When you think of all of the best songwriters in the world, who springs to mind? According to an article in Rolling Stone, readers chose songwriters such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. While these are all completely true and substantiated, they are perhaps a tad obvious. Not only that, but they are artists from a time gone by. Sure, their music and legacies have lived on for decades, but what about now?
Whilst the popular music of the 21st century has generally proved to be lyrically uninspiring, it is important to remember the music that sits quietly, unappreciated whilst the noise of the charts gathers attention in the foreground. Which leads me back to my point: who are the greatest modern, current songwriters?
In my mind, it is Tom Delonge of Blink-182.
Controversial I know, but let me explain. Think back to 1994. I myself was but a month old when Blink-182 released their debut album ‘Cheshire Cat’. It was rough, immature and imperfect and at just 19, Delonge produced an album that summarised everything about him. He was still a teenager – singing about adult diapers (‘Depends’) and incest relations (‘Ben Wah Balls’). This was only the beginning.
The follow up, ‘Dude Ranch’, was ultimately more polished, but still a little jagged around the edges. ‘Dude Ranch’ still had the same mentality as its predecessor; however, in fleeting moments, there was promise. Songs like ‘Dick Lips’, however crudely named, had anecdotes and emotion thrown into them and Delonge was suddenly writing songs about real events in his life. At this point in his career, Tom Delonge started to become noticeable.
With ‘Enema of the State’ came more joke songs, alien abductions and incontinence. But amongst the parodies and mockery are lyrics that were well constructed and instantly memorable. Not only this, but ‘Enema of the State’ also brought with it Blink-182’s biggest commercial success to date when single ‘All The Small Things’ became a top ten hit, reaching number 2 in the UK – beaten only by (dare I say it) Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell.
Along came ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ in 2001, with massive hits such as ‘First Date’ and ‘Stay Together for the Kids’ – songs showing great lyrical potential. Hidden behind its upbeat sound, ‘First Date’ actually tells the story of a boy’s crippling anxiety surrounding – you guessed it – a first date. Then we have ‘Stay Together…’ which is undeniably one of Blink-182’s stand out tracks of their career. Co-written with band member Mark Hoppus, this song shows just how much emotion Delonge can convey in his lyrics.
After the release of ‘Take Off…’ the Blink boys took a break. Drummer Travis Barker and Tom Delonge went off to form side-project Box Car Racer which proved in just one album the lyrical progression Delonge had undergone in the past decade. ‘There Is’ is an amazingly underrated track, and some of Delonge’s finest work.
By the time they regrouped and their self-titled number came around, Blink had truly made a name for themselves – by this point, for more than just their immaturity. The self-titled album said goodbye to jokes and hello to serious and beautiful songs. Tracks such as ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Always’ will go down in history as truly beautiful love songs. Gone were the days where their albums consisted of nothing more than the vocal equivalent of a whoopee cushion. The Blink boys were grown-ups now. And Delonge had come a long way.
Then the unexpected happened. Blink-182 called for an indefinite hiatus and their future as a band was looking seriously jeopardised. No longer friends, but bitter enemies, the boys went their separate ways – Hoppus and Barker formed new band +44, whereas Delonge formed alt-rock band Angels and Airwaves.
Their sound was different, no doubt. But in Angels and Airwaves there was the sense of new beginnings. Much more alternative, AvA (as they came to be known) wrote songs that were epic and filled with imagery. Debut single ‘The Adventure’ sounded like the start to something entirely new. Although many Blink fans were displeased with this new direction, Delonge’s songs became works of art. Songs like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Sirens’ were epic love stories crammed within the space of just a few minutes.
Angels and Airwaves are still alive and kicking at present, but in 2009, Blink-182 reunited and two years on, they produced record ‘Neighborhoods’. Although it was a safe and pleasing comeback, it lacked the energy of their previous records where the boys were writing and recording together. Needless to say though, Tom’s song writing skills did not waver. ‘Snake Charmer’ and ‘Even If She Falls’ are prime examples of his lyrical maturity.
And here we are – at the present day. Little over two weeks ago, Blink-182 released their latest EP, ‘Dogs Eating Dogs’. Just a little taster of what is to come in the future, this EP had everything that ‘Neighborhoods’ lacked as an album, in just a few songs. And within the EP is my inspiration for this post – song ‘Pretty Little Girl’. Probably my favourite song at this time, it oozes everything that Tom Delonge has become great at. Lyrics that mean something to people, relatable scenarios and gorgeous imagery – the only flaw to this track is the god awful rap that appears mid-way through from artist Yelawolf.
I think that the main thing that tells me that Tom Delonge is one of the best songwriters of my lifetime is his progression. No, he probably wasn’t born to pen lyrics that will go down in history. In fact, once upon a time he was little more than a high school dropout who wrote songs to make people laugh. But what’s so wrong about that? Isn’t that inspiring? I think it’s a credit to him that he’s matured so massively in his song writing. And that’s why he’s my choice as the best and most underrated songwriter of the 21st century.