The newest Angels and Airwaves album may have come late in the year, but it makes a compelling case for the best album of 2014 . . . at least in the musical realm.
Angels and Airwaves, like so many of their alternative rock contemporaries, have built a signature sound based on pop melodies with rock instrumentation. It’s worked quite well for them in particular, and this album is one that’s not only musically bright but lyrically smart. These aren’t songs that are just about scorned love and partying. The alt rock band sings about personal searching and trying times, the things that make for truly great albums. Musically, the result is glorious. There’s not a filler song on this record and every one has the potential to be a radio hit; but lyrically they come to a few conclusions that I just can’t get behind.
The album kicks off with three consecutive five-star songs. “Teenagers and Rituals” has solid instrumentation with a great, catchy melody. “Paralyzed” features a phenomenal bass intro riff. “Wolfpack” is one of the catchiest melodies on the album, sounding both fun and contemplative, making you think, even if for only a moment, that the band can do no wrong. Then you start listening to their lyrics.
Some of the band’s messages are worth contemplating. “The Wolfpack” challenges the notion that “the life” is really as great as it seems. “The Disease” tells us to enjoy the process of love as well as its end. But then there’s “Tunnels,” the deepest and most personal track on the record. It’s a song about searching for meaning in life, and in that song there’s the line “I’d thank God, but then what is he for/Cause I left a few hard calls at his front door.”
There are other bones to pick as well. “Tremors” describes a love relationship that walks the line between love and lust (“Meet me here half way/Across elation/I get off this way/When I’m in love”). “Paralyzed,” while brilliant musically, is a bit too descriptive with an ex’s cheating.
But it’s also not fair to characterize the entire album as being chock-full with these moments. The album is a mixed bag, but there’s more combined positivity and ambiguous neutrality than there are concerns. Much of the album is about personal searching, through past relationships, experiences, and views of the world, to come up with a more current worldview.
It’s that personal nature of the songs that make the concerns a bit less egregious. It doesn’t come off as a bold assertion but rather “This is what happened to me.” When you approach the album that way, it begins to seem deeper. You listen to “The Wolfpack” and hear “Finding a light in a world of ruin/Starting to dance when the earth is caving in” and see someone trying to make the best of terrible circumstances. You listen to “Tunnels” and hear “And the world is an oyster/With a poisonous shell,” which makes you think of difficult times in your own life.
Like many albums of its genre, Angels and Airwaves’ latest album challenges Christian discernment because there is no black and white answer. There are things that make us uncomfortable than probably should, but they aren’t numerous or for the most part particularly abrasive. What they have made, then, is an album musically compelling and lyrically contemplative that warrants our treading with a healthy amount of caution, but also makes doing so worth the journey.
The Quick Heads Up
Both “Teenagers and Rituals” and “Paralyzed” have a swear word in the chorus. “Paralyzed also contains an abrasive reference to an immoral woman.