In the wake of what I find pretty unpleasant news that eternal man-children blink-182 are officially over (at least, they are minus Tom DeLonge, which is the same shit tbh), I’ve had to reconcile the fact that my teenage heart is irrevocably fractured. To fill the void, I have been on what one might call a sickening bingefest on both +44 and Angels & Airwaves to find some sort of something to cure my sads.
For the uninitiated, +44 is the band created by Mark-bassface-Hoppus and Travis-drumlord-Barker when the band first went on hiatus back in 2004, and Angels & Airwaves was what Tom-shredder-DeLonge dove into. Of course there had been a side project before the official hiatus; Box Car Racer – blink-182 sans Hoppus – released one of the best records of 2002 (which was a banger year for debuts btw: Songs About Jane, Tell All Your Friends, I Brought You my Bullets Your Brought Me Your Love, Make Up The Breakdown, Justified ffs), back when what mattered to 14-year-old me was marrying a man with tattoos and a long fringe who could write/sing me love songs.
Wait. Okay so, except the fringe, not much has changed in 12 years. Sue me.
Because of my hiatus-induced sads back then, I didn’t really spend much time getting into AVA or +44, instead choosing to loop Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and blink-182 for months on end. I do recall finding a few songs of each subsequent band to enjoy, but I couldn’t tell you the names of them.
Anyway, now that some grossly uncool things have come to light about the band three of my favourite idiots formed, a tiny black cloud taints every fresh listen, and so to try to venture into maturity about it all, I decided it might be time to explore the realms of the side projects the lads took on post-2004-hiatus. Mostly, I wanted to start getting used to them playing music separately, and what better way to do that than play +44’s only album When Your Heart Stops Beating and the 984726451823601947 albums AVA have released until my ears bleed? I KNOW, IT’S FUCKING GENIUS.
So I’m sitting here now, coming up to the last track on When Your Heart Stops Beating, and to be honest, I can’t quite remember much of the stuff that came before this one. And while I guess that’s okay-ish, I’d have hoped there’d be enough difference between the songs to recall more than two of them. OH SHIT WAIT. Okay so I’ve just discovered I was listening to the album on shuffle mode. Fuuuuuuck. I can’t listen to an album for the first time on shuffle! GOD DAMN. Okay. Give me 20 minutes to rethink this.
ALRIGHT I’M BACK.
+44’s sound definitely sits squarely in the soundrealm of 2006, a mere two years after blink-182 called it quits for the first time. With dork-face Hoppus taking control of the vocals, I’m reminded heavily of Adam’s Song – yes, I’ll be comparing it all to each other, #dealwithit – in that it’s still the kind of music I’d expect from Barker & Hoppus (punk-pop gold: head-bangingly solid tempos and easy melodies) with a more mature edge to the lyrics. These guys are definitely still having fun in their chosen genre, which they clearly love. And why the shit not? Pop/skate-punk is fucking fun, and anyone who disagrees is either too old or too young AND EVERYONE KNOWS THEIR OPINIONS DON’T COUNT OKAY.
The first three songs on +44’s debut offering really kick you in the face. Lycanthrope, Baby Come On and When Your Heart Stops Beating totally remind me of previous blink albums, and I find some solace in familiar drum breaks from Travis. It’s kind of comforting that +44 haven’t tried to run away from the music they once made with their DeBrother, and even though the couple of songs that follow are mid-range, they still manage to sound like they’re just Hoppus-vocal’d blink songs. For my sunken heart right now, that is all I need.
I get to the end of When Your Heart Stops Beating and none of the songs have had an impact like so many of the blink’s have done before them. Perhaps I haven’t given it enough of a chance. Perhaps I need to listen to it way more before I can make that sort of comparison. But this is my experiment; I do what I want. So I close the Spotify window for +44, and search for Angels and Airwaves.
The immediate realisation after pressing play on AVA’s debut album, We Don’t Need to Whisper, is that in 2004, the direction of blink-182’s music was something perhaps not agreed on. Where +44 sticks to the pop-punk stylings of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (albeit in a more mature fashion), Angels and Airwaves is a total departure from that furious, breathless, young-blink-182 sound. It is absolutely clear that songs from the self-titled album of 2003 that surprised longtime fans (like I Miss You, Asthenia and All of This) illustrate the kind of thing to expect of DeLonge and AVA. The opening track from We Don’t Need To Whisper instantly shows why the hiatus occurred, and actually gives me some relief. The hiatus back in 2004 was the time to be sad. Not now. And I was sad back then. So now it’s time to move forward.
AVA’s first of five albums establishes early on that Tom DeLonge wants you to take his music god damn seriously. He’s done running around naked in film clips, he’s done talking about first dates, and he wants you to know that despite his roots, he has come a long way from making fun of the Backstreet Boys. Admittedly, many of the songs sound like the one that came before it, and one tends to blend into the next. Again, perhaps I need to give it more of my dedicated attention to distinguish the great from the eh, but right now it’s just Tom’s voice singing different words against the same sound. I start to notice the difference on the second album, I-Empire, which so far is my favourite. Breathe is an absolute standout, and the entire album reinforces why DeLonge needed to move away from his skate-punk brothers. Musically speaking, they’re all in totally different headspaces.
Love Pt. I, AVA’s third album, continues in the same manner as I-Empire, with some added production, but essentially it’s still the same kind of mellowed out yet mostly solid tracks. Love Pt. II on the other hand, released in 2011, kicks straight into a song I adore, followed by 12 other songs I adore. DeLonge himself is on record saying Pt II is better than the first, so kudos to him for A) knowing his shit and B) owning it.
The complete Love album is brimming with A+ though to B- tunes, and for anyone who, like me, looooooved blink-182’s self-titled album of 2003, do yourself a favour and get a copy of Love, or at least Pt II. Surrender is a standout track, as is Dry Your Eyes. In all though, doubleplusgood thumbs up for AVA’s third(+fourth) offering.
As for their most recent, Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal? If I had to choose one word to cover all bases, cinematic would be my answer. Though the entire album is remixes of standouts from the four albums previous, it sounds like a whole new offering. From the opening seconds and lengthy instrumental lead-ins to the closing fade, this sounds like it’s been written as a film score, which entirely makes sense considering DeLonge et al have released three films in conjunction with their records.
I finish AVA’s discography glad that I did. I have new tunes for my ailing emoheart and relief in the DeLonge-less blink-182 of 2015. This needed to happen.
It’s still going to take some time for the pain of this breakup to fade, and I will revisit the albums of my teenage years often and lovingly, but I’m glad to know that there is life after blink-182, and it’s not as bad as I anticipated. We know that AVA are going from strength to strength, with DeLonge producing films, comics and more to coincide with his once-side, now-main project. I can’t say I’m pleased that his commitment to it has essentially ended one of my favourite teen-nostalgia bands, but I entirely appreciate that you can’t do the same thing for 20 years and not want to try something a little different when it’s time to grow up. If AVA’s music was shit, I’d probably be angrier, so there’s solace to be taken in the fact the first hiatus brought us this excellent tuneage.
Whether Hoppus and Barker go on to record more +44, which would not entirely suck (read: please do it!), or try to continue under the blink banner, it will never be what it once was. I hope that the coming months of contracts and legalities is easier than it sounds right now, and that the brotherhood of man-children can live on in their hearts. It’s going to live on in mine.