Photo Credit: Jonathan Weiner
In 2017, Angels & Airwaves lead vocalist (and former Blink-182 member) Tom DeLonge released three videos to the New York Times purporting to show UFOs. Three years later, the longtime conspiracy theorist musician was vindicated when the Pentagon declassified these same three videos; confirming the existence of these “unexplained aerial phenomena”.
The sixth studio album of Angels & Airwaves, and their first in seven years, is the aptly titled Lifeforms, which addresses the topic across multiple tracks. It should be something of a victory lap, but is instead often limp and uninspired; opener ‘Timebomb’ can’t find much more to say about this topic other than “we are not digital”; a declaration that, ironically, is made over highly digitized, electronic arrangements. “Losing My Mind” is more precise and manifesto-like (“I said we’re not alone // And the government knows it”) but poor mixing stops this electro-rock number from ever fully taking off.
The best political statement on this LP comes with “No More Guns”; a timeless punk-rock anthem reminiscent of The Clash’s “London Calling”; with a searing condemnation of America’s gun violence epidemic. “No More Guns” is the bleeding heart centerpiece of this album – one that achieves the necessary task of separating DeLonge from the racists, anti-vaxxers, and mass-shooting-deniers who have become the face of modern-day conspiracy theorists.
“Restless Souls” political messaging is less effective; in trying to opine on everything from treason, gun violence, the supernatural, and self-harm in under four minutes, it only ever achieves a surface-level understanding of any of them. “Automatic”, meanwhile, with its half-hearted attempt to give voice to directionless youths (“At seventeen, only wants what she can’t find // She’s on automatic”) comes across like a poor Springsteen tribute.
There is one real lyrical gem on this album though, hidden in the back-end of Lifeforms; “A Fire In A Nameless Town”, stands as one of the band’s most finely written tracks to date, with intricate and haunting world-building (“The smoke is in the distance, a sign of reverie // A fire in a nameless town”). Its first half could easily be sung from the perspective of an estranged partner (“I called you at the moment your image came to me // The bleeding of the heart, I’m down”), but in the final lines of the second verse, the perspective shifts, with DeLonge singing to his daughter (“The memory of us won’t disappear // I’ll walk you home from school each day for years”). It’s a startling, and affecting, left-turn in an album desperately in need of more of them. It’s a reminder that even if this album is all too often formulaic and predictable – jumping to rip-roaring power chords without first setting the necessary foundation – Angels & Airwaves still have a few tricks up their sleeve.