Sound — 8
The musicians in Angels & Airwaves may all have gotten their start in various punk bands, but you'd be hard pressed to hear those roots on their latest album I-Empire. That's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you don't mind atmospheric, synth-driven songs that often build up to a crescendo. I-Empire does feature quite a few nicely written, beautifully produced tracks, but the verdict is still out if the mellow vibe behind it all will click with listeners. Vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLonge has taken another huge step away from his days in Blink 182, with the new album I-Empire taking a more dramatic, grandiose feel than what he's written in the past. The latest record bounces between having a U2-eque feel and sounding like it could come straight out of the '80s. It does seem like DeLonge was heavily influenced by The Edge during the main guitar line in Love Like Rockets, and that anti-riff stance is heard throughout much of the album. Every instrument works as a unit during the album, and only the synth parts really jump to the surface. In a song like True Love, the effects-heavy intro does feel like one of the many club hits of the '80s. The band should actually be commended for not being afraid to add a dance-oriented feel to their blend of rock. The parts where DeLonge sings do get a bit repetitive here and there because of his tendency to phrase things in only one style, but there is enough going on otherwise to keep the momentum up. There are a few instrumental interludes that are primarily synth-based, and those moments are actually some of the most inspired on the CD. At times the song that follows the interlude doesn't quite live up to the instrumental portion, unfortunately. Jumping Rooftops is an interlude that features a very cool line that sounds a bit like a computer, while the following vocal track Rite Of Spring turns into a song you might expect to hear on a teen TV drama. DeLonge had mentioned in interviews that the latest record would be more stripped down than the band's debut We Don't Need To Whisper, and in general that's an accurate statement. That doesn't mean that you won't get plenty of reverb and vocal effects to enhance the mood of the record. The digital help never gets too distracting, and it actually makes the songs better in a lot of cases. There are quite a few instances where there's a sample-heavy beginning, and that may turn off those of who prefer for the guitar to have more of a presence. Angels & Airwaves does walk a fine line between the pop and rock worlds, and that may turn off rock purists.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrical content on I-Empire has a very introspective feel to it, with most of the songs having a positive message in the end. The band delves a lot into personal feeling, but the song Secret Crowds gets a tad deeper. DeLonge sings, If I had my own world; I'd love it for all that's inside it; There'd be no more wars, death or riots. Those particular lyrics might be a bit too much for some, but in general the songs on I-Empire are expressed in a more subtle, heartfelt way.
Overall Impression — 8
There are a lot of interesting ideas happening on I-Empire, and the album should be listened to as a whole to get the full experience. The songs set more of a mood than anything, and the band did an excellent job of making all of the instruments melt into one another. The keyboards and sampling do stand out more than anything, so if you're anti-synthesizer, I-Empire is not the album for you. To Angels & Airwaves' credit, they never go overboard with the effects and they are usually for the good of the song.