Review Summary: Is this gift of music genuinely heartfelt, or is Delonge just trying to get rid of 11 songs so he can refocus on Blink-182?
Ah, Angels and Airwaves. One of the byproducts of Blink-182’s break-up, known for its synthesizers, cycled drum patterns, and heavy use of electronic equipment; Tom Delonge’s ultimate dream of creating more mature sounding music. While his aspirations were definitely not fully recognized (before the release of AVA’s debut, he went on record saying that their sound would change the face of rock n’ roll, and have the emotional depth of Pink Floyd/U2 while maintaining the captivating hooks of Blink-182) it is hard not to respect the growth he has shown from his days of crude humor and fart jokes. Their debut, We Don’t Need to Whisper, was a moderate success as singles like “The Adventure” made frequent rounds on rock radio stations. Much less can be said, however, about the follow-up effort I-Empire. I-Empire was a commercial failure and did very little to differentiate itself from the debut album. It has been almost a year since Blink-182 announced that they are ending their hiatus, and now we are faced with AVA’s third LP, simply titled “Love”. And they released it for free download, the day before Valentine’s Day. How thoughtful. But is this gift of music genuinely heartfelt, or is Delonge just trying to get rid of these 11 songs so he can refocus on Blink-182? We may never know, but based on what one hears in “Love” it seems most likely a combination of both.
Love starts like you might expect an Angels and Airwaves album to. Piano and guitar drenched in reverb, slowly giving way to an electronic backbeat and synthesizers. Thus we have our 2 ½ minute intro track, before an overwhelmingly peaceful sounding atmosphere overtakes you. “I’m floating, and something’s reaching out…I feel you” sings Delonge, serenading the listener in a way that is very reminiscent to the beginning of Valkeryie Missile from We Don’t Need to Whisper. Then comes what may or may not be a confession about his own ambitions with the band, “We ***ed up, let’s give ourselves a hand…it’s over”. Then, it is suddenly apparent that this is in fact not the same old Angels and Airwaves that most of us have grown begrudgingly indifferent to. In what is the closest thing to a breakdown in their entire catalog, “The Flight of the Apollo” comes crashing in with a catchy, electric riff that seems to express the band’s evolution quite obviously. The song also features a memorable chorus, and as a whole it sets the bar very high for what is to come. “Young London” actually manages to keep the flow and passion from Apollo going for an additional 5 minutes, with even more impressive, chunky riffs and a catchy chorus of “Get down girls and dance with your best friend…let it go, the fight’s on the dance floor”. Unfortunately, the quality and intensity isn’t very often matched from this point on. Apollo and London are both standout tracks nonetheless.
It doesn’t become obvious that the album is starting to slip until “Epic Holiday”, which feels like the definition of filler on an album that was actually setting itself up to be quite impressive beforehand. The problems with this song stem from a lack of any central purpose, as it seems like a hodge-podge of ideas scattered about within an overabundant use of “clashing” sounds. On a positive note, Delonge sounds as focused and determined as ever when he repeatedly yells “Let’s start a riot!” during the last minute or so. The downhill trend continues throughout the vast middle 5-6 tracks, mostly out of a simple lack of catchiness. The songs are well-produced, polished, and glorious sounding. However, the majority simply are not memorable. They all begin to sound the same after a while, which is also the issue that plagued I-Empire. It all boils down to the “Dashboard Confessional Effect”. Every single song sounds so emotionally climactic that after several tracks pass by, the listener just stops caring (See also: Secondhand Serenade). It would probably have benefited Angels and Airwaves to use more restraint in the writing of their songs and lyrics, which would make their shining moments seem all the more epic. Instead, every song seems like a gratuitous attempt to get the listener to feel what they are feeling. And after a while, it just gets tiring.
Despite this effect that the songs seem to have, it doesn’t mean that they don’t warrant any praise. “Hallucinations” and “The Moon Atomic” are all different enough from past AVA works that they manage to sound remotely fresh. The flow of the album is also impeccable, from start to finish. The band makes excellent use of intros and outros to promote the whole “album” idea of themes/consistency. This has always been a strength of the band, and it goes along nicely with Tom Delonge’s intentions of making serious-mattered music.
Love ends on a strong note just like it begins, starting with the greater display of vocal variety on “Letters to God, Part II”. He seems to find a tone that suits him perfectly for a ballad-style song, especially right around the 1:14 mark (not to get too specific). This song, like the album's closer, trades the majestic sounding guitar riffs of the opening tracks for psychedelic drum beats and synthesizer notes. Once again, Delonge’s vocals seem to have a profound purpose. Perhaps this is because he knows that this is, in a way, AVA’s farewell and the dawning of a new age for Blink-182. Such speculation is of course only conjecture, especially with the Angels & Airwaves motion picture still in the future, but no matter the reason Tom sounds powerful and emotional as Love comes to an end.
As a whole, the album has several moments of emotional grandeur. Some will blow you away, and others will get repetitive and make you grow weary. The distinction lies within each individual, of course, but even more specifically (for this particular album) within the guitar work. Angels and Airwaves has always been a band that relies on electronic/synthesizer effects to create an atmosphere for the listener. That isn’t to say that there was a complete absence of riffs in their previous albums, but the way in which they are displayed in the forefront of Love provides some technical/instrumental backing to the feelings conveyed by Delonge’s vocals. This was a missing aspect in their first two albums, and it elevates Love above those works as a result. There is still far too little going on in the middle of the album, but when Love shines, it shows a glimmer of what Angels and Airwaves was initially primed to do: provide emotional depth without sacrificing musical appeal.