The new Box Car Racer disc, Box Car Racer (MCA), is a debut of sorts: itís the first album under that name from singer/guitarist Thomas DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker, better known as two-thirds of Blink-182. The line-up alone is enough to get Blink fans salivating, but more intriguing is something DeLonge told MTV News when word of the project surfaced earlier this year. "This record is directly influenced by the bands that mean the most to me: Fugazi, Refused, and of course Blink-182." Wait a minute ó are the worldís most famous gross-out punks about to forsake their trademark blend of big guitars and bigger hooks in favor of angular rhythms and quasi-political rants?
Now that Box Car Racer have their first hit, "I Feel So," the verdict is in: yes and no. Fast-forward to the chorus and youíll swear youíre listening to Blink. "I feel so mad/I feel so angry/I feel so callused/So lost, confused again," sings DeLonge in his signature little-boy whine. Itís angstier than the usual Blink love song, but hardly Ian MacKaye. "I Feel So" does veer off in a few unexpected directions, starting with the solitary piano figure that kicks it off. DeLonge chimes in with a pretty acoustic guitar line, whereupon the rest of the band start bashing in a way that would indeed make Refused proud. A few choruses later theyíre jamming on a nerdy indie-rock groove, and by the time the song hits the four-minute mark, it sounds almost prog by Blink standards.
DeLonge and Barker recorded the Box Car Racer disc at the end of last year during a break in the Blink schedule. They were joined in the studio by guitarist David Kennedy, who left the San Diego straight-edge hardcore band Over My Dead Body to sign on. Kennedyís involvement explains the otherwise bizarre inclusion of Massachusetts hardcore titans the Hope Conspiracy, American Nightmare, and Bane in the liner notes; it also gives the band a noisier, more experimental edge than Blink have. Bassist Anthony Celestino is playing shows with the group but didnít play on the disc; LA session keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. contributed heavily to the album but isnít joining the band on stage. With such an odd cast of characters in place, DeLonge and Barker couldnít help trading Blinkís pop minimalism for something darker and more challenging.
The result isnít quite an artistic breakthrough, but it certainly will satisfy the average Blink fanís spring fever. DeLonge is his usual "All the Small Things" self: rebellious and bratty at times ("All Systems Go," "Watch the World"), lovestruck and sincere at others ("Sorrow," "There Is"). He plays down all the weird stuff about aliens and divorce, though he does blurt out "I got no dick!" at the end of the minute-long hardcore blowout "My First Punk Song." It took Barker only two Blink albums to prove himself one of punk rockís all-time great drummers; he pops and pings all over the place here (dig the prog licks on "The End with You"), but the humor in his playing overrides the showoff factor more often than not.
The discís biggest surprise is also its teary-eyed pop centerpiece: "Cat Like Thief," a punk-rock vocal summit among DeLonge, Rancidís Tim Armstrong, and New Found Gloryís Jordan Pundik. DeLonge and Armstrong take turns urging a buddy to reconsider breaking up with his girlfriend, and the latter steals the show with his improvised street poetry. Armstrong has always been a bit of a sap beneath his rough exterior, but hanging around all these wimps turns his legendary rasp more sensitive than anyone could have imagined. Fresh-faced choirboy Pundik gets buried in the mix, but the dulcet background yelp he gets in as the final chorus fades ends the song on a high note.
Blink and Green Day are currently headlining the Pop Disaster Tour, which hits the Tweeter Center in Mansfield next Sunday. Box Car Racer plan on touring in the fall; meanwhile, the Blink franchise continues to grow. Barker recently joined another punk rock supergroup, the Transplants, with Rancidís Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman. DeLonge and Blink singer/bassist Mark Hoppus just saw the release of the first in a series of dirt-cheap punk compilations sponsored by their Atticus clothing company, . . . dragging the lake (Side One Dummy), which features unreleased tracks by Blink-182, Alkaline Trio, New Found Glory, and more.
Speaking of Hoppus: he apparently decided not to make an album during his vacation. But he does appear on one of Box Car Racerís catchiest tracks, "Elevator," trading lines with his old buddy DeLonge over a wistful pop groove. "Letís forget this all, move on," they sing, keeping their faces as straight as they can. These brats arenít going away anytime soon ó and it probably wonít be long until they start making fart jokes again either.
Blink-182, Green Day, Saves the Day, and Simple Plan perform next Sunday, June 2, at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. The show is officially sold out.