his early twenties hanging out at the local diner scamming on high school girls. Finally, upon being confronted by some local kids, he utters the immortal line, “The beauty of high school chicks is that I get older, and they stay the same age.” Blink 182’s success is based on a similar theory: as long as they can keep churning out track after track of catchy punk rock songs about girls and farting, they’re always going to have a fan base. No matter how old Blink 182 gets there will always be a 15-20-year-old demographic gobbling up their albums. It seemed that, like the lecherous character from Dazed and Confused, Blink 182 were content with their fate, oblivious to the critics who attempted to derail them by charging Blink with lack of ambition and originality.
Despite the gajillion albums sold, it seems that the members of Blink 182 did indeed yearn for something different. A couple of years ago, Blinkers Thomas DeLonge and Travis Barker teamed up with some friends to record an album full of non-Blink friendly fare. Displaying a remarkable knowledge of their fan base, the duo decided to record the album under the moniker Boxcar Racer. The goal was to put out an album of songs the two had always wanted to write, but could not for fear of alienating their following. In 2002, they did. Judging by the first song on their self-titled album, “I Feel So”, you have to wonder what the hubbub was all about. As DeLonge wishes he were younger, stronger, braver, more outgoing, music fans might be wondering if he is going to pen a song that didn’t sound like anything off a Blink album. Part of the problem is his vocals — their nasal imprint is impossible to forget. The other problem is that other than being two minutes longer than standard Blink fare and having a three second piano intro, this is a basic pop-punk track. The second song, “All Systems Go”, begins in the same manner as, oh, about a thousand other GreenSumBlinkNewDayFound182 tracks. However, before you abandon all hope the song turns into a raging hardcore track reminiscent of Silent Majority or the almighty Avail. It’s at that point that Boxcar Racer actually gets interesting. “Watch The World” begins with DeLonge cooing over acoustic guitars, and while the sentiment is a bit childish with lyrics like “I saw this man dispose of hunger and soap operas too / I saw this field that grew perfection full of things you do / I saw this box get rid of heartache and cure cancer too”, it’s quietly the most wonderful song he’s ever written.
“Cat Like Thief” features the other Blinker, Mark Hoppus, doing his best Tim Armstrong impression. The song is built around a dub backdrop, showing that Boxcar knows something other than the loud/quiet, fast/slow formula. Ironically, “And I” and “Letters To God” are both classic emo tracks in the fashion of Texas is The Reason and Christie Front Drive. I find it delicious that while most current bands are trying to pass pop-punk off as emo, it’s a pop-punk band who actually went and recorded an album full of tried and true mid-’90s chops.
As a reminder of their other band, “My First Punk Song” is a ripping thrash track that will bring a smile to the faces of Descendents fans. It’s the kind of song that nicely breaks up the pace of the album and reminds you that, above all, these guys are still obnoxious.
As exciting as the first eight tracks are, the last five are disappointing. Boxcar Racer fall in love with the same blueprint: start with the slow military style drum beat, then add acoustic guitar, then add vocals, then turn your amps up to ten and blow the whole thing out. While it works for a while, it eventually gets old and the album begins to lose steam.
Boxcar Racer is an interesting project, and it’s a pretty fantastic hardcore/emo/punk rock album. It seems to re-affirm the band’s roots while proving that they are capable of more than the by-the-numbers approach of Blink. On the other hand, there’s no reason this couldn’t have been a Blink 182 album (after all the beauty of bands is watching them grow and develop their sound), which means that they recorded as Boxcar Racer because they know they’ve alienated a certain audience, the non-mall going one, and are trying to draw them in under a different label. Furthermore, while Boxcar Racer have the right moves, they are ones that others invented. If Blink 182 owes its success to the Descendents and Green Day, Boxcar Racer owes theirs to Avail and Texas is The Reason. Either way, Boxcar Racer have released an enjoyable album. While they may be evil doppelgangers trying to lure in a new crowd, they’ve taken a great form.