Review Summary: Not as immediate or good as their debut, T.A.I admirably progress & mature by delivering a fairly consistent album that keeps the catchy hooks and adds a fuller sound while looking for the best of both worlds.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is often a phrase used when a band release a very good album and then try to mess with the formula next time around. Following their fantastic debut effort ‘Almost Here’, it would have been very easy for The Academy Is… (T.A.I) to rest on their laurels with their follow-up ‘Santi’, but the band admirably look to progress and don’t do too bad a job of doing so.
The method the band have taken in this progression is an attempt to keep all the catchy hooks that made the predecessor so noteworthy, but add an overall fuller sound to the mix. Producer Butch Walker, who has worked with the likes of Fall Out Boy, Avril Lavigne & Default is brought in and right from the greeting notes of opener ‘Same Blood’, a thicker and denser sound is apparent musically. This successfully achieves a more moody atmospheric feel while still pleasingly retaining the band’s poppy sensibility that makes the track stand well on it’s own in addition to being a very good opener.
Another factor apparent during ‘Santi’ is a more theatrical dance-rock feel that occasionally verges on being similar to 1970’s Glam Rock. The decent ‘Lax To O’Hare’ is the first sign of this, before nicely continuing into 1st single ‘We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands’. Vocalist William Beckett hams it up here in between piecing together an ultimately hooky cut that even includes a “Who Oh Oh Oh” breakdown. In theory, this song should not work, but it is a credit to T.A.I that it thankfully does. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing of the not too dissimilar ‘Bulls In Brooklyn’ and closer ‘Unexpected Places’, which disappointingly fall short come chorus time.
The likely barometers of this album will be tracks 4 and 5. ‘Sleeping With Giants’ is not a tune that will make an instant impression, but grows on you as well as anything here. T.A.I employ a nice variation on the slow/fast dynamic used by many these days by slowing down to emotional vocals come the chorus. The band then builds on this with their first ever true ballad in 3rd single ‘Everything We Had’. Critics will label this as bland radio filler, but in truth T.A.I do a good job of pulling the song off, even if it falls short of being a raging success. Especially impressive is the way effectively appropriate lyrics are used in combination with the band’s own trademark touches.
Fans of ‘Almost Here’ need not fear as in addition to most of the tracks not completely abandoning the formula that made that album such a success, 2 cuts in the latter half of ‘Santi’ sound as if they could have come right off of the debut. 2nd single ‘Neighbors’ is probably the closest and it’s poppy catchier vibe actually makes for some nice variety, even if the lyrics do get a little silly. ‘Chop Chop’ isn’t too far behind it and even adds some nifty guitar-work, which is pleasingly an improvement on this album as the greater production means they are often separate and multi-layered.
These 2 poppier tracks are split by ‘Seed’ which is Santi’s answer to the debut’s fascinating ‘Down and Out’. Darker overtones initially appear to stifle this song towards mediocrity, until it is effectively structured to turn into a brilliant set-up as it truly takes off in the rollicking final minute. Penultimate track ‘You Might Have Noticed’ may have been looking to achieve something similar, but unfortunately does not reach anywhere near the same heights.
So is ‘Santi’ a better album than its predecessor…??? No, it is not. But it is the correct step for The Academy Is… to take in order to progress their career and it is still a good album in its own right. The greater maturity and fuller sound exhibited here should hold the band in good stead in the future. And while not being as immediate as the band’s debut, ‘Santi’ still includes a sufficient amount of the band’s trademark pop sensibilities to ultimately make this a nice and consistent ‘best of both worlds’ release.
Recommended Tracks: Same Blood, We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands, Neighbors & Sleeping With Giants.