In some ways, releasing an album with the vague label of “Demos, Odds and Ends” in the title can be a protective mechanism. If the songs are bad, then the audience can justify it—these were songs that weren’t released years ago for a reason, and it’s a treat, regardless of the quality, that we get this kind of behind-the-scenes access to our favorite artists. At the same time, there’s always the nagging question: why bother releasing these songs at all?
It doesn’t seem particularly wise of Tom DeLonge to begin his solo career with a collection of such songs—forgotten B-sides that were probably forgotten for a reason—but when you’re the lead singer of a band as beloved as Blink-182, you can probably get away with it. And indeed, his debut foray into the solo world has some notable high points, but for anyone who isn’t looking to collect and nostalgically treasure all things Blink-182, there isn’t much here by way of intrinsic musical excitement. To The Stars…Demos, Odds and Ends, is not a bad album by any means; it’s merely an OK album, with some high points and other very low points.
Let’s start with the high. DeLonge takes a lot of really intriguing chances in terms of production on many songs on the album. “Suburban Kings,” the album’s highest point, successfully employs some nice synth accompaniment, adding an electric dimension to the pop-punk sound that Blink-182 has been relying on for its whole career. It’s not too gimmicky, and really just serves to make the overall sound space a lot more interesting than it would be otherwise. Further, for Blink-182 fans, there are the usual catchy, bombastic melodies and garage-rock guitar chords that once defined the band.
Yet, when working in a genre like pop-punk, which has been done so much and has such a stereotypical sound, it becomes significantly more difficult to make something that sounds inherently new. And even songs like “Suburban Kings,” or “Endless Summer,” which also employs synthesizer, don’t sufficiently stray from the pop-punk formula, to a point where a lot of the album feels like it’s rehashing tropes. A big example is DeLonge’s use of the F-bomb. That four-letter curse word has such potential in music, when used sparsely enough, to pack a powerful emotional gut punch. However, it’s been used so much in this genre that’ it inherently feels like more gimmicky than angsty, and although DeLonge doesn’t use it too often, it’s few uses feel a bit contrived. In “New World,” DeLonge makes the bold attempt to spell it out, “F-U-C-K,” instead of saying it, betraying a sense of desperation, an attempt to vary the formula that doesn’t really add any new sonic dimensions to the angry world of pop-punk.
It’s not fair to base an entire album off of the scattered use of the F-word, and you do really get the sense that DeLonge is legitimately experimenting with new ways to expand his sound. “Landscapes,” for instance, is almost entirely electric. It features patches and computerized noises and swells as DeLonge and an unknown, radio-sounding voice speak in low tones. However, the song is only two minutes long, and you can barely hear what anyone is saying, and it leaves you with a very defined sense of “Why bother?” Lastly, the lyrics on the album leave a lot to be desired. There is nothing new, nothing concrete, and it’s difficult to really know what DeLonge is talking about at all. The album’s final song, “Golden Showers in the Golden State,” is almost outright insulting, despite its attempts to be avant-garde and comical (it provides two verses of genius insight, such as, “I jack myself to sleep every night, I’ll have a dozen / I’ll let you watch the show when I’m pooping on your cousin.”)
At the very least, DeLonge’s first foray into the solo world is promising, in the sense that when he begins writing new music, he will be a creative and exciting artist to watch. Similarly, Blink-182 fans will probably find this first album endearing on many levels. But for the rest of us, there’s not much to see here.
Featured Image Courtesy of To The Stars