“It’s funny how the music put times in perspective. Add a soundtrack to your life and perfect it.” –Luv (Sic) Pt 3
Jun Seba’s final and posthumous album ‘Spiritual State‘ dropped a few days ago. For many, including myself, Nujabes was the gateway drug into a whole new world of music (heck, it may even be the reason why I’m living in Japan). And just like his other productions, it indeed proves to be a worthy soundtrack to life.
Stream: Nujabes – Spiritual State (Album Teaser)
I will try my best not to dissect this butterfly, for the beauty of ‘Spiritual State’ is intrinsic -alive, even- and requires no deconstructive analysis. See the details in the fabric yourself; they are rich, and well-woven. Nor will I meaninglessly assign stars or half-stars. This review is merely a humble attempt at accurately reflecting the qualities of this album in terms of sound and meaning.
Jazz-hop heads familiar with Nujabes’ body of work should be happy to know that ‘Spiritual State’, in many ways, sounds just as fresh as the first time I heard a track from him. It goes without saying that this album should be listened to while expecting the unexpected. But then again, isn’t that slightly experimental goodness, without deviating too far from its core piano jazz roots, what has always kept listeners connected to Nujabes’ music to begin with? His studio was a laboratory and oh, how we did enjoy being the guinea pigs.
At the same time, there are familiar voices, tones and tempos throughout, so it is difficult to have any doubt: Nujabes made this. Close friends of Nujabes heavily involved with Hydeout Productions, Uyama Hiroto, Cise Starr, Pase Rock, Substantial, and Haruka Nakamura are also featured in half of the tracks. In ‘Dawn on the Side’, one can hear faint remnants of the ‘Spartacus‘ sample used in Seba’s first album for ‘The Final View’. Also evidenced by the track titles is Nujabes’ seemingly unchanged musical inspiration: seasons, nature, time, love, and spirituality. Considering his long-running discography, these elements bring a certain nostalgia to the table. Still, it would have been a nice surprise for the album to have featured that one notably missing voice of Shing02.
Naturally, in the few years time from ‘Modal Soul’ until his passing, a producer like Nujabes would have been busy…more than 14 tracks busy. So why these 14 tracks? Well, the neat thing about ‘Spiritual State’ is that the listener is left to wonder, free to create personal interpretations and connections with Jun Seba’s life. Such is posthumous art.
For example, in only these few days of listening, I have formed my own associations. In ‘Yes’, the staggered strong and weak double beat seem to mimic a heartbeat. The song also speaks positive lyrics in celebration Nujabes’ livelihood – the longest track on the album, an apt choice. But my favorite song by far is ‘Far Fowls’ – no pun intended. The track is upbeat and carries its melody effortlessly over triplet arpeggios. It feels like a journey into nature, where changes in the air are signaled by quickly variating wind instruments. On the other hand, not all songs are jubilant. ‘City Lights’, in contrast, is quiet and downbeat, like a drum in the rain. Pase Rock and Substantial’s voices are barely louder than the piano, almost as if they are showing respect for Nujabes in giving their last words, their eulogies saved in his final album for the world to hear.
Finally, the most interesting thing about ‘Spiritual State’ is that it requires some patience, just as the title suggests. Listen to it once, and you will find something beautiful. But listen again and again, and the music becomes an experience, a journey, a life. Something truly spiritual.
A 15-Year Retractive Look at Blink-182’s Enema of the State
by Joshua Logsdon
Full Album Stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuuksUxTo1o
A band standing on the line between giving up everything they’d dreamed of and sticking it out for one more show. Firing their drummer and starting fresh after years of concert tours across the US in a borrowed band van. A gold record to their name, but what next they had to wonder. Tired of playing punk rock shows, and tired of being in a punk rock band, they disappeared into the studio with veteran punk producer Jerry Finn (of Green Day, Bad Religion, Rancid, The Offspring) for three months to work on a new album.
This is a story that sounds like so many others, doesn’t it? So many bands that neither you nor I will ever hear, buried among the countless almost-successful, so-talented-they-should-have-made-it groups whose destiny was to try, try again, and fail. I’m looking at you, The Unicorns. And, no—let me be absolutely clear—this isn’t the band that changed the world as you and I know it because years after the fact some dustbin record junkie pulled it out, gave it a try, and passed it along to a friend. This isn’t the Germs, The Wrens, or Slint. This is Smash Mouth we’re talking about, singing “Hey now, you’re an all-star/ Get the game on go play” over the shoe store department Muzak where I worked during high school and early college.
