Following the unfortunate demise of seminal pop-punk stars, Blink-182, bassist Mark Hoppus, drummer Travis Barker and singer Tom DeLonge went vastly different ways. Hoppus and Barker returned with +44, an electronica-themed band that seemed at times an extension of Blink (for better and for worse), and DeLonge traipsed across Larry King Live, proclaimed himself the second-coming of everything except John Lennon, and released Angels & Airwaves’ debut, We Don’t Need To Whisper. With WDNTW, DeLonge preached in favor of his newfound style, thrusting his maturity at anyone who would listen; to his chagrin, few did. The album sold relatively well in the mainstream, but many longtime fans had trouble embracing both the frontman’s attitude and his gloomy tunes.
Simply put, DeLonge’s newest effort, I-Empire, is a disappointing disc that drags on far too long, in part because emphasis is placed in all of the wrong spots. “Call to Arms,” the album’s opener, starts off with the frontman sounding like he’s singing with a mouthful of cereal, with drummer Atom Willard (Rocket from the Crypt, The Offspring) pounding away for all he’s worth to little avail. The song is a microcosm of why I-Empire falls upon deaf ears—for as much work that seems to go into the music, the vocals destroy the replayability of the track as a whole. Blink fans will let out an anguished scream at DeLonge’s electronica-laced beatdown of “Anthem Pt. 2” in a song called “Everything’s Magic.” Robotic handclaps and distortion can’t hide the opening riff ripped from Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, and frankly, this is still one of the more entertaining tracks you’ll hear on I-Empire.
“I do this from time to time, where I like to watch you as you sleep,” DeLonge glibly delivers on “Sirens,” one of the more lyrically visual songs on the album. It’s introspective but decidedly bland musically, relying on a weak and clichéd chorus to keep listeners awake. Angels & Airwaves create a blissfully entertaining atmosphere on “True Love,” which if it was only the first half, would be I-Empire’s standout track. Instead, you’ll get the chorus beaten into your brain, with the phrase “the stars in the sky” popping up no less than 14 times in the last three minutes. Shimmering guitars back Atom Willard’s full-bodied drumming, which shines during the song’s interlude, but again it fails to reach its full potential.
I-Empire will no doubt leave you longing for the glory days, back when summers lived and died with Blink-182. We listeners see progress made musically, but vocally, Tom hasn’t added any range, nor been able to mitigate the harsh nasal tone of his voice, which grates roughly against the above-average tunes behind it. The addition of Willard and former 30 Seconds to Mars bassist Matt Wachter (who replaced Ryan Sinn of The Distillers) has helped to give I-Empire some rather lush soundscapes, but DeLonge simply cannot hold up his end of the bargain.