Review Summary: Distinguishing themselves from the shadow of Fall Out Boy and the like, The Academy Is… have emerged as a band with ambition and the songwriting skill to match.
I finally “get” the awesome Rachel Stevens single ‘Sweet Dreams My LA Ex.’ She’s in love with the airport!
Clever, but perhaps not.
‘LAX To O’Hare,’ the showcase track from The Academy Is…’s heavily-anticipated second album Santi
, leaves no such room for ambiguity, kicking off with the bumbling line, “it was a plane ride!” from Los Angeles’ central airport to Chicago’s better half. The song’s reverb-laden clipped guitar chords and primal beat are somewhat of a departure for the band, being as they are more reminiscent of producer Butch Walker’s recent glam rock throwback album The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites
than anything from their own catalogue. Walker’s influence is particularly heavy-to-bear on Santi
, not least because his former sidekick, Aussie guitarist Michael Guy Chislett, has defected and become the fifth member of The Academy Is... Between them, with Chislett becoming a full songwriting member, they impress the virtues of pre-god complex U2 and the smartest glam rock upon their collaborators.
It’s been two years since The Academy Is… emerged from the same Chicago pop-punk scene that produced Fall Out Boy with their debut indie piece Almost Here
, anticipating Wentz and Stumpy’s breakout album From Under The Cork Tree
by a number of months. Frontman Will Beckett shares Wentz’s wit and flair and can dance around his higher register in a manner not dissimilar to Patrick Stump, but otherwise the similarities between the bands are more fleeting than substantial. Each housed by the highly incestuous Fueled By Ramen label, The Academy Is… stood by while their more radio-adapted cousins achieved international stardom; with their first record since upgrading to Atlantic Records The Academy Is… seem to have redressed the balance, whether by design or by circumstance, with a set of eleven stadium-sized pop anthems primed for radio rotation.
From the get-go, Santi
aims for huge. Subtlety is sacrificed for bombast, and the influence of The Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’ can be heard in the opening bars of ‘Same Blood,’ while ‘80s U2 come to bear on ‘Seed’ via Edge-like delay-soaked blues chords and with Bono’s patented cooing during ‘You Might Have Noticed.’ Walker, for his part, has imparted some of the glam rock bug to the band; ‘Bulls In Brooklyn’ kicks off with a bassy drum part lifted from Gary Glitter’s famous goal celebration ‘Rock N’ Roll (Part Two),’ and the “heys” and “woahs” reinforce the association; Butch Walker lends an ascending-descending la-la-la chant to ‘Same Blood,’ reminiscent of his own ‘Ladies And Gentlemen… The Let’s Go Out Tonites,” and loans Beckett his strained vocal inflections on the dance-punk number ‘You Might Have Noticed.’ Even the more punk-based numbers from ‘Neighbors’ benefit from post punk junkie Chislett’s more textured approach, while ‘Chop Chop’ (once pencilled as the album’s title) brims with angular, eastern-tinged guitars.
Lyrically the album is disappointing, at least in comparison with Almost Here
, as the words were only written in the days leading up to recording, but this also gives the vocals an improvised feel, despite the inanity of some of the subject matter. Ironically, lead single ‘We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands’ and the aforementioned ‘LAX To O’Hare’ are the exceptions which prove the rule as both are examples of interesting writing and
the loose delivery that's a constant feature of the album's tracks. ‘LAX To O’Hare’ recounts a “series of unfortunate events”
that apparently land the singer in an improvised situation (oh no!), highlighting a momonetary fatigue with the fame game. ‘Big Mess’ is obviously geared for the stage, referencing Duran Duran with funky chorus catcalls and reflexive melody, while Beckett tells of having “that lefty curse, where everything that I do is flipped and awkwardly reversed.”
That the same lyric that would be considered relatively unremarkable on Almost Here
is one of the highlights of Santi
says a lot, however, and the pedestrian lyricism is certainly one of the album’s major flaws and is compounded by the distinct lack of a central theme, or on some tracks a discernable theme at all, throughout the album.
Taken as a whole, though, Santi
is a major step forward from Almost Here
. Distinguishing themselves from the shadow of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and the like without sacrificing too many of the essential elements of their debut album, The Academy Is… have emerged as a band with ambition and the songwriting skill to match. Infectious melodies abound even if the lyrics are some way short of what we’d expect, and when a band demonstrates both the capability to craft strong melodies and insightful lyrics, it’s only a matter of time before they’re combined into some sort of “song sandwich.” And there’s no surer thing: some day soon, the members of The Academy Is… will all be making sandwiches for a living.
That may not have come out right...