Remember when Tom DeLonge started shouting about UFOs and no one took him seriously? Remember later, when the U.S. Navy confirmed the mysterious objects appearing in the footage DeLonge helped get released were, in fact, UFOs? People weren’t laughing then. And for further evidence of him being vindicated in his conviction, you need only look at the career of Angels & Airwaves.
Beginning life when blink-182 went on hiatus in 2005, people naturally assumed that Angels & Airwaves were simply another side project to sit alongside Box Car Racer. But while that band had plowed similar terrain to blink-182, A&A were a more drastic departure — bigger in scope, more serious in lyrical focus and tapping into a markedly different side of DeLonge’s musical loves, including synth-pop and new wave. DeLonge wouldn’t let the band quietly announce itself to the world, either, heralding it with the kind of hyperbole that’s asking for people to take great pleasure in knocking them down, which many promptly did once their debut album, We Don’t Need To Whisper, was released in 2006.
Read more: Every blink-182 album ranked
Over the years, however, even the naysayers have embraced Angels & Airwaves for the breadth of their ambitions. The band — composed in 2022 of guitarist David Kennedy, bassist Matt Rubano and drummer Ilan Rubin — today sit at the heart of a multimedia empire, having released six studio albums. But how do those records shape up against one another? There’s only one way to find out…
6. Love: Part Two (2011)
This second installment of Love is the sound of creative engines sputtering to a halt, which is unfortunate given its arrival during one of the band’s most ambitious phases. Concept albums like this are, by and large, only as enveloping as the listener allows them to be, with the quality of the music paramount. And that’s the problem with Love: Part Two: It’s got to work in its own right and in the context of the film that accompanied it — handily entitled Love — and it’s not robust enough for such multitasking. The singles “Anxiety” and “Surrender” chime along charmingly, but on the whole, it’s an album to like more than love.
5. Love (2010)
If you ever want to evaluate just how much DeLonge has grown up during the course of his career, compare this concept album about the “L” word and its many connotations to one of blink’s more puerile expressions of affection. The infamous hidden track “Fuck A Dog,” for instance. Love is a mature album that elicits a mixture of responses, from joy (“The Flight Of Apollo”) to familiarity (“Hallucinations”) to overfamiliarity (“Clever Love”). As with many an A&A album, Love is strong out of the blocks, but its lack of variety means the attention starts to wander as it nears its conclusion.
4. The Dream Walker (2014)
The Dream Walker often does what its title suggests: ambling woozily into the ears of listeners. That’s not to say it lacks oomph, though. The presence of Nine Inch Nails drummer Rubin, making his debut on record with the band, provides the requisite punch when things get a little too dreamy, as on “Mercenaries.” Meanwhile, given DeLonge’s penchant for ’80s music, there’s a synthy sense of atmosphere to this fifth album, with “Kiss With A Spell” recalling the acclaimed soundtrack to the film Drive. Dreamy stuff, indeed.
3. We Don’t Need To Whisper (2006)
The more verbose rock stars out there can often make a rod for their own back with their bigger claims. Take DeLonge and his promise that Angels & Airwaves represented “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll revolution for this generation” and that their debut album would bring about “an entire new culture of youth.” No release could live up to those lofty expectations, of course, and by those standards, We Don’t Need To Whisper didn’t. It did, however, confirm that DeLonge was right to be excited by his new project. It sounded exactly as he’d promised: a big, bold, intelligent strain of arena rock with flashes of the giants (Pink Floyd, U2) he’d regularly name-check. There was room for improvement, of course, particularly in its socially conscious lyrics, which regularly reach Bono levels of earnestness.
2. Lifeforms (2021)
As a rule, a band’s newest album doesn’t usually appear high in a list like this, by virtue of there being less time to familiarize oneself with the material compared to what’s come before. That’s not the case with Lifeforms, though, largely because it’s the record many fans had been waiting years for DeLonge to make. You could always understand him wanting A&A to be musically different from blink, but in his efforts to differentiate, he’d sometimes forgo intimacy in favor of otherworldliness. Lifeforms redressed that balance.
Much had happened to DeLonge in the seven years since the release of previous album The Dream Walker, including his departure from blink-182 and the founding of the aerospace/science/entertainment company To The Stars. Perhaps it was DeLonge’s satisfaction with how the many elements of his life now fit together that precipitated such a confident straddling of all the things we’ve come to know and love about him. Whatever the reason, the results are fantastic. There’s no shortage of serious subject matter here, including “No More Guns,” but these are songs delivered with an intoxicating breeziness and abandon.
1. I-Empire (2007)
I-Empire’s arrival a little over a year after debut album We Don’t Need To Whisper spoke volumes about the momentum DeLonge and his bandmates had got going. You could argue, of course, that such a speedy follow-up was unlikely to remedy any of the band’s more indulgent tendencies — and you’d be right. Sometimes, in setting out such expansive musical canvases, things take a little too long to get going. And yes, sometimes the influences are invoked a little too vividly, particularly in the case of the Cure and U2. But these are minor quibbles once things kick in properly.
I-Empire is less hysterical in its delivery than its predecessor, calmer and more reflective, successfully sweeping the listener along. Prior to its release, DeLonge described I-Empire as what you do after a rebirth, so there’s a sense he’s smelling the roses here, most obviously on “Everything’s Magic.” You could say the same about this album, of course, given the majesty of tracks such as “Heaven,” which represent the quintessential Angels & Airwaves sound: epic tunes fit for montages married to lofty concepts.