Released May 21, 2002
41 min, 34 sec
Box Car Racer was always meant to be something different.
Deciding to step away from blink-182 to work on material he felt was unfit for the band, Tom DeLonge took the latter part of 2001 and most of 2002 to put together what would become Box Car Racer. Built entirely around DeLonge’s vision, with the aid of David Kennedy, Box Car Racer was not a pop-punk band. Instead, it went darker, sliding towards the hardcore genre instead, taking inspiration from some of DeLonge’s harder-hitting favorite bands as a teenager. The music’s edge was fueled further by DeLonge’s back injury, which he tried to alleviate with extensive pain medication. This put him in a negative mindset for most of the recording process, skewing the album towards the material present on the final recording.
Box Car Racer is a concept album, revolving around the end of the world. This theme is most present in “Watch the World” and “The End With You,” with “Elevator” fitting in as well, though that song is explicitly about something else, which we’ll touch on in a bit. But the album has more personal tracks as well, mainly “I Feel So,” “There Is,” and “Letters to God.” The other tracks exhibit more of a blend of the two, while being general enough to stand independently of the album’s storyline.
DeLonge would not, for the most part, work with such a specific theme in any of his future albums. Even Angels & Airwaves, a band that DeLonge has prided in being built around narrative projects, has not put a concept album as tightly knit as Box Car Racer.
Box Car Racer’s very existence posed a problem for blink-182, mainly by way of Mark Hoppus. DeLonge had intended to hire a studio drummer for the band, as he did not know any drummers he wanted to involve in the project. However, he also did not want to pay a studio fee for the album’s drum tracks, so he recruited Travis Barker instead. This, obviously, became a bit of a pressure point with blink’s bassist, Hoppus, who now found that he had been left out of a side-project that included 2/3rds of blink-182. That wasn’t DeLonge’s intent, necessarily, but that was the impression Hoppus got from the whole affair. Interestingly, however, he contributed to “Elevator,” effectively making that track a blink-182 song. I don’t know how that came about, and I’ve never really been able to find any answers for when that collaboration was recorded, only that it was after September 2001.
Speaking of “Elevator,” that track is one of three outliers on this album. DeLonge noted in an interview that it was written in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, which is fairly obvious from the song’s lyrics. There’s still a bit of ambiguity, however, allowing it to slip into the album’s narrative if necessary.
“My First Punk Song” is incredibly short and loud, breaking the album’s narrative in order to pay direct tribute to the hardcore artists that inspired DeLonge to write Box Car Racer the way he did, in the first place. It’s a really jarring shift from “Letters to God,” a song with a completely different, sincere feel to it, to “My First Punk Song,” written entirely tongue-in-cheek, in and out in a minute. I think it would’ve been better served as a b-side on one of the album’s singles, personally.
“Instrumental” is exactly what it sounds like – an instrumental postscript to the album.
Overall, Box Car Racer was a fascinating project, and a great insight into DeLonge’s thought and writing process, independent from Mark Hoppus and the expectations of blink-182. The more serious subject matter carried over to DeLonge’s main band the next year, resulting in 2003’s blink-182. However, the tension resulting from BCR’s existence carried over as well, and blink-182 broke up in early 2005. DeLonge went on to form Angels & Airwaves as a spiritual successor to Box Car Racer, even recruiting David Kennedy once more as his sideman, a position he holds to this day.
Box Car Racer may have been a fleeting project, but its influence in DeLonge’s career is wide-ranging and far-reaching, and continues to play a role in his music even in 2014. That’s one hell of a one-off side-project.