“There’s something to be said for trying hard, you know? I mean, I know he tries too hard, but why is that such a bad thing?” Such a quote is from the John Green novel Paper Towns, and “he” refers to an on-the-fringe band kid in high school who tries to fit in with the popular kids, but it never takes.
Without too much of a stretch, it’s easy to see how this relates to Angels and Airwaves, especially frontman Tom Delonge. In fact, it could be argued that AvA’s career thus far has been nothing but trying too hard. This works for worse and for better; sure, grilling the band for Tom’s comments before “We Don’t Need to Whisper” was released is easy, but it was hard not to be excited by “The Adventure”. And hey, the rest of AvA’s 2006 debut wasn’t that bad either; it was “I-Empire” with Tom’s famous arm waving during the video for “Everything’s Magic” that swung back on the bad side of “trying too hard”. “Love” is the group’s third outing, and this time it’s being given away for absolutely free at modlife.com.
I can freely say that this is Angels and Airwaves’ best album. Of course, that isn’t saying a whole lot, but still, “Love” is the epitome of what listeners have and will come to expect from AvA. There’s a lot to like on this record. Firstly, the mix and production are top notch; spacey bleeps, delayed guitars, and crisp drum and cymbal crashes come through perfectly clear without sounding too plastic or overproduced. The band’s also firing on all cylinders instrumentally, too. Drummer Atom Willard brings energy to almost every track, adding a sense of urgency to the band’s default mid-tempo march. Guitarists David Kennedy and Tom Delonge echo and ring in all the right places and even churn out some great riffs here and there, like the “kick the door open” bombast on “The Flight of Apollo” or the furious riff on “Young London” (I’ll look the other way on similarities this shares with a much older blink riff). Matt Wachter keeps things grounded with steady basslines that play off of Willard’s drums for a great groove. One last “Hey, neat” addition to Angels’ arsenal is some programmed keyboard work, which fills in some of the intro/outros with a standout in “Clever Love”. A final positive note here is the increased energy put into “Love”. On earlier releases, AvA got called out on being too mid-tempo, but they seem to be actively working to correct themselves on that. Overall, the band seems to have finally found a true sense of who they are and who they’ll be.
Which isn’t without its flaws, which are the exact same things that have been issues since “We Don’t Have to Whisper”. Anytime Delonge hits anything resembling his upper-register, he becomes that nasally, pinched guy from blink all over again. Other trademark Angels and Airwaves flaws include the tastes-like-diabetes and heart on the sleeve lyrics that just can’t go away; this time around they include gems such as “We all are love/And love is hard/It breaks my heart” on “Letters to God pt. II”, and the too-enthusiastic “Let’s start a riot!” on “Young London”. For that matter, song titles occasionally fall into “Oh come on, seriously?” bad with offenders such as “Et Ducit Mundum Per Luce” or “The Moon-Atomic (…Fragments and Fictions)”. Intros and outros also take too long and do too little (“Shove” and the aforementioned “The Moon-Atomic” are main offenders), and there’s nothing as good as “It Hurts” to save the album from a trying back half.
At the end of the day, the Angels and Airwaves album sounds like an Angels and Airwaves album. Delonge and crew got so close to a career high four star album, but the pitfalls here just won’t let it happen. Three and a half stars, but promising.
tl;dr: I like it, I’m just not ready to love it yet.