Hey there. Like with last weekend, I have no content for Saturday (this may be a recurring problem), so I’ve decided to start the reprint series. These are posts that originally appeared on my old Tumblr music blog, Yelling About Music, which I shitcanned the moment this blog launched, because this blog is a better execution of the ideas I had for YAM in every way possible. So there’s that.
This post, written in May 2012 (holy crap), was intended to be the start of a series detailing blink-182’s breakup in 2005, because…I don’t know. I think it was because I was in love with their comeback album Neighborhoods, which came out the previous September, and I just started reading a ton about them, and wanted to do posts about it. I did exactly one post before I got frustrated with the blog’s lack of exposure and moved on to other things. That post is here.
I like the idea of doing a retrospective like this, though, and I may continue this down the road, depending on what content I have prepared, and also if I feel like it. It’s all about the feels here at iTunes A to Z.
Ironic spoilers: two blink-182 albums are lined up for next week, and we’ll be covering Box Car Racer the week after. So, take this post as a (very poorly written) primer on my thoughts about both bands, as we move into some blink content.
In 2001, blink-182 had just completed a U.S. tour in support of their fourth full-length studio album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. The subsequent European tour was cancelled in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and all three band members were essentially left with nothing to do. There was no need (and no desire, it seemed) to record a new album when the previous one hadn’t even been out for a year; however, Tom DeLonge wasn’t satisfied, and set out to instead record something different from blink, a selection of songs that simply wouldn’t work with the adolescent, often immature nature of blink’s work. So, instead, all of it would fall into a separate project.
While DeLonge wrote all of the lyrics himself, he decided to enlist the help of his childhood friend and fellow musician David Kennedy on guitar. Not wanting to pay for a studio drummer (according to DeLonge in a post-blink 2005 interview), DeLonge asked blink-182 drummer Travis Barker to record drums for the new sideproject, named at this point “The Kill”. Barker, once he was brought into the project, instead suggested the name “Box Car Racer”, the name of a band he’d played in after high school. The name is a reference to the B-29 Bomber that dropped the atomic bomb (named the “Fat Man”) into Nagasaki during the end of World War II. The name, however, stuck, and the resulting album was self-titled.
DeLonge has stated that Box Car Racer was intended to be an outlet for his ideas that weren’t “blink-friendly”; that is, concepts that were more serious and introspective in nature than the adolescent teenage-boy centric music of blink-182. As a result, the album was praised for being a significant improvement in DeLonge’s lyricism compared to blink-182’s output.
The recording sessions, however, were not without problems; DeLonge was constantly plagued with back problems throughout the entirety of the recording sessions and the subsequent tour; these problems eventually led to DeLonge’s addiction to painkillers through 2005, which he has cited as the primary reason for his borderline-ridiculous claims regarding Angels and Airwaves that year. These problems had a profound effect on the album itself, driving the narrative in a more somber direction than DeLonge had perhaps intended.
The album itself is a concept album, with a narrative running through the majority of the album, with the exception of My First Punk Song (a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the influences that hardcore bands had on DeLonge’s musical development), Elevator (a song written as a reaction to the September 11th terrorist attacks), and Instrumental (which was, as the title so cleverly implies, an instrumental). The album tells the story of a young man who is trying to find love at a time where the entire world is coming to an end (this “end” is primarily mentioned in “Watch the World”, “Letters to God”, and “The End With You”). Towards the end of the story, the protagonist finds the love he was looking for, just as the world ends.
The narrative demonstrated a surprising amount of depth in its lyrics, particularly because Tom DeLonge had not previously been known for writing such songs (see most of blink-182’s pre-2003 output to get what I’m talking about). DeLonge’s lyrics discussed love, death, and a wide variety of other subjects while still retaining DeLong’e style. The band’s music was also a departure from blink, demonstrating more hardcore influences and a wider range of instrumentation (frequently including acoustic guitars and pianos). Overall, Box Car Racer was quite the different beast than blink-182, even now.
The songs that are perhaps most noteworthy, however, are the two that aren’t part of the narrative. “My First Punk Song” sounds like a much more intense version of a typical blink-182 track, entirely satirical in nature, lasting only just over a minute. The song’s placement completely interrupts the flow of the album, however, and it might have been best left off the album entirely, perhaps relegated to a b-side on either the “I Feel So” or “There Is” CD singles.
“Elevator”, on the other hand, is notable because of the featured guest: Mark Hoppus himself. How Mark came to be involved in Box Car Racer doesn’t seem to be entirely clear; some sources list him as simply being a special guest for that one song, while others have implied that Mark had a larger role in Box Car Racer early on, but left the group after completing “Elevator”. (An interview with Tom DeLonge shortly after blink’s indefinite hiatus, however, seems to imply the first option).
Overall, Box Car Racer’s mere existence and single album had a profound impact on how blink-182 went about making music afterward. The side-project was the start of a rift in the band between Tom and Mark, with Travis seemingly siding with Mark more because Tom was distancing himself from the band rather than any sort of preference. Both Tom and Travis cited Box Car Racer as being a major factor in the change in direction that blink went through while recording their 2003 self-titled album; Tom, in a post-blink interview, also stated that Mark felt “betrayed” due to Travis’s involvement in Tom’s side project, stating that Mark felt left out of the project, despite Tom’s apparent cheapness being the only reason Travis was involved in the first place.
Following blink-182’s self-titled release and the subsequent “indefinite hiatus”, Box Car Racer dissolved. DeLonge, however, formed a new band, Angels & Airwaves, which is often cited as the “spiritual successor” to Box Car Racer, due to the lyrical content of the band and David Kennedy’s continued involvement. Box Car Racer also continued to be referenced by Angels & Airwaves even eight years after the band’s run; “Letters to God, Part II” from AVA’s third album LOVE is a sequel to “Letters to God” from Box Car Racer.
However, Box Car Racer was just one of a number of factors that tore blink-182 apart in 2005.