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I-Empire

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Critics' Reviews

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If Tom DeLonge is anything, he's a man of conviction. He holds onto his beliefs long after other men would abandon them, cherishing them with the obstinate fervor of a teenager even though he's long past adolescence. Others would have buckled at the lukewarm, occasionally mocking reception of his post-blink-182 project Angels & Airwaves and their 2006 debut, We Don't Need to Whisper, but instead of revamping the group for their quickly recorded sophomore effort, I-Empire -- who knows whether the title is either a pun on Apple's iCulture or a reflection of DeLonge's never-ending quest of self-improvement -- he digs in his heels, refusing to budge from his oddly misconstrued Cure and U2 amalgam. The basic sound of A&A may be the same, but there are some notable, albeit minor, differences this time around. First of all, not every song takes a minute to get off the ground, but the greater improvement is that DeLonge no longer shuns his knack for naggingly catchy, sing-song hooks, which makes I-Empire immediate where We Don't Need to Whisper was elusive. It's a welcome change of pace but more of a lateral move than a step forward, as these pop inclinations aren't integrated into the band; they're merely grafted upon A&A's spacy murk. The band continues to toil in the same cavernous echo chamber, whipping out variations of the "Pride (In the Name of Love)" riff while their leader spins stories of personal discoveries, all delivered with his signature pinched whine. Sure, Angels & Airwaves is more adult than blink-182, but just because this isn't snotty punk doesn't meant that it's mature, as all of the musical and conceptual ideas sound unformed, as if DeLonge is still sorting out how he's planning to grow up. Such eternal adolescence can be a bit hard to swallow, particularly when it's unconscious as it is here, but nevertheless I-Empire is an easier record to like than We Don't Need to Whisper, as it marks a very small, very tentative progression toward DeLonge realizing that he can expand his sonic and emotional horizons without abandoning the pop songcraft that remains his greatest strength. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi