This side project has a lot of weight behind it. Not only is it the beginnings of Tom DeLonge’s other band Angels and Airwaves, but it also caused a lot of tension within Blink-182, mainly between Mark and Tom. It may have even been one of the reasons Blink went on an “indefinite hiatus” in 2005. But I’m not going to get into the gritty history of the album; let’s just focus on the music. It’s a pretty solid record and while not all the songs have the best songwriting or even the greatest instrumentation, it’s still has some good songs to make it stand up on its own. And back in 2001 the sound was drastically different from what Tom did with Blink-182.
This album marks a shift in Tom’s songwriting. With topics ranging from the end of the world to self doubt, the album is darker and moodier than anything he had done before at this point. The songs also sound angrier and more aggressive in terms of music. The opening track “Feel So” is the perfect anthem for anyone in high school. The chorus screams “I feel so mad/I feel so angry/I feel so callous/ so lost, confused, again,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good song. The musical progression here is great: it begins with a disjointed melody from an untuned piano followed by a soft acoustic guitar. Just when you’re wondering whether or not you put on the right album, the harsh, distorted guitar riff slaps you in the face. That opening keeps you on the edge because you’re wondering where the song is going. That’s part of what makes it one of the best tracks on the record.
Sometimes the moodiness of the record makes DeLonge come off as whiny and emo. “Sorrow” is far from the strongest song here. Not only is it not memorable, but when DeLonge sings “I’m sorry please forgive me, believe me if you would,” he sounds like he should have hair over one eye and complain about how everything sucks. He may be trying to come off as sincere, but he misses the mark with this song. He also manages to sound whiny on the track “Watch the World.” The entire song sounds off as the music is really disjointed and the vocals don’t flow with the melody, but something about Tom’s singing doesn’t sound right. Maybe it’s the way he’s holding his notes, but either way it doesn’t sound that good. But there are moments when he actually manages to sound sincere.
“Letters to God” is another strong track from the album. The stripped sound sets up the helpless mood here; it’s just DeLonge and an acoustic guitar for the most part. But what makes the song so sad is that it sounds like this person is pleading with God to let him live longer. He even tries to compromise with him by saying “I won’t lie, I won’t sin, maybe I don’t wanna go.” The heavy subject matter alludes to what Tom’s later band would sound like. It’s a brooding track, which is weird why the humorous and some would say Blink inspired song “My First Punk Song” would come right after it.
“My First Punk Song” is my favorite from the album and it sounds like a b-side from Blink-182. The raw, fast paced riff is definitely ripped from Tom’s punk influences, but what makes the song is that it seems to be poking fun at the genre. With lines like “What is with these bands that keep comin’ with their politics,/they never went to school to find out that they were full of shit” it sounds like he’s making fun of the punk bands that constantly shove their politics down their fans’ throats. Also, when he sings “there’s one problem,/I got brownies, from your mother,/and it gave me syphilis…I got no dick” it sounds like he’s getting back to his Blink roots. My only complaint about the song is that it doesn’t fit in with the album at all. It breaks the dark mood and makes you wonder why he included it, especially since he wanted to make an album that would be no way related to Blink-182.
While there are some pretty great songs here, most of them are quite forgettable. From the weird vocals on “Cat Like Thief” to the weird semi-political message on “All Systems Go” not every song stands out. They either get lost in a sea of sound or they’re just kind of dull. But one song that stands out is “Elevator.” This is probably the darkest song found here. The opening lyrics are from the perspective of someone who is about jump from a building as they “count the number of people below.” What makes the song cool is that Mark Hoppus sings the second verse from the perspective of someone watching the jumper. From the subject alone it’s easy to see why this song is dark, but it takes on a disturbing tone when you learn that it was written shortly after the September 11 attacks. Not only will the cool format make the song memorable, but the eerie topic is sure to stick with you long after the album is over.
Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. This is actually a pretty good record from the short lived side project. While there are some songs that are forgettable, there are also a handful that are great. While it’s not Tom’s strongest songwriting, at the time it showed a progression in his music. Also, you can hear early influence for DeLonge’s current side band and also for Blink-182’s self titled album, which saw the band going a dark route and leaving their humor behind. The album is good enough to make me wish that Tom would do another Box Car Racer album, rather than something abstract with AVA.