I find that many artists, for me, are primarily grounded in a sense of nostalgia. That isn’t to say that my love for them is only based on nostalgia—though I believe that nostalgia is as valid an emotion as any to fuel your love for media, particularly music—but if I listened to an artist in large concentration at a certain period and have done so significantly less outside of that, my brain tends to hear their music in the context of how I felt at that point in time rather than relating it to my current feelings.
It’s something that I’ve always passively acknowledged, but this week, it actively struck me while listening to Angels & Airwaves, specifically pieces of their 2007 album I-Empire. When I think of that album, I can’t think of anything but Summer 2008, and vice versa; my recollection of that period places that album’s alternative rock resonating through my ears almost constantly. Admittedly, I was far more casual about music-listening back then and it’s hard to be sure if my “constant” listening would seem so impressively dedicated when directly compared to my current habits, but that’s my recollection, and my play counts on all its tracks do reflect an above-average amount of listening.
Most caught up in that nostalgia is “Heaven,” the closer on the album and to this day not just one of my favorite songs by them, but also the one that most encompasses the band’s cosmic, anthemic sound. It’s surrounded with a feeling of finality, from the organs that ease into the two-minute intro to the final fade out of guitar, from the clips from their debut album played as if from a distant radio at the start to the final line of “Here I am” calling back to the chorus of their first single, topped off by fading out with the intro of “Valkyrie Missile,” the first track from their first album. The combination of guitar and organ in the intro is U2-esque, reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” quickly building the song from nothing to an anthemic piece full of a lust for life.
The throwbacks and instrumentals alone give it so much power, but among the soaring guitar riffs and energetic drum rhythms are an additional power in its lyrics. I-Empire as a whole, along with its predecessor We Don’t Need To Whisper, is a concept album that tells a love story, but “Heaven” has always held so much power to me even just interpreted on its own. Unrelenting from the beginning, one of the first lines singer Tom DeLonge belts out is “I will touch the rain with all I have,” which is somehow perfectly summative of the song’s atmosphere, portraying a recognition of all of the beauty in the world and striving to experience it as thoroughly as possible. Yet it only builds in its vivacity and in lyrics filled with finality, declaring as it draws to a close, “If you see the light break through the clouds / And fire up the distant towers / Where the world will begin exactly how it ends.”
For me, “Heaven” is unavoidably a nostalgia trip; it’s impossible not to recall how it made me feel the first time—and even the first hundred times—I listened to it. But it’s so much more than just a cheap trip down memory lane; it’s impossible to miss the sheer freedom and bliss so evident in every second of it, and I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t fall in love with it all the same if I were hearing it for the first time today. It’s a beautifully crafted piece, powerfully packed with emotion, and no matter how many times I hear it, it always seems to leave me reaching for the “repeat” button.