Review Summary: I'd thank God, but then what is he for?
Tom DeLonge has a simple message to convey, and he does it best on "Tunnels": "I am not without emotion." Ultimately, that was what dragged every previous Angels and Airwaves album down to the murky waters of mediocrity. For all their Floyd-aping keyboard intros and epic universality-of-love concepts, DeLonge and those other guys with instruments who occasionally showed up on his songs lacked substance. Now, while Blink-182 were never the most emotionally resonant band on the face of the earth, at least they played with passion. We were never bothered by how awfully off-key Tom sang on "Carousel" because like, dude, the nostalgia! But then Box Car Racer happened, and the break up, and +44 – and despite the best of intentions and an ego the size of Liam Gallagher's, well, ego, We Don't Need to Whisper
just sort of came and went, and so did I-Empire
and that whole LOVE
fiasco. It's not that they were entirely lost causes, but for every enjoyable pop-punk tune like "Start the Machine" or "Rites of Spring", there was a bloated nu-prog mess with an ultra-wanky title along the lines of "The Moon Atomic (...Fragments and Fictions)" or "Et Ducit Mundum Per Luce". Something needed to change. Nearly ten years from their inception, that something is that AVA are finally comfortable with the sound they want to make.
Ilan Rubin's presence has clearly been crucial in the development of the sound. There is some clear influence from his eminent work with Nine Inch Nails, with synths and keyboards appearing, not peripherally as in AVA's past but interwoven skillfully with the guitars. Centrepieces "Kiss With a Spell" and "Mercenaries" match Rubin's gloomy synths with Tom's impeccable sense for pop hooks, and the latter song boasting Tom's chunkiest riffs since 2005 (not that that's saying a whole lot). Meanwhile, standouts "The Wolfpack" and "The Disease" stray closer to the style of the LOVE
albums but excised of the unjustifiable six-minute song durations – every song on The Dream Walker
is short, sweet and straight to the point.
DeLonge's advance in pure vocal ability since leaving Blink has been enviable – compare any song on here to Enema of the State
, you'll see what I mean - but it is his increase in songwriting that truly shines through on The Dream Walker
. We all know he'll never be an exceptional lyricist and that's alright, but for the first time since Blink's self-titled he is comfortable being in his own element. He hasn't ditched the straight-forward songs about relationships and love, but rather refined them, with none of the embarrassing attempts at universality and motivational anthems. Only on I-Empire
's excellent "Rites of Spring" has Tom previously dared to look inwards instead of outwards with such clarity, and now, seven years later, he's finally delivering on the foundations laid there. It may still be cheesy, and a bit cliche, but for the first time it feels like he's coming from the heart. "Pick up the beat and pry up the caskets/And call in the masses, and turn up this song/Shuffle your feet and exit the blackness/Rise up from the ashes, you're dancing along."