By Jon Jacobs
November 9, 2007 | When former Blink-182 guitarist Tom Delonge announced in 2005 that he and his new band Angels & Airwaves were creating "the best rock record of the last 20 years," skepticism was understandably high. Delonge, claiming to take inspiration from such groundbreaking groups such as Pink Floyd, The Cure and U2, seemed ready to try to conquer the world through his music.
As can be expected, his claims weren't quite validated with the release of Angels & Airwaves' debut 2006 release We Don't Need to Whisper. The album was overly synth-heavy, based upon near plagiaristic renditions of U2 songs, with an overbearingly uplifting subject matter making for a difficult listen.
However, the album did have its strong points: It certainly showcased the strongest collection of songs Delonge had written to date, and the increase in maturity and direction were a welcome change to the juvenile nature of his work with Blink-182.
If the lower than expected sales and reception of the album affected Delonge, he didn't seem to show it. Angels toured endlessly in support of the album, making two world tours, all the while writing and recording material for a second record. In early 2007, Delonge announced that his band was nearing the finish to its second album, I-Empire, which would act as a second half to the story behind Whisper, and that it was to be 10 times what Whisper was meant to be.
Understandably, the overly boisterous claims make for an easy letdown with Empire, but the album is a generous collection, picking up precisely where Whisper left off. The album's opener, Call to Arms, showcases some of Delonge's most accessible guitar work and vocal arrangements, resulting from the swelling, epic buildup that is transferred seamlessly into one of the album's most energetic tracks.
The album shifts direction with the stripped down, Phil Collins-inspired Breathe, a slowed down, and emotionally intimate portrayal of absolute adoration. Even with its repetitious lyrics, the song drifts effortlessly into a spacey ballad of genuine ingenuity. Delonge's positivity and sonic aesthetics are in contagious epiphany with the dissentious love song.
Unlike its predecessor, Empire doesn't feel pretentious and redundant, instead using motif to create a feeling of familiarity instead of hastily approaching self-plagiarism. However, like Whisper the album has a propensity to meander a little too often. Tracks such as Love Like Rockets and True Love are enjoyable, but instantly forgettable, where Rite of Spring and Everything's Magic are catchy but about as emotionally and mentally defunct as modern music gets.
In terms of lyricism, the album is a compendium of confusion. Some songs feature full anthemetic choruses, projecting feelings of change and positivity in aural artistry, while others exhibit juvenile exclamations of autobiographical history. The spacey, U2-inspired Lifeline subtly exudes an earnest and honest admition of imperfection, whispering in solemn prudence: "We all make mistakes, here's your lifeline. If you want to, I want to."
In contrast, the poppy Rite of Spring showcases an exceptional lack of Delonge's inabilities as a wordsmith, saying: "It took an hour to start a punk rock band, to offset my f***ed up family land." It seems as if Delonge is unsure of whether he is trying to change your life or simply propel entertaining, semi-cogent rhymes in your direction.
The chief problem with Empire isn't that it completely lacking in solid, structured music; it isn't. But rather that the album tries, and exceptionally hard, to be a second half to an album that was only about half decent to begin with. And as a result, about half of Empire entertains with the promise of earth-shattering sounds capes, but never finds its destination. Leaving the listener waiting for the moment when the music sends them on the journey Angels and Airwaves have the potential to embark upon.
I-Empire is not a masterpiece, but it does contain some of Delonge's most secure and promising work. When the album works, it works exceptionally well, but unfortunately it only does so about half of the time. Too often the tracks seem to blur together without leaving a lasting impression, making the album sound like a half-hearted opus rather than a second half to a spacey rock-opera as was designed.
Delonge's abilities in songwriting have improved, but he won't change the world until he learns to edit his own unfocused ambitions.