Review: The Academic – Tales from the Backseat

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The Academic deliver a solid, nostalgic, debut with plenty to like for anyone who got into music in the mid-2000s.

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What do you write about when you’re young? You haven’t had the marriage, the kids, the divorce, the heroin addiction, or anything else that makes up really solid material. As it is, most young, up-and-coming bands are often found reflecting on adolescence, especially in debut albums, and so it goes with The Academic. The Irish quartet’s debut album is as short and fleeting as adolescence, 33 minutes eaten up by just ten tracks, two of which – the lead single, ‘Different’, and ‘Northern Boy’ – are taken from their 2015 EP Loose Friends.

The band got a very decent publicity boost from their single ‘Bear Claws’, which they streamed as a live performance on Facebook, using the tape delay when a video goes live to record loops for the track. The final product is very clever (you can see it here) and was seen 1.2 million times in a week alone.

‘Bear Claws’ itself sets the tone for the album as a whole, tracks that straddle the line between rock and pop; not too many heavy guitar riffs so as to become a knock-off of The Strokes and just enough so as to not sound like Two Door Cinema Club. ‘Bear Claws’ starts with the line, “I know it’s a little old-fashioned” and its hard not to feel that the album is a homage to everything the band were listening to in their teenage years, which might be partially behind the title, Tales from the Backseat.

Anthemic choruses scatter the tracklist, the lead single ‘Different’ being a prime example (though one can’t escape the suspicion it will be the soundtrack to a Toyota advert in a few years). The hook on ‘Fake ID’ is immediately memorable, the kind of fodder that is perfect for a summer festival stage, not dreary January evenings.

‘Northern Boy’ and ‘I Feel It Too’ both deliver the adolescent nostalgia in heaps. The former features lines such as “I don’t get the way you feel, this ain’t a movie reel” as it ruminates on lost teenage love, the latter hangs on the repeated chorus of “When did you become so wild, when did you stop being a child”, hinting at the idea of growing up and leaving behind years of innocence and childishness. This is not necessarily an easy nostalgia to pull off, but The Academic do so admirably.

The songwriting could probably be dismissed as unadventurous or playing off standard tropes, but then The Academic isn’t aiming to be Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, though ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ and ‘Girlfriends’, the closing tracks on the album show a more tender side. The latter, which is more stripped back than any of the other tracks delivers more emotion than is found elsewhere, hinting at what might be to come in subsequent albums when the teenage bubblegum oeuvre is likely to be abandoned.

Tales from the Backseat is an album of earworms, smart chorus writing and riffs that will stick in the head for long after the last track has faded out. It breaks no new ground, but it knows what it wants to be and delivers in spades, a proper throwback for anyone who grew up with an iPod packed with The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, and early The Killers. Nostalgia is often criticised as being a dangerous emotion, we always prefer to look back with rose-tinted spectacles after all, but with this debut outing The Academic serve up a big helping of nostalgia for lost adolescence and does so with just enough style and panache to keep the album from becoming a stereotype.

Tales from the Backseat is out now via Room 6 Records. The Academic is playing at Heartbreakers Southampton on April 18th

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