As a rule, I don’t trust artists who release full albums of B-sides or demos salvaged from the cutting room floor. It’s like the guy who thinks he’s being nice by donating a crate of junky, half-broken toys to Goodwill. Sure, somebody might want them, but they’re more likely to end up in the refuse bin where they belonged in the first place. Really, it’s not even the wastefulness that irks me the most — it’s the shirking of responsibility. “Hey, here’s some crap,” is the only message I get when I look at a title like To the Stars… Demos, Odds and Ends, and yet in this case I’m compelled to press on. Why? Because this is an album by Tom DeLonge, and Tom DeLonge might just be the hero (read: totally batshit insane person) rock journalism needs in 2015.
You might be familiar with DeLonge from his tenure in Blink-182, the band that brought pop punk to the cultural forefront with songs about blowjobs, prank phone calls, and other hallmarks of suburban boredom. That tenure came to a close earlier this year, when bandmates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker abruptly announced that they were parting ways with DeLonge, sparking a messy battle that played out on social media and morning radio shows.
Of course, one can hardly blame Hoppus and Barker for wanting to cut ties. Somewhere along the way, DeLonge’s youthful exuberance turned into a mature blend of paranoia, megalomania, and astrophilia. His passion project, the celestially-minded Angels and Airwaves, has embodied all of these traits over the course of five self-consciously epic albums about things like stardust and how we’re all connected, man. It was all kind of silly fun, at least until a February 2015 interview in Paper Magazine revealed that DeLonge is actually a full-blown conspiracy theorist who thinks people from NASA are tapping his phone. “Aliens Exist”, indeed.
Given all that’s transpired in the past couple of months, To the Stars… might simply amount to DeLonge’s way of moving on and putting the past behind him. He no longer resembles that kid with the sideways hat and the pierced lip; these days, he’s a self-styled intellectual who spends his time thinking about the Big Questions and laying the beatdown on his old Squier Stratocaster. Both tendencies are on full display in the video for the insufferable lead single, “New World”, which kicks off with a driving, fuzzed-out bass line before descending into complete inanity. “I found a new world/ I’m lost deep inside of it,” DeLonge sings in his signature nasal style, perhaps not realizing how lost he really is. “New World” feels like a way of exorcising the Blink demons, but then why is the rest of the album loaded with tracks that would feel right at home buried on the back end of a Blink disc?
To the Stars… is a messy, frantic collection that suffers from a lack of focus and extremely poor sequencing. Some of these songs recall Blink-182 and others recall Angels and Airwaves, but there’s nothing here to match those bands’ best work. What is here is incontrovertible evidence that DeLonge should never be a producer. “An Endless Summer” is perhaps the best song of the lot, but it’s also burdened with spacey flourishes and is hopelessly derivative of Blink’s mid-career work. By the time the acoustic ballad “The Invisible Parade” rolls around, it feels almost like a crisp, refreshing piece of lettuce sandwiched between thick slices of over-polished bullshit. The song is slighter than its weighty lyrics suggest, but at least it has some room to breathe.
Of course, if you really want to dive straight into the comedic core of this album, just fast-forward to “Landscapes”, a veritable bukkake of audio samples and cosmic observations. I’m not sure what “electric light comes into my veins” is supposed to mean, but it would probably have really blown my mind when I was 15 and smoking weed for the first time. Shortly after “Landscapes”, we arrive at the album’s grand, grand closer, “Golden Showers in the Golden State”. It’s a song about peeing into mouths and taking dumps on chests, naturally, and it’s also the only time DeLonge seems to be having a lick of fun. Let’s be honest: The dude’s head is so far up his own ass that maybe his best bet is to stick to the scatological.
Essential Tracks: “An Endless Summer”, “The Invisible Parade”, and “Golden Showers in the Golden State”