It’s inevitable, +44 and Angels & Airwaves will be (unfairly) compared. Yes, both bands feature members from one of the most influential pop-punk bands ever, blink-182. And yes, both bands released their hotly anticipated albums this year. But, this is where all the comparisons end. While AVA’s album was trying to be the next U2, Mark Hoppus wrote more about the end of blink and how horrible his past year had been. While +44 isn’t completely different than from the sound blink-182 captured on their last release, it would be an injustice to the band to categorize their debut album, When Your Heart Stops Beating, as “blink-182 with synths.” It’s much more than that on this thirteen track journey. Produced by Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker, with some help from executive producer Jerry Finn features a nice balance of upbeat pop-punk tunes, arena-sized rockers, and somber tracks.
As most of you know, +44 was originally going to be an electronic-based project featuring Barker on drums and Hoppus and Carol Heller (Get The Girl) alternating on vocals. Eventually, Heller wanted to leave to start a family, and +44 added guitarists Shane Gallagher (The Nervous Return) and Craig Fairbaugh (Mercy Killers) to bring more of a “punk” vibe. That vibe is very prevalent in the album opener “Lycanthrope,” a track that drives and features the overall lyrical theme from Hoppus in the very first line: “I wake up at the end of a long, dark, lonely year/it’s bringing out the worst in me.” What you’ll notice throughout the album is Hoppus’ honest and, at times, very bleak lyrics, which are one of the major strengths of the album, as I feel Hoppus has never wrote anything better. This is not a happy-go-lucky album.
“Baby, Come On” follows with a gentle riff which blasts into a huge chorus, which is the song’s strength. The title track, which is also the first single, is full of snotty verses and a hyperactive chorus, and Barker shines on the kit. “Little Death” is the first slow track on the album and happens to be one of my favorites on the album. It begins with a slow drum beat and Hoppus sings in a rather low, somber tone. The chorus is very powerful, as each instrument crashes and Hoppus’ voice crescendos and really takes charge of the entire thing. “155” is really heavy on the synth and incorporates some handclaps, which is always a nice touch. The track brings back the high energy after the slower “Little Death.”
“Lillian” is another moody song, featuring acoustic guitars mixed in with some programmed drums; it’s a ballad about how ugly and selfish people can be. “Cliff Diving” is very reminiscent of blink-182 and is a rare happy song on the album. This song leads into the very relaxing and very electronic interlude, which gives a nice break in the album. “Weatherman” features haunting keyboards, menacing guitars, and Hoppus’ most depressing lyrics (Just let me slip away/I’m barely holding on.”), making this the darkest track on the entire album. “No, It Isn’t” follows, which was the demo that was infamously (and coincidentally) leaked on Tom Delonge’s birthday. Since then, the song was given a fuller sound with thicker guitars and drums, making it my favorite song on the album. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the lyrical content is about the breakup of blink-182, with lines like “Please understand/this isn’t just goodbye/this is I can’t stand you,” and “Curse my enemies forever/let’s slit our wrists/and burn down something beautiful.” The strongest and most honest song Hoppus has ever wrote, it is the high point of the album. “Make You Smile” is what +44 were going to initially sound like, featuring the back and forth vocals between Hoppus and Heller, it is a beautiful, stripped down song that switches up the moods of the album. The album ends with the big-sounding and anthemic “Chapter XIII.” It’s loud and heavy, leaving a very strong lasting impression on the listener and closes When Your Heart Stops Beating on a very high note.
When Your Heart Stops Beating fuses many different song structures and temperaments into a very diverse and potent debut album. Mark Hoppus is at his absolute best, while Barker is up to his usual drumming standards. Gallagher and Fairbaugh are also impressive with their fine guitar work throughout. What makes +44 really successful is that they are not hiding or trying to sugarcoat the past; making it one of the most honest records you’ll hear in 2006. This is a definite must-buy on November 14th for any fans of blink-182 or electronic-based power rock. +44 isn’t trying to be the “biggest rock band in 20 years,” or trying to change the world. Rather, When Your Heart Stops Beating is a soul-baring album just trying to release its demons and look positively into the futures. Don’t miss out on this.