Angels and Airwaves - Love
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: February 14, 2010
Whether you feel love, hate or indifference toward him, Tom Delonge is definitely one of the most fascinating figures in music today. Here's a guy who didn't have a whole lot of folks in his corner after the dissolution of the beloved Blink-182, and his startlingly self-aggrandizing statements about how his new music with Angels and Airwaves would change rock music certainly didn't help endear him to people. In interviews talking about his new band, Delonge frequently sounded like a total space cadet with a tenuous grip on reality, and I think all of this left a sour taste that had an unfortunate effect on how the debut album We Don't Need to Whisper was received.
I still uphold that despite some of the feelings people had toward Delonge over the Blink breakup and the almost asinine level of hype he tried to generate for his new music, Whisper stood on its own as a solid pop-rock album. It was far removed from the sound of Blink-182, and it didn't deliver on the promise of changing the way we think about music, but expectations aside, it was a strong set of likable songs that forged a remarkably unique sound. Although there was chatter about similiarities to U2 and The Cure, which weren't entirely off-base, all it takes is one listen to "Et Ducit Mundum Per Luce", the instrumental opener of Angels and Airwaves' new third album Love, to realize that the band have an immediately recognizable aesthetic that's unmistakably their own.
With the title of the opening track a Latin phrase that translates to "lead the world by light" and the obligatory space references like "Flight of Apollo", it's clear that the latest installment in the Angels and Airwaves discography is replete with the same old feigned grandiosity. Musically, it's along the same lines as its predecessors as well, with extended song lengths, (some might say overlong) intros and outros, echoey guitars, huge pounding drums, and Delonge's obviously enhanced voice. Love is not likely to earn the band any new fans, but for those that enjoy their style, it's a worthy offering, and a bit of a step up from their rushed, lackluster sophomore album I-Empire.
Besides not really doing anything to expand upon their already established sound, the songs on Love are also handicapped by a failure lyrics-wise to meet Delonge's lofty ambitions. On "Flight of Apollo", he sings, "Please don't look at me so sadly, life shouldn't hurt so badly," and while its decidedly hopeful and uplifting, it's hardly profound or groundbreaking. It's also a bit ironic that seemingly in an effort to display a sense of maturity, Delonge often comes off sounding like a wide-eyed kid in naive wonderment at the world around him. A little better is the more earthly "Young London", but even still, when he starts going on about how "we're all connected," it's appears he's unable to deliver a positive message without resorting to pseudophilosophical babble.
"Shove" is one of a few single-worthy tracks, but it also finds Angels and Airwaves walking the fine line between staying true to their trademark sound and flat out ripping themselves off, with a guitar track that sounds pulled right out of their debut's "Distraction". Likewise, "Epic Holiday" (in addition to its title's heavy-handed attempt at being larger-than-life) throws buzzing prog-rock synths over a main riff very similar to the one from "Everything's Magic". Without question, it's all very listenable, and the production is pristine, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that Delonge and friends either aren't able to or aren't willing to venture beyond the very samey mid-tempo hooks and guitar lines of their previous albums.
Despite how formulaic it can feel at times, Love is an exceedingly smooth and palatable listen, though some of the sweeping imagery can grow tiresome. "Do you believe in hallucinations," Delonge sings on "Hallucinations", and from many of his lyrics, it's pretty clear that at least he does. On "The Moon-Atomic (...Fragments and Fictions)"-- yep, that's actually the title-- he offers the line, "The moon you felt, it has no side that's dark like hell or safe from light, just blow apart by wind from stars with white dust tides," and even on the more intimate "Clever Love", he can't resist allusions to the celestial, offering "I know you well, all your life I've watched you breathe, I've watched you lie, across the sea through space and time."
"Soul Survivor (...2012)"-- unfortunate parenthetical title notwithstanding-- builds into a sparkling Rush-like arena rock number that's probably the most effective example of what Angels and Airwaves can accomplish working within this style. "Letters to God, Part II" also showcases the band's musical talents, with skyscraping guitars and proggy accents, but it's all overshadowed by Delonge's credibility straining lyrics, like "Dear God, I found out the same things we learn when we die. I found out the truth is it's all a big lie." And of course, there's more of the same unenlightening mush on closing track "Some Origins of Fire": "We all are love and love is hard." Thanks, Tom, for dropping that little tidbit on us.
Through it all, despite its cheesiness and its recycling of their past catalog, it's hard to really dislike Love. It's definitely earnest, almost to a fault, and it at least pretends to be ambitious. Most of the time, swinging for the fences results in a towering home run or an embarassing whiff, but Delonge seems to be one of the rarities who ends up with a bloop single. Without question, his efforts are buffeted by his supporting cast, particularly drummer Atom Willard (ex-Offspring, Rocket From the Crypt), who is a force to be reckoned with on much of the album.
Now, someone needs to clue Delonge in that the albums that really did change the face of music weren't born out of an intent to do so. These things have to happen on their own, organically. It's unfortunate that his attempts to make these broad, dramatic statements with his music at times seem rather like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Delonge is obviously a talented pop songwriter, but he'd do well to remember that he made his most enduring impressions when he exercised a little humor and appealed to our basest instincts and emotions. So lighten up, Tom, and stop trying to change the world. You've already done that in the hearts of many, when you weren't even trying.