Whenever you stand in a famous spot—like the Walk of Fame in Hollywood or the Space Needle in Seattle—do you get that strange rush knowing that you are standing where famous people once stood, acted, performed? Well, hopefully you’re experiencing that feeling right now in reading this review, because it’s obvious that ex-Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge reads his reviews all the time. It shows through every note of I-Empire that he’s taken all the criticisms he’s received and used them to his advantage.
When the horribly-named band debuted with We Don’t Need to Whisper back in ‘06, it was obvious that DeLonge was indulging his every whim and making listeners suffer because of it. Extended guitar solos, two-minute long song openings, enough reverb to kill a small child, etc. Somehow, with his own brand of U2-influenced space-rock, he mistook longer song lengths as being rock-critic slang for “epic”, when the word “pretentious” would have suited much better. All of this is what makes I-Empire such a revelation: DeLonge—serving as producer, songwriter, and vocalist/guitarist all at once—strips away the excess and just goes right for the heart of what Angels & Airwaves is (seemingly) all about: grandiose pop-rock with a healthy dash of New Wave. He practically upstages A&A’s debut album track-for-track, and he scores triumphantly with the one-two punch of “Star of Bethlehem” and “True Love” (the former of which serves as just a setup for the latter). His songwriting is tighter, catchier, and despite his overly cliché lyrics (the album’s biggest drawback), tracks like the pounding “Sirens” and the sure-fire opener “Call to Arms” still retain quite a punch. Where Whisper came off like an ego-driven side project, I-Empire paints the Angels as a fully-fledged band. Give them time: you may even forget that this was the guy who wrote “All the Small Things” to being with.