Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Dream Academy - The Dream Academy

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of the self-titled debut album from the Dream Academy. This London trio consisted of Gilbert Gabriel (keyboards and vocals), Nick Laird-Clowes (guitar, harmonica and vocals) and Kate St. John (piano, tenor sax, oboe, accordion, and vocals). The Dream Academy, co-produced by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, hit number 58 in the UK and number 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (with a thirty-seven week total run).

Side one opens with the hit first single "Life in a Northern Town". It went to number 15 in the UK, number 9 in Ireland, number 7 in Canada and on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 4 in Australia, and number 2 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The lyrics make reference to Nick Drake, an English singer/songwriter from the late 60's and early 70's. They also draw inspiration from Gabriel's time at Dartington College of the Arts in Devon, England. I was and still am a huge fan of this song. Its opening instrumentation always transports me to someplace else, and its wistful lyrics lead me to fond reflection of my own youthful days of college. I cannot help but sing along. In 2007, the country band Sugarland recorded a live cover version that also features Little Big Town and Jake Owen; I think they did a solid job on it.

"The Edge of Forever" was released as a promotional second single. The light, lofting tune was featured near the end of the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. St. John gets a nice sax solo here.

I like the percussion rhythms on "(Johnny) New Light"; they give the song an upbeat and positive energy.

The mood changes up a bit with "In Places on the Run", starting out a bit darker tonally but then progressing to a lighter place as the song plays out.

The lyrics of "This World", the third single, come from Laird-Clowes' concerns for friends who were becoming addicted to drugs.

Side two begins with up-tempo "Bound to Be", which reminds me a good bit of offerings from Howard Jones that I also enjoy. The track is one of two on the record to which Gilmour lends his guitar skills.

The optimistic "Moving On" slows things down ever so slightly. Again, I like the accents added with St. John's sax.

The fourth single "The Love Parade" deals with themes of temptation and adultery. It peaked at number 68 in the UK, number 37 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, number 36 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 13 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. I remember the plucky-beat of this lost single from its brief run on the radio charts and in MTV video rotation during 1986.

"The Party" is the second album track that includes Gilmour's guitar work. The song, in places, has a bit of a 60's vibe to it instrumentally. The orchestration works well here too. At the end, there is a bit of a callback to some of the earlier tracks.

The record closes with "One Dream", a much stripped down number that would be right at home in a jazz supper-club. Its sound really helps it stand out from much of the rest of the pack on the record, and it is a nice change of pace.

I believe I first owned a copy of The Dream Academy on cassette back in the 80's. I picked it up again digitally a number of years back. It is not one of the albums I listen to very often, but when I do I tend to enjoy it. I also find I get a bit more out of each song upon repeated visits. It is definitely one of those records that benefits from a focused listening experience.

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