THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 2001
By Sean Calhoun
One genre that hit its commercial peak during the first decade of the new millennium was pop-punk. While bands like Yellowcard and Sum 41 (and later Fall Out Boy and similar acts) found a great deal of success, there was one band in particular that typified the genre in the early 2000s…
Take Off Your Pants And Jacket – Blink-182 (Interscope Records)
It wouldn’t be an early Blink-182 album without some sort of crass title, would it? (See also: Enema Of The State, their previous record.) It’s true that Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker formed one of the crudest groups to come out of the genre, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t rock.
Take Off Your Pants And Jacket continued the highly successful formula set by Enema Of The State: crisp, guitar-driven instrumentals, jokey (but rather intense) vocals, and a general sense that all involved were having a pretty good time. The end result is a lot like musical junk food – it’s not particularly substantial, but it’s certainly enjoyable in the moment.
The album’s third track, “First Date”, is also its first single and one of its highlights, with DeLonge rhapsodizing on the subjects of relationships, teenage angst, and general adolescent awkwardness. Another highlight, “Story Of A Lonely Guy”, sounds like a far less depressing parallel of Enema’s “Adam’s Song,” musically if not necessarily lyrically.
Another single, “The Rock Show”, is shallow as all hell, telling the story of DeLonge meeting a girl at Warped Tour (remember when that was relevant?), and yet it still manages to be one of the album’s better tracks. Blink-182 has always seemed to be the type of band that is at its best when there’s at least some level of self-awareness as to how ridiculous the whole thing is, and “The Rock Show” is more proof.
There is one track, though, where the boys decide to get serious, and it’s the best track on the album: “Stay Together For The Kids”, where Hoppus and DeLonge tag-team to tell an angry and emotionally evocative tale of a fractured American family. Both vocalists are at their best here, imbuing the track with a level of maturity and musicality not seen particularly often in the group’s discography.
There’s a lot to like here – chanty choruses, sharp guitar work, and more than a dash of humor (delivered, of course, through DeLonge’s ever-present, vaguely whiny, nasally, but eternally distinctive tone). Of course, there are a couple of lyrically cringeworthy moments (mostly in relation to the envelope being pushed a biiiiiit too far in terms of overt crassness), but that’s par for the course when it comes to Blink-182. It’s a solid reminder that pop-punk doesn’t always have to be all that serious.
Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 8.1/10
While I’ve already covered a bit of nu-metal in this series, 2001 brought with it a number-one album that put a thrashier and more explicitly political spin on the genre…
Toxicity – System of a Down (Columbia)
System of a Down is one of the more unique bands of the 2000s. Formed by four Armenian-American friends in California, the group has never really slotted easily into one genre, with elements of thrash metal, rap, and alternative rock, along with a decidedly political lyrical slant a la Rage Against The Machine.
This becomes obvious immediately on “Prison Song”, the album’s first track, an angry screed decrying the American prison system and its treatment of drug offenders. It sets the tone for the rest of the album – an album that kicks you in the face over and over again, demanding that you hear and understand the message it’s trying to send.
The subject matter under investigation on Toxicity varies, but it’s almost always explicitly political. “Deer Dance” is about the protests surrounding the 2000 Democratic National Convention, while other tracks cover topics from group sex to Charles Manson. It’s aggressive and at times borders on off-putting, but it’s also very well put-together.
Lead vocalist Serj Tankian doesn’t spend a lot of time on Toxicity actually singing – much like a number of other nu metal vocalists, there’s a lot of yelling and aggressive speak-singing on this record. It serves the instrumentals and the lyrical content well, however, and when Tankian does segue into more melodic vocals, it adds extra emotional and persuasive heft to his words.
This vocal duality is used to great effect on perhaps the album’s most memorable track, the single “Chop Suey!”. While the track’s lyrics are rather inscrutable, Tankian claims it’s a song about drug addiction that, even so, is “a little quacky.” It’s a terrific track and highlights the range of the band, both musically and vocally, with Tankian doing more actual singing here than on any other track.
Like a lot of nu- and thrash-metal albums, however, Toxicity reaches a point where the repeated musical punches become a bit too much. The production also has a tendency to be a bit repetitive, with indistinguishable guitar work softening the edge of a lot of tracks.
In the end, however, it’s a pretty solid and thought-provoking album, and one that has held up a lot better than most of its contemporaries.
Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 6.6/10