If artistic merit were judged on ambition alone, Tom Delonge would be untouchable. If you believe internet banter, you would know the catalyst for juvenile punkers blink-182’s demise was Tom’s apparent boredom and lack of global aspirations his other two band mates supposedly exhibited. The first signs he was done with the immature ranting of blink? That short lived but temporarily explosive side project he dubbed Box Car Racer. Yet for all the moving and pushing he tried to do with that band, he was quick to give it up and return to blink for one last hurrah with their “mature” 2003 self-titled effort. Not only did that prove to be the last for the trio, but showed that their desire for change just did not mesh well with the band’s historically infantile history- lauded by so many then-teenagers who applied blink’s music to so many aspects of their lives. So when that album positively stunk, Delonge did the only thing he could to fulfill his needs; do whatever it takes to sink the ship. And this included refusing to go on tour, recording music by himself, and changing his phone number. The writing was, without doubt, on the wall. Blink subsequently imploded, and it did not take long for Delonge to announce his new project, the grandly titled Angels & Airwaves; followed shortly by cryptic messages of industry changing, global dominance, and an occasionally sparkling debut, We Don’t Need to Whisper.
The problem with We Don’t Need to Whisper was that while some of the songs were absolutely terrific (like the single “The Adventure”), some waned on far too long and tended to be completely bored with itself after a few minutes- as if the idea far outweighed the results. So while Delonge didn’t exactly light up the airwaves with the band’s debut, it did show a lot of promise. Far from blink’s short paced punk leanings, toilet humor, and aggressive nature (at least on their earlier material), Angels & Airwaves adopted a more progressive approach to songwriting, tearing page after page out of U2’s songbook and employed long electronic-infused introductions and interludes, and more mid-tempo arrangements creating the aura that every song sounded like it wanted to fill a stadium.
A year removed and Angels & Airwaves return with an even grander idea, an even more lofty title, and Tom’s giant head affixed clearly on the album’s cover. I-Empire as it’s so ambitiously dubbed, is a step up from We Don’t Need to Whisper, inching closer to Delonge’s almost infallible desire to influence, change, and evolve everything their music touches. And from initial listens, it seems that he’s learned a little from their debut, picking the plucky, rather jovial sounding (and shorter) “Everything’s Magic” as the album’s lead-off single. Its tap-happy percussion intro, coupled with Delonge’s “Anthem Part II” guitar sheen make it unlike most of their other songs; forgoing the usual long introductions for more to-the-point songwriting. It is easily the band’s most accessible effort to date, decidedly less Joshua Tree Bono and more U2’s PopMart. The majority of the album however, does take a similar route to the material found on their debut. Songs tend to waver through lengthy instrumental intros (“Call to Arms”), electronic tinkering (“Lifeline”), and song textures that stretch to great run times (so long at times, they had to break a song down into two; “Star of Bethlehem” and “True Love”). Yet as you traverse through all the complicated layering of the songs, it becomes clearer and clearer that Delonge and the rest of the band are becoming more comfortable with their musical surroundings. Yes, songs can still be a little boring at times (“Secret Crowds”), but they can also be a little surreal, colossal-sounding, and really quite enjoyable (the aforementioned duo “Star of Bethlehem/True Love”). They’re beginning to get the hang of wanting to sound galactic while keeping the very end of their toes on the ground.
I’m all for ambition, and Delonge has bags and bags of it. I-Empire won’t change the musical universe by any stretch, but Delonge’s got the ship fueled, and pointing in the right direction. It won’t vanquish poverty in the deepest regions of the globe, and it won’t bring an end to the world’s wars just yet … but it’s getting there Tom, it’s getting there. In the end, I-Empire is 5-star aspiration met with 3-star success.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.