Album Review: Tom DeLonge, ‘To the Stars… Demos, Odds and Ends’
It’s pretty much impossible to listen to Tom DeLonge’s first solo album and not hear it as the Blink-182 album that could’ve been. A stopgap response to all the “he said, they said” drama that surrounded DeLonge’s exit from the pop-punk outfit in January, To the Stars… Demos, Odds and Ends is ostensibly what the singer-guitarist was going to bring to the table for Blink’s seventh album.
DeLonge revealed a hurried plan to release the songs on his own label — maybe just to prove to angered fans that he actually was working on Blink material. Its slapdash nature is apparent with just one glance at the artwork, which ardent DeLonge disciples might recognize as a photo from promo shots for his other band, Angels and Airwaves (just conspicuously missing drummer Ilan Rubin). Of course, in DeLonge's defense, repurposing an image he originally planned to use for something else is actually keeping right in line with the theme of To the Stars – eight songs of varying degrees of completion that are arguably decent enough to stand on their own.
While the disparate nature of the tracks make the album something of a mixed bag, To The Stars consistently sticks close to the same dark but arena-ready aesthetic of his work with AVA. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Blink-182's 2011 comeback album, Neighborhoods – a record with DeLonge's fingerprint all over it that moved the trio further from the goofy, slapstick nature of their earliest work and firmly into prog-punk territory. It's easy to imagine the voice of Blink co-frontman Mark Hoppus in place of some of DeLonge's layered vocals on To the Stars, particularly on the first two tracks: "New World" and "An Endless Summer." Without Hoppus, the songs lose some of the inherent playfulness he brings to everything, but both would still be totally adequate AVA songs.
DeLonge's apparent Blink intentions also come through in the drum sound of the album, which often feels custom-built for Travis Barker's staccato attack – particularly on the beat-heavy "Suburban Kings" and frantic, old-school punk of "Circle-Jerk-Pit." While it's unfair to constantly wonder what Hoppus and Barker would've brought to the songs, it's almost an exercise in futility on the obscenity-laden, Blink-esque "Golden Showers in the Golden State" – a track that might've done well with a little lyrical editing from Hoppus. That's not to say whether or not he would've disapproved of a line like, "You can take a dump on my chest if it's okay," but without Hoppus' singular wit, DeLonge comes off like a dirty old man.
Otherwise, there are relatively few instances where DeLonge overindulges his proggy side. The instrumental "Landscapes" sounds like the Blade Runner soundtrack with sound bites from the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan and "Animals" would be right at home on a Muse album, but only the latter is really worth a listen.
Still, considering To the Stars amounts to a B-sides album – and one that was thrown together at the last minute – it's surprisingly entertaining throughout. DeLonge has already laid out an ambitious masterplan (as he is wont to do) to release three more albums this year alone, and, yes, he does believe he's made contact with aliens. But if To the Stars is any indication, he would be far from the first musician with delusions of grandeur to flourish while everyone calls him crazy.