blink-182 - Cheshire Cat (Cover Artwork)


Cheshire Cat (1995)

Cargo Music

I feel that I'm somewhat qualified to review this album, since I first saw Blink play in 1995 (minus the 182 they would add later that year) and I bought Cheshire Cat at that very show. Many years have passed since that night and both the band and I are slower and older now. I saw the band play nearly fifty times between 1995 and 1999 in Southern California, and I can honestly say, I loved the band from that first performance on.

My girlfriend at the time put the CD in the car stereo right away on our drive home from the venue. The extended intro for "Carousel" rang through the speakers in majesty, although I would not hear the Buddha cassette version which omits it for a few more months (the intro only appears on Cheshire Cat; live the band performs the Buddha Version). When "M+M's" ended, we just looked at each other wide-eyed. By the time track four, "Touchdown Boy," had wrapped, we were in love. After "Wasting Time" played, we decided then and there to see blink the very next time they played.

Stylistically, early blink is hard to peg down, and that's one of the reasons they caught on so strongly. As opposed to many popular albums coming out at the time, Cheshire Cat doesn't smack of the overall Epi-Fat sound (despite the basic tracks being laid down at Westbeach Recorders). Sure, the percussion is wicked fast with lots of gallops, as original drummer Scott Raynor was a metalhead. But Tom Delonge's guitar style—an odd combination of muted barre chords and octaves, arpeggiated major scales, and repetitive hammer-ons—was as distinctive as it was catchy. I'm not arguing it was particularly innovative or creatively interesting, but in 1995, if you were a sixteen-year-old into the SoCal punk scene, at the very least Tom stood out. You remembered watching him play.

Mark Hoppus' primary influence at the time was English alt-rockers Ned's Atomic Dustbin (you know, the band with two bass players). His barre chord and two-note alternating open string strumming style (heard most distinctly during the intro to "Carousel," the bridge to "M+M's," the verses of "Cacophony," the intro to "TV," and the bridge of "Ben Wah Balls") is ripped straight from the Dustbin. Listen to "Happy" off 1991's God Fodder—that song's chorus clearly is the foundation for the bass hooks on "Carousel." The intro for "Nothing Like" off that same album is clearly lifted by Hoppus and injected into several blink tracks. He was also easy to recall on stage, from his wild roaming about to incessant jumping. blink not have been the world's most gifted musicians, but they were fucking fun as hell to watch.

Cheshire Cat is one of those early albums by a band that has been mulling over roughly the same batch of songs for more than a year, rather than a record that was conceived, written, and put down to tape as a cohesive work during the same sessions. Only six of its sixteen tracks are presented for the first time. Three tracks appear both on Demo #2 (1993) and Buddha (1994); "TV," "Sometimes" and "Romeo and Rebecca." "Does my Breath Smell?" and "Wasting Time" comprised blink's half of a seven inch split with The Iconoclasts they called Short Bus (1994). Given the time between the songs, it's surprising that the style of the individual tracks hold together as well as they do. Or maybe chalk it up to internal consistency within the writing—the band is hanging with the same keys (Mark does most of his work on the album on the A string) and time signatures.

People who got into Blink-182 after their 1997 major label debut Dude Ranch came out—or even later with the 1999 release of Enema of the State which thrust them into the national spotlight and splattered them all over MTV—forget (or likely never realized) how immensely popular the band was in Southern California in the years 1994–1996. They rode a setlist of Cheshire Cat staples for over two years, from town to town and venue to venue every single week, almost always opening with "Touchdown Boy" and closing with "Toast and Bananas."

Of the three "joke songs" that close out the album, "Ben Wah Balls" was the crowd favorite during the pre-Dude Ranch era. Indeed it was tradition that when the band performed it towards the end of their set, they invited a fan from the front of the pit to sing the lead vocals on the bridge and then stage dive back into the crowd. I did so myself on more than one occasion.

Blink would formally and legally change their name on August 3, 1995 to Blink-182, and subsequent pressings of Cheshire Cat (the first of which was sold by the band in late August) would carry a modified cover, insert, and disc art. The original album as it appeared on cassette and CD has since become a valuable collector's item.

A lot of shit has been talked about Blink-182 after they got very rich and very famous roughly four to five years after this album came out. Much, if not most of it, is deserved. Yes, they endlessly rewrote themselves using the same three chord progressions. Yes they sold out to MTV. Yes, they got older as their audiences got younger and younger. Yes, they've acted like assholes to each other and to their fans.

And I suppose that's what makes Cheshire Cat sound so deliciously sweet all these years later. It's innocent, unsure of itself, unpretentious, and brimming with an authentic lack of seriousness that would later be merely mimeographed and recycled (almost cynically, you could argue) as they basked in global fame. Parts of it are good, others are not so good, others are simply great. But it's the real deal; the chasing girls, the sleeping on floors, the living on Del Taco, the touring in a shitty van.

If I ever want to feel nostalgic about my years in High School, there are any number of albums that could do the trick; Recipe for Hate, Stranger than Fiction, Unknown Road, About Time, Punk in Drublic, Smash, Dookie, Hoss, Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues. But Blink-182's Cheshire Cat will always be my go-to. I can smell the sweaty, swirling floor of San Diego's SOMA every time.