- 10 Feb 23
Top Of The Class
More fun than The Fontaines, more melodious than The Murder Capital, The Academic are equally deserving of the critical hoopla those bands enjoy. The glorious, grinning, isn’t-it-great-to-young pop mastery of debut album Tales From The Backseat was so infectious, Stephen Donnelly should probably have been making a speech about it on the telly.
It was no fluke either. Last year’s Community Spirit E.P. had more hooks than Killybegs, and Sitting Pretty comes out of the traps with the left-right knock-out combination of singles ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ and ‘Don’t Take It Personally’. The former goes from a powerful New Wave thump, which has feint hints of Mr E. Costello back when he stood in front of The Attractions, to Flaming Lips psych-pop with combined choral voices giving it some heavenly la, la, la-ing in the space of a single bar before guitar hero Matthew Murtagh tries to strangle his instrument and then allows it to be beaten to the ground by Dean Gavin’s drums. The latter has more massive la-las, an organ and vocal chorus, a Blondie keyboard solo and some treated vocals from gifted song writer Craig Fitzgerald and is what The Strokes might sound like if they didn’t take themselves so seriously. This song on its own is bursting with more ideas than you find on most double albums.
They’ve a few more miles on the clock, so the overall sound of this album is harder than before but they haven’t sacrificed any of their melodic nous to get it. You could balance a planet on a tune as sturdy as the near-perfect pop rock of ‘Do What You Want’ and Stephen Murtagh’s MTV 80s bass throb driven ‘My Very Best’ is the kind of song that’s stuck in your brain – “Oh, I get the feeling” - before you’re finished your first listen. The “beautiful morning” of ‘Step My Way’ floats in like a breeze made of sunshine, ‘Let Go Of My Heart’ is custom built for jumping up and down at a festival and ‘Right Where You Left Me’ showcases a band that have gained a bit of muscle once they get to the perfect refrain of “tell me where to start and I will fix your broken heart.”
You can hear influences as varied as The Kinks (‘Buying Smokes’) and Vampire Weekend (‘This Is Your Life’) and the arrangements are inventive and free-wheeling but it's the song writing that's their greatest strength. They've moved on from fake ids to the self-doubt that getting a bit older engenders – characters are still disobeying curfews and the like, but a verse later they’re buying houses and although they’re asking ‘What’s Wrong With Me’ because ‘Heartbreak’s Where It’s At’, at least they can dance away the pain. The really neat trick is that they effortlessly wrap these concerns in rockin’ pop choruses that would put a grin on a lump of concrete and must make lesser bands – and that’s pretty much all of them - despair. Mortar boards in the air and first-class honours all round.