The story of Blink-182 could have been just that. I am certain in an alternate universe “Dammit” is playing at the same sorry excuse for a shoe department alongside “Photograph” by Nickelback, “Hold My Hand” by Hootie and the Blowfish, and, oddly enough, “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin (which was my favorite). But something else happened instead. A change of pace, a change of style, a new headspace. Lots of level 10 strength hair gel. Maybe it was the great Buddha of Blink’s early demo days making a karmic reappearance with gale wind force. Whatever it was, this we can say: it was 12 songs, 36 minutes (well within the established range of a proper punk record), labeled Enema of the State, and featured porn star Janine Lindemulder dressed as a nurse on the cover. The rest is, as they say, history.
But as history goes, my own story with Blink-182 is a little different than you might guess. I was not introduced to Blink in middle school, hiding a copy of Enema underneath my bookbag so the teacher couldn’t confiscate it (as happened to a friend of mine who, ironically, was the first to try and get me to listen to the album in the 8th grade; I turned him down cold). I wasn’t eagerly anticipating Take Off Your Pants and Jacketwhile “All The Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again” looped endlessly on MTV. I wasn’t cool enough to even know what MTV was, probably. And I didn’t follow the band into the emotional years of high school, dressed in varying degrees of gothic black and worshiping the self-titled Blink-182 as much as those generations before had bowed down to The Cure.
Nope, I breezed by all of it. That is, until college when, after bored with listening through a few newer records a thought hit me suddenly—I should check out Blink-182. A close friend of mine had a poster of Enema-era Blink hanging on her dorm room wall, a reminder of her own middle- and high-school days. It was that one poster which popped into my head. A quick Google search, a couple mouse clicks, and one download later I am listening to the opening chords of “Dumpweed”. Alone, sitting, as I remember, on my friend’s spare bed at his parents’ house where I was staying in preparation for a job interview the next morning, my world grew just a little bigger, became a little brighter.
The cultural stigma of America’s most potty-mouthed trio has been rehashed so many times since June 1, 1999. For many Blink-182 has come to mean little more than a regrettable middle-school fanaticism better left behind along with those memories of being shoved into your locker. Much of this is due to the timing of Blink’s rise to fame, the audience the music attracted—and, of course, the stereotypes that grew with it. The aging teeny-bopper (NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, anyone?) found a voice in three irreverent, rebellious rocker dudes who were also, let’s admit, a bit immature for their age. A friend of mine once told me incredulously after I mentioned to him him I thought Enema of the State was a great album: “You know they’re like the poster child of, like, everything Hot Topic?” I had to agree.
And the band also did it to themselves. The publicity stunts, the music videos, the onstage nudity, the internal drama, the external drama, the breakup. With spotlights shining bright at all times—revealing the good, the bad, and the really ugly—it was just too much for any self-respecting music snob to explain away. Where’s the sense of self-respect? Why can’t they get their shit together? Is this even art? It’s no wonder critics have tended to turn a blind eye to the implications of Blink on relevant popular and underground music, specifically of Enema.
Fifteen years later, it’s time for retractive look at Enema of the State. Probably due to a certain amount of distance from the cultural stigma, this is already happening. If you look hard enough there are the signs of a critical shift for Blink, in the positive direction for once. I stand with at least one other critic who is renaming Enema “a close-to-perfect album”. With the added distance from the genre wars bordering on the militant, concerns over whether Blink is really “punk” or “pop-punk” or “pop” should also be left at the door. Enema of the State offers, in a decade of maximal musical irony, the simple thrill of talking about what really matters with energy, wit, and a commentary on what could have been. And that’s what punk has always been about anyway, hasn’t it?
