Review Summary: In the mid 2000's, the boys if The Academy Is... were the reigning kings of emo-pop-rock, breaking hearts and dropping panties across the country with infectiously catchy hooks. But it's a new, more cynical decade, and Almost Here - like the band itself -
Where would the world be without emo-rific PPPDs?
Short for Panty Pleasing Panty Dropping, PPPDs (pronounced Triple PD) are bands made for girls by guys who sound like girls, dress like girls, play like girls and, as much as I hate to admit it, probably have sex with a lot of girls. They are epitomized today by bands that don't even try and hide their questionable sexuality with clever names (Boys Like Girls, anyone?).
(D)evolution suggests they share common genes with The Beatles and '90s boy bands and are the indie predecessors to Disney's current generation of guitar-fueled teeny-bop superstars.
The Academy Is... was one of the first PPPD powerhouses. I still remember "Checkmarks", the Chicago quintet's first single, blasting from the house sound system during the set change at nearly every local show. That song dominated emo airplay for nearly six months straight.
In 2010, the band (vocalist/frontman/heartthrob William Beckett, bassist Adam Siska, guitarist Mike Carden and a cadre of drummers and second guitarists) celebrated the fifth anniversary of Almost Here's release with a sold-out show at the Metro in downtown Chicago. (The group has since been relegated to a supporting role, acting as a warm-up for Jack's Mannequin and the like). Granted, I haven't heard much from the group in a while, but for an emo band to pull in the crowds (let alone still function) after five years is impressive.
Today, even with two additional albums under their belts, The Academy Is... have been surpassed by other, more prolific groups bearing the Fueled By Ramen moniker, most notably Paramore.
The label has a long legacy of being a springboard for quality pop bands, with alumni such as Jimmy Eat World and Fall Out Boy moving on to bigger and better things. It's no surprise that by sticking with a mid-level label for their entire lifespan, The Academy Is... have seen their popularity wane over six long years.
But in the mid-'00s, at the height of the Almost Here craze, they were the band to see, be and beat. No one could touch them, not even perennial emo kingpins Taking Back Sunday.
Since I tend to get long-winded, I'll make this review short and sweet. In a way, I'll be mirroring Beckett himself, who moans and muses about two-week relationships with what a review on iTunes calls a "velvety" voice.
Speaking of lyrics: I think the thing that separates borderline emo bands from the elites is simply how interesting they can get with wordplay. What sets postmodern lyricism apart from early Britpop-esque optimism is irony. To Beckett's credit, he manages to hit on both, although sometimes he doesn't realize it.
Examples: On "Slow Down," the king of the PPPDs asks and answers his own question: "Hollywood hills and suburban thrills/Hey you, who are you kidding?/I'm not like them. I won't buy in." Maybe he didn't plan on middle-class white kids listening to his music, but there's not much effort to embrace a different market. It takes some gall (or just stupidity) to blatantly insult your audience, not to mention yourself - it's the kind of thing only The Sex Pistols could pull off.
Later, Beckett warns, "I'm not sayin' that I'm not breakin' hearts tonight, girl." A double whammy of wordplay and irony! At least this time he planned on both.
On the fifth track, an ode to making it big titled "Black Mamba," he goes into all-out unconscious irony on our asses: "Oh, Mr. Magazine/I never wrote one single thing for you/Or your so-called music scene/You both mean *** to me." Enough said.
At least his straightforward lyrics are better than the garbled poetry many emo bands try to write. For the most part, Beckett writes in second person to directly address some invisible audience: a doctor on "The Phrase That Pays"; the target of a less-than-modest hookup on "Checkmarks."
This style choice is smart - it makes certain lines more personal and fresh, even after multiple listens, like sitting on the phone with a silky-throated best friend.
I think, though, that I've been too quick to judge. It's Beckett's job to be charismatic and throw in enough pseudo-cool imagery and catchy melodies to make people dance. Otherwise, it wouldn't be emo. It wouldn't even be pop.
But I can't forgive him for repetition. He seems to have some strange preoccupation with the idea of being upside down (or downside up). Listen to the album one time through and you'll know what I mean.
So, you might be asking--why no rant on musicality? What about the fun off-beat syncopation during the first verse on "Season?" What about the surprisingly harsh chorus and end to "Checkmarks?"
I won't sugar coat it. I didn't listen to the whole album. I heard it--because my headphones were in--but I never actually listened. It went in one end and out the other, an endless stream of intro/verse/chorus/repeat. If what I say seems biased, well, it is. The Academy Is... just is not my cup of tea, but then again, even die-hard fans seem to have fallen by the wayside.
The truth is, PPPDs work both ways--not only do they help panties drop for the band members, they also help everyone who plays their music. When you're driving to a show with that special girl in your car, she wants to find something that gets her body moving (and so do you).
PPPDs (and Almost Here) have one purpose for most of the people in the world: to keep girls entertained--long, long into the night. Its a beautiful thing.