Blink-182 - Cheshire Cat
Record Label: Cargo Music / Grilled Cheese
Release Date: February 17, 1994
Over the course of their 13 year career, Blink-182 released five albums, four which went on to become legendary in the pop punk world. Cheshire Cat, their 1994 debut album, has gone on to sell a reasonable amount of copies but has remained relatively unnoticed. It's understandable that the album didn’t break through; back then, the band only had a demo and a 7” under their belt, and the support of a small, now defunct label. It is by no means a bad album, however. For a debut album from a band that was completely unknown and inexperienced at the time, Cheshire Cat is definitely worth a listen.
The biggest problem that a lot of people have with Cheshire Cat is that they go into listening to it with high expectations. For example, a common complaint is that the lyrics on the album leave much to be desired, but lyrics were never Blink-182’s strong point anyway (anyone who disagrees with me on this should go read the lyrics to "Give Me One Good Reason" and reconsider). The band rarely tries to be anything more than a fun summer band writing songs about teenage romance, TV shows, and shitting yourself. Expecting brilliant lyrics from a Blink album is like expecting incredible acting in a Star Wars movie. Another common complaint concerns the band’s vocals. In this case, detractors have a more valid point: like all other pre-Enema of the State material, guitarist Tom DeLonge’s voice is unbearably nasal and off-key, and bassist Mark Hoppus’ is nothing stellar.
Flaws aside, Cheshire Cat deserves credit where credit is due, and it certainly succeeds in offering the listener a good time. “TV” comes across as Blink’s re-write of Black Flag’s “TV Party,” with lyrics like “When I’m at work, yeah, I always rush right home for lunch / So I can check out what’s up on The Brady Bunch / And when I’m walking through the front door at night / I gotta see who’s winning on The Price is Right” being sung over a blistering tempo and catchy-as-fuck vocal harmonies. “Depends” and “Ben Wah Balls” are ridiculously funny joke songs that are sure to make the middle schooler in anyone crack a smile, and Blink-182 are obviously going to be in their element when they’re singing songs about anal sex and adult diapers. “Sometimes” is a standout track in the band’s discography in that it is rawer, faster, and much shorter than most of their songs, clocking in at barely over a minute. It wouldn’t sound out of place as an Everything Sucks-era Descendents song. The album has no shortage of pop sensibility; “M+Ms” and “Wasting Time” are both songs that would have been played on radio all the time in a just world. Unfortunately, FM stations in 1994 were too busy drooling over Hole and Alice in Chains to notice.
Admittedly, when Blink-182 does try to be more than a fun, pop-sensible punk band on this album, they fall pretty flat. “Cacophony” and “Toast and Bananas” are some of the band’s earliest attempts at writing mellow, meaningful songs, but they aren’t nearly as listenable as later track’s such as “Adam’s Song” from Enema of the State or “I Miss You” from Blink-182. On “Cacophony,” for example, Hoppus sings “Words like forever / They scare the shit out of me / Maybe I’m afraid of commitment / Maybe you’re too distracted to see / That sometimes I don’t feel the same way as you feel.” Pretty typical lyrics to see from a 20-something guy going through troubled times in a relationship, but for a band like Blink that strives on good times and dick jokes, this kind of song seems out of place and awkward. For the most part, Cheshire Cat sticks to what Blink are good at, but missteps like this make it a little less fun.
Aside from this, Cheshire Cat is a good early indicator of what Blink-182 would turn out to be. Their sound wasn’t quite as polished, but they were certainly miles ahead of a lot of their peers at the time. There are plenty of songs on this record that would go on to be classics in the band’s discography (“Carousel,” anyone?), and for fans of the band who have yet to check this album out, I’d recommend finally coming around and giving it a try.