It is not easy to make quality music within the confines of alternative rock. The genre is essentially a go-to medium for angsty tweens, yearning to release their frustration and trivial grievances of their day-to-day lives. With excessively poppy tunes and simple song structure, alternative rock bands cater to their intended audience, a generation of kids that just want some music that relates to their situation. The kids don’t distinguish between the contrived, mass-produced garbage and the legitimate works of art and emotion, and the bands capitalize on this well-known fact. Bands like Nickelback, Creed, and Daughtry are well-known for marketing to the younger, naive audience of this genre. So much so, that it becomes hard to establish a viable, quality alternative rock band.
Enter Angels & Airwaves. Led by singer Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame, this band is one of the rare bands that continue to produce quality albums covering all ranges of the emotional spectrum. I-Empire is an album arguably misunderstood by critics. Despite getting a measly three stars out of ten from UK music periodical NME, I-Empire is like a journey through space and time. If it had been created forty years prior, I have no doubt it would have been the soundtrack to the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It is space rock, showing the adventurous, artful side of DeLonge and his bandmates.
The opening, Call to Arms, is a futuristic-sounding anthem, the snare march provided by appropriately-named Atom Willard. The lyrics invoke dreams and fantasy, juxtaposing them with fear and sadness. Already, Angels & Airwaves has proven they are more creative than most alternative rock bands. As the song starts to tire, the album delves into the catchy lead single, Everything’s Magic. Though this sounds like the typical optimistic pop-punk ballad upon first listen, the timbre of the guitar penetrates the expanse of the atmosphere. You almost feel like you could grow wings on the spot and fly. Cue the third song, Breathe. Yes, it’s a love song. No, it’s not a corny display of Tom’s immaturity. Continuing the space rock theme, DeLonge proceeds to open his heart and soul into the song and take you even further on I-Empire’s emotional journey.
A few songs later, Star of Bethlehem rolls around. This instrumental, two minutes in length, is actually the prelude to the standout song of the album, True Love. I wish they had combined these two songs, because Star of Bethlehem segues PERFECTLY into True Love. Synths and drumming complement each other to form an amazing collage of psychedelic rock. At some point, you start to hear hints of Tom’s voice. You ask yourself: is that really him, or is my mind playing tricks on me? It starts out faint, and gets louder and louder, until you are fully convinced that it is Tom singing. The song gains a lot of energy, This is the album’s apex, their moment of glory. Unfortunately, it quickly delves into the album’s low point.
My only qualms about the album are the songs Jumping Rooftops and Rite of Spring. They feel out-of-place, and Tom’s autobiographical lyrics feel like a lost Blink-182 cut. They’re definitely not bad songs in terms of instrumentation, but something just seems odd about their placement. Nonetheless, Rite of Spring gives way to the last song, Heaven. A sample of The Adventure permeates the air, as you wait to be taken on the final ride. The album couldn’t have ended on a better note, with the adrenaline gushing and the energy running high. Tom moans out optimistic lyrics, and ends it just as well. Please, don’t go, I got you now, are you curious, please stay.
The main thing about this album that separates it from the other garbage alt rock is the sheer replay value. It isn’t a one-time, listen-to-it-and-be-gone thing. From my experience, it never gets old, and I’ve been listening to the CD rather often ever since it was released in 2007. On the off-chance that you do get tired of the album, their other albums are a bit different and also worth a few listens each.
Overall, the album is a masterpiece of all involved. Along with some awesome music, we get to experience the matured side of Tom DeLonge. Even his voice, which usually sounds like nails on a chalkboard, sounds melodic on I-Empire. I-Empire is certainly the standout album in their discography, though the other albums are worth checking out. With their exploits, including graphic novels and a film (Love, which I highly recommend seeing), Angels & Airwaves are bringing art and creativity to the realm of alternative rock.
Standout tracks: Call to Arms, Breathe, Secret Crowds, Star of Bethelem/True Love, Lifeline, Heaven