Record Review: The Dream Academy

Warner Brothers Records | US | CD | 1985 | 9 25265-2

Warner Brothers Records | US | CD | 1985 | 9 25265-2

The Dream Academy: The Dream Academy US CD [1985]

  1. Life In A Northern Town
  2. The Edge Of Forever
  3. [Johnny] New Light
  4. In Places On The Run
  5. This World
  6. Bound To Be
  7. Moving On
  8. The Love Parade
  9. The Party
  10. One Dream

After delving into the debut album by Stephen Duffy for three days in a row, what else could I follow it with but a look at the debut album by The Dream Academy? Both acts were inextricably linked in my mind:

  • They shared a manager – Tarquin Gotch [who one day deserves a New Wave MVP entry of his own].
  • Both acts had bass playing on their records by Guy Pratt, early in his career where everything he played on in in my Record Cell. [Yes, Guy Pratt is pencilled in for a New Wave MVP too!]
  • Both Nick Laird-Clowes [has there ever been as posh a name as that?] and Stephen Duffy were big fans of singer-songwriter Nick Drake a good decade before his rediscovery/commercial viability and wrote songs reflecting this influence.
  • Both acts debut albums had production on a track or two by a member of The Art Of Noise. J.J. Jezcalik for Duffy and Gary Langan for The Dream Academy.
  • Finally, The NME, in an attempt to damn Stephen Duffy with backhanded praise, once said of him that “we do not need another Paddy McAloon.” The cheeky Duffy once used this in a press advertisement, to my delight. While I would argue that we do; we always do, the fact of the matter was that in that regard, Nick Laird-Clowes was more obviously your man!

I first heard The Dream Academy on British music show The Tube, where they had made an in-house video for the song “Life In A Northern Town.” It was a delightful song that captured my attention immediately. The delicate orchestration mixed real strings and ferocious tympani for a warm, vibrant effect. That the band had a member, Kate St. John [Ex-Ravishing Beauties] whose lead instruments were oboe [be still, my beating heart] and cor angalais showed that they were willing to stick out from the bulk of the Mid-80s pack.

Listening to this album now, I’m struck mostly by how close singer Laird-Clowes is hewing to the style developed commercially by Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout. Though I as usual, maintain, that McAloon lifted his mature style from producer Thomas Dolby as evidenced by several tracks on his album “The Flat Earth,” produced a year before linking up with Prefab Sprout for their seminal “Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good” album. But, yeah, tracks like “[Johnny] New Light” fairly reek of received McAloonisms. [is that a word?]

The use of the Johnny archetype was straight from the Sprout’s playbook but where Laird-Clowes differs the most from McAloon is in his love of bombast that surfaces throughout this material every now and then. McAloon was far more intimate with his songwriting, but Laird-Clowes seemed to favor the grand gesture, making these songs a notch or two below those of his peers. Still, it was heartening to hear “Life In A Northern Town” scale to the lofty heights of number seven on the US top 40 of late 1985. A full eight spots higher than the song charted in the UK top 40. I’ll take what I can get!

the act - toolateatthe20USLPAI remember seeing ads for The Act’s “Too Late At The 20” album in Trouser Press in 1981, but I never had the pleasure. Nick got his [false] start in that band, which also happened to contain David Gilmour’s younger brother Mark. This paid off when after The Act broke up, David used his clout to back Laird-Clowes in his Dream Academy bid a few years later. In fact, Gilmour co-produces all but one of the tracks here. Ultimately, the real pull for my ears 31 years later was all of the goodness that Kate St. John put into this music, though her sax playing was a little too softjazzrock for my tastes. Fortunately, it was completely overshadowed by the oboe and cor anglais on display here. I like this album enough to listen to it occasionally, but I later bought the third Dream Academy album only to quickly flip it. The tale endeth here.

– 30 –

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7 Responses to Record Review: The Dream Academy

  1. Echorich says:

    I’m with you on the McAloonism’s found in The Dream Academy’s debut.
    Interesting that all three Ravishing Beauties members feature well in my music collection. St. John of course, but I was a very big fan of Virginia Astley’s solo career in the mid to late 80s and Nicky Holland is a featured on so many albums that I own, including Modern English, Fun Boy Three, Stephen Duffy, The Dream Academy and especially Tears For Fears and Sakamoto, she is another of those really dependable session musicians.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I’m also well into the whole Ravishing Beauties phenomenon! I have a full set of the works of Virginia Astley, and yes, Nicky Holland is all over the record cell. Kate St. John isn’t choppped liver in that regard either, and I have the sole commercial release by The Ravishing Beauties on my “Might Reel: REVO edition. I just checked on Astley. I lack the 12” version of “Love’s A Lonely Place To Be” and “Some Small Hope” and she snuck out an album on her website in 2006! That looks very difficult to get. Hmmm. Nicky Holland has two solo albums; the first with Lloyd Cole involvement [adds to want list].

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  2. Tim says:

    I like it that we’re in 6 Degrees of 80’s Separation territory here.
    I heartily agree with Echorich’s comments above and would like to add that the first KSJ solo album is worthy of investigation if not ownership. I think it bests anything that she did with the Dream Academy. The second and third albums don’t hold my attention much although I do like “Indian Summer” and made a home made extended version of it some time back.

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    • Tim says:

      Oh and I forgot her appearance on Channel Light Vessel’s first album! I really like their first one, the second one is avoidable.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Tim – I only ever saw the first one. It’s lovely! Being a Nelson quasi obsessor [I bought everything from 1981-1992 before he went into hyperdrive…] I’d still give it a chance.

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