Enema of the State is an album about growing up, dealing with parents, having your first girlfriend, “Going Away to College”. And this is why it appeals so much to the under-20s. However, let’s not forget—it is also an album negotiating the intricacies of early adult life. Mark Hoppus (bassist, vocals) was 27 when the album was recorded, while Tom DeLonge (guitar, vocals) and Travis Barker (drums) were both 24. It’s Hoppus, hanging around with his 24-year old bandmates, who wonders “what’s my age again?”; who sings wistfully “Let’s take the boat out on the bay/ forget your job for just one day”, and delves into the deepest struggle of the album—depression and suicide—on “Adam’s Song”. I think it was this side to Enema that captured my ear when I sat in a city I was a stranger to, listening late into the night before my job interview, wondering if tomorrow would be the day that my life changed forever (spoiler alert: it did not). The uncertainty of what it means to live beyond 23, taking some hard-earned lessons to heart (“…you’ll discover/ This girl’s not the one and she’ll never be fun” on “The Party Song”), but still not being able to shake the pubescent feelings of inadequacy, confusion, and frustration: that is the soul of Enema of the State
Enema is also an astounding punk record from a musical standpoint, filled to the brim with driving 1-2-1-2 rhythms, airtight guitar progressions, and front-and-center vocals any punk singer would envy. Opener “Dumpweed” has everything you could ask for in a punk song, and in under 2 and ½ minutes. The refrain “I need a girl that I can train” echoes a theme tackled by another great punk record: the frustration of the sex-driven male who always seems to find himself slave to the desire he seeks to master. Any half-decent review must also pay homage to the masterful touch of Jerry Finn, who hones the sonic punch of Blink’s lead and bass guitars into a unique blend of relatable melody and punk aggression, a feat he accomplished before on Green Day’s breakout Dookie. The album cover design itself—a teal blue almost leaking this kind of sexual electric jellyfish sparkle—also reminds me of Black Flag era comic/gothic album art portrayals. Enema of the State is also a record with no title on the cover and just that little Blink-182 medical patch–a work that lets the music speak for itself—and a bold move for an album that would go on to wide mainstream adoption.
In short, it’s a punk album that never should have made it big. In spirit, Enema most closely resembles the down-and-dirty, party-driven punk of Blink’s first—Cheshire Cat—harkening back to the energy and exploration of the earlier album, while leaving behind (most of) the dick jokes. Songs “Aliens Exist” and “Adam’s Song” dive into startling psychological territory, taking a step past heartbreak and identity crisis to tell a story of paranoia and depression. You have to remember—these are experiences that lead young adults to commit suicide. I agree, “All the Small Things” was deliberately crafted as a radio-friendly single, and later albums Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and Blink-182 pay careful ear to their new popular audience. But before the world tours, the TV appearances, the marketing—even Blink themselves refused to play “Adam’s Song” live.
The lyrical craft of these two songs, emblematic of Enema as a whole, also mark a departure from previous recordings. The words “Hey mom there’s something in the backroom/ Hope it’s not the creatures from above/ You used to read me stories/ As if my dreams were boring/ We all know conspiracies are dumb” strike an almost poetic poise between storytelling, emotional resonance, and disconnected collage. DeLonge stands above Hoppus in the lyric department, reaching heights seldom attempted before on each track he sings, from the sly dystopic hints of “He’s a player/ Diarrhea giver/ Tried to grow his hair out/ ‘Cause he’s listening to Slayer” in “Dysentery Gary” to the transcendent nonsensical “All the small things/ True care, truth brings/ I’ll take one lift/ Your ride, best trip” to the teen’s cry of existence “I time bomb”.
The only thing keeping Enema of the State at “near-perfect-album” status are two songs—penultimate closers “Mutt” and “Wendy Clear”. Through the first dozen listens, these fit perfectly in the flow of the album, covering new territory by expressing the dichotomy of sexual prowess and self deprecation in “Mutt” and wishing “I wish it didn’t have to be so bad” in “Wendy Clear”. However, on repeated listen, they just lack the depth and rewarded listens that other tracks on the album offer. “Mutt” does better than “Wendy Clear” by adding to the story aspects of Enema (like previous “Party Song”). However “Wendy Clear” almost seems like an afterthought of a song. I don’t think it would have been better taken out. On the contrary, it is a necessary song as it offers the only moral of the album. But in hindsight, it could have done better. As Blink songs, they’re probably some of the best. But as Enema songs, they fail to measure up to their peers.
My point here is that the Blink-182—on Enema of the State—is no Yellowcard, Simple Plan, Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, Cobra Starship, Paramore, Metro Station or any of the countless other bands spawned by their commercial success. The Blink-182 on Enema offers something unique and timeless, an album that spoke to a generation of pre-20s which also manages, fifteen years later, to speak to a tired-out college student who considered himself at least something of a music snob. It’s time to put our middle school days behind us: Enema of the State is a record you need to pick up and play again. This is music that needs to be reheard, reevaluated, reappreciated. Give your old copy of the CD (I know you have one, buried in your childhood closet) to someone you know under the age of 20. Remember how it felt when you heard “Dumpweed” for the first time?