If Tom Delonge were a more humble human being, he would probably be pretty upset with himself right about now. But as we all know, Tom Delonge isn’t too humble. I can see him now, sitting on his throne that’s covered in Angels and Airwaves stickers, wrapped in an Angels and Airwaves blanket, listening to Angels and Airwaves, and thinking Man I’m good
. He probably isn’t giving any thought to what former band mates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker have been doing for the past two years. He probably won’t even bother to give this record a listen. After all, it couldn’t possibly be better than anything he’s done since the big blink-182 breakup right?
+44 was originally supposed to be an electronic-based band consisting of former blink-182 members Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, along with Carol Heller to do lead vocals. Craig Fairbaugh (Transplants) and Shane Gallagher (The Nervous Return) were brought in to play guitar. Carol and +44 parted ways after recording only one song together. The project eventually shifted into the more familiar rock/pop-punk territory, but the album still contains some electronic influences, albeit minimal. Basically, +44’s When Your Heart Stops Beating is what blink-182’s self-titled would probably have sounded like if Tom didn’t take over the creative process. In many ways, it sounds more like blink-182’s earlier records than their later work.
When Your Heart Stops Beating is a little bit heavier than most of blink-182’s records, but other than that, the album wouldn’t seem out of place if it were a part of blink’s discography. Thus, the main problem with the album is this: it doesn’t really differentiate itself much from blink-182. Mark’s vocals sound pretty much the same, and the bands have a similar musical feel because Travis’ drumming hasn’t changed much either. While fans of blink won’t find this to be an issue, those who didn’t like the band probably won’t be able to get into this either. Although it certainly had the potential to be disastrous, I almost wish that Mark and crew had kept on with making an electronic record. At least then it would sound different than blink.
As stated before, Mark’s vocals haven’t changed much. He has always excelled at singing at a lower pitch, and his voice is much more enjoyable when he does so. He basically splits the vocals half in half, half lower pitched and half higher pitched. A lot of times the two are overdubbed. The higher pitched vocals tend to get annoying, but at least they aren’t nasally like a certain someone. It is nice to see Mark trying to expand his range, though. “Make You Smile,” the only song recorded with Carol Heller, is the standout vocal performance on the album. Mark sings at a low pitch for the whole song, and his voice meshes perfectly with Carol’s rather pretty singing.
Lyrically, Mark has grown a lot. He showed flashes of promise with blink, but he never really wrote any lyrics that I would consider great. While the subject matter on this album doesn’t venture into any unfamiliar territory, it’s apparent that Mark really put a lot of time into the lyrics. A lot of songs are about time wasted, missed opportunities, etc. In other words, standard stuff for the genre, but Mark manages to make it interesting with some great one-liners and lyrical passages. For instance, “Baby Come On” contains the great line The past is only the future with the lights on
. And of course this record really wouldn’t be complete without a song about the blink-182 breakup. Mark puts it all out there on “No It Isn’t,” singing about betrayal and losing a friend.
This isn't just goodbye
This is I can't stand you
This is where the road crashed into the ocean
It rises all around me
And now we're barely breathing
A thousand faces we'll choose to ignore
But for every great lyric line, we have stuff like She’s a pretty girl, she’s always falling down and I think I just fell in love with her.
As you can see, the lyrics range from great to generically poor. As far as songwriting goes, +44 don’t really give us anything new or original. Musically, there isn’t much to be found either, besides the fact that everything sounds nice and the musicians get the job done. Travis’ drumming is great as always, but he hasn’t showed too much progression from his years with blink.
So at the end of the day, +44’s When Your Heart Stops Beating is standard pop-punk music. It isn’t really a huge departure from blink-182’s music and it’s something that we’ve all heard at least once before. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all. Perhaps our own John Hanson said it best. When I told him that the album’s main detractor is the fact that it doesn’t differentiate much from blink’s music, he replied “At least it doesn’t pretend to do so.” And so the thing that may turn some people away from the album is also what makes it good. +44 didn’t hide their lack of musical growth under a layer of faux-experimentation and needless intros and proclaim it to be the greatest musical achievement ever. One hundred years from now, +44 probably won’t even be an afterthought in most people’s minds. But for right now, I’m content with a good album that serves its purpose well.
Recommended Tracks: Baby Come On, Lillian, No It Isn't, Make You Smile