The Dream Academy - Religion, Revolution & Railways

The Dream Academy – Religion, Revolution and Railways [7CD Boxset]

When Life in A Northern Town hit back in 1985, it broke through the synthesised din with the force of a bulldozer. The beautifully written, impeccably produced, acoustic, woodwind-infused vocal tour-de-force was unlike anything on radio before or since. The Dream Academy established themselves right out of the gate as a force to be reckoned with. And then they quietly disappeared, leaving behind three gorgeous albums. Cherry Red has compiled those three albums and four additional discs of B-sides, remixes and assorted leftovers in another meticulous box set.

The original albums occupy the first three discs of the set. For the uninitiated, The Dream Academy’s eponymous 1985 debut is a wonderful example of what the band was about. With a singer/guitarist influenced by Nick Drake (Nick Laird-Clowes), a classically-trained keyboardist (Gilbert Gabriel), and a woodwinds player indebted to the classics (Kate St. John), the band forged their own sound. The result was somewhere between the swinging sixties and psychedelia filtered through a folk-rock prism. Leading off the album with what would become their biggest hit, Life in A Northern Town was a whimsical-sounding take on Margaret Thatcher’s Britain augmented by an African chant chorus. While never a traditional progressive rock band, The Dream Academy were not averse to pushing the sonic envelope. Songs like The Love Parade, with its Prefab Sprout influences, and the hook-filled The Edge of Forever offer proof that composers Laird-Clowes and Gilbert were savvy artists who could combine intricacy, odd instrumentation and pop earworms into an appealing stew. It didn’t hurt that none other than Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour played on and helped produce the record.

For second album Remembrance Days two years later, producers Hugh Padgham (Genesis) and Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) refined the band’s sound while leaving their identity intact. Indian Summer picked up where Northern Town left off, stylistically, but the inclusion of Madonna’s co-writer/keyboardist Patrick Leonard on several tracks expanded the band’s horizons. Hampstead Girl reflected the group’s love of sixties pop, while Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime was the first of several cover tunes the Academy lent their unique vibe to.

By the time third album, A Different Kind of Weather, was released in 1990, the band welcomed Gilmour back to the producer’s chair. Opening with a cover of John Lennon’s Love, the band cleverly interpolate pieces of #9 Dream as well as Hare Krishna chants. Tim Hardin’s It’ll Never Happen Again gets the Dream treatment, and the sixties muse is sated once more with the bouncy St. Valentine’s Day. The Dream Academy disbanded the following year, never having had another huge hit, but leaving behind several solid albums and a generous amount of non-album tracks.

For those already familiar with the band’s output, the real fun begins with disc four. A cover of the Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, is utterly delightful, if for no other reason than hearing Laird-Clowes’ voice in place of Morrisey’s (which leaves this listener looking for the exit more often than not). There are singles mixes (In Places on the Run, Indian Summer) and remixes (The Love Parade), but it’s the other original tracks that generate the most interest. Songs like Girl in A Million (For Edie Sedgwick) are beautifully arranged and provide each instrumentalist an opportunity to shine. The Chosen Few is a good up-tempo tune that could have benefitted from a bit of cleaning up and fleshing out, but is still worth repeated listening. Sunrising is another tune that will leave you wondering why it was not on any of the albums proper, as will the dramatic Demonstration. The disc closes with two companion pieces – The Last Day of the War, Pt.1 and The Last Day of the War. The former is a keyboard dominated instrumental with exquisite contributions from St. John. The latter is one of Dream Academy’s finest pieces. A piano accordion places the listener in Paris during World War II before opening up to a more ominous tune about the ravages of war. A martial drumbeat changes the feel again before surrendering to the accordion and a brass band for the final minutes. Exquisite!

Disc Five contains eleven songs that were used as B-sides. The Day it Rained Forever has a distinctly eighties vibe with its drum machine and synths. Poised on the Edge of Forever is a good song, but sounds reminiscent of other songs in the band’s oeuvre. Test Tape No.3 puts Laird-Clowes’ guitar up front in the mix to fine effect. Things We Said Today puts a mopey spin on the Beatles classic, while the dark mood continues on another original, These Walls. Living in A War sounds like the band had just finished listening to hours of Howard Jones, but it somehow suits their style well. Immaculate Heartache is a gentle piece with a fantastic chorus and again begs the question why this wasn’t on a proper album. The final track is the epic House of Heartbreak, clocking in at over eight minutes. The mood of the song beautifully evokes the title. The song is a slow burn, allowing slide guitar and synth bass to carry the overwhelming melancholy over the length of the composition.

Disc Six is the least interesting of the batch. Comprised of instrumental versions of a dozen songs from throughout the Dream Academy’s catalogue, it serves to make two points. First, this band had some incredibly talented musicians. Second, it was their vocal arrangements that helped to set them apart. If you’re a fan of karaoke, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, one listen seems sufficient, with one exception. The disc ends with a largely wordless choral piece titled In Suspendium. See second point.

If you’re a fan of extended mixes (and I typically am), disc seven has plenty of them. The problem for me is that, of the dozen tunes on offer, six of them are various versions of the Lennon tune, Love, one right after the other. By the third version, I found myself almost wishing for Chinese water torture instead. Proof that there CAN be too much of a good thing. The mixes of Life in A Northern Town and Indian Summer don’t add much to one’s appreciation of the songs beyond length. Still, the disc is not a total loss. Moredchai Vanunu is a sombre and bare track telling the woeful story of the titular character. Closing out the disc is Heaven (Pts.1 & 2), a combination of what seem to be several ideas strung together. Beginning with an interesting instrumental melting into sumptuous choral vocals, it segues into what at first sounds like an ordinary, slow pop tune until the disparate pieces coalesce into a beautiful whole for a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.

Religion, Revolution and Railways shows what a unique band The Dream Academy were. It also shows the problem with exhaustive box sets. Just because there are multiple versions of a song does not mean they are all created equally. For that reason, I would recommend this set only to completists; the non-album songs could have been worthy of any of their official releases. The instrumental and extended versions don’t hold interest after one or two listens, at least not for me. Finally, Cherry Red usually includes extensive liner notes as part of their box sets. This one has an interesting essay from singer Nick Laird-Clowes, which inexplicably ends with the success of Life in A Northern Town. I would have loved to hear more about the subsequent history of the band. All three members have remained in the music business, so it would have been good to hear their takes on where the band went and why it ended. Luckily, there is a detailed list of contributors to the three albums, and what an interesting group it is. Some insight into those collaborations would have been welcome. If you are unfamiliar with this band, do yourself a favor and seek them out. However, unless you are already a stalwart fan, Religion, Revolution and Railways might not be the best place to begin.

Disc One: The Dream Academy

01. Life in A Northern Town (4:19)
02. The Edge of Forever (4:23)
03. (Johnny) New Light (4:22)
04. In Places on the Run (4:27)
05. This World (5:07)
06. Bound to Be (3:08)
07. Moving On (5:14)
08. The Love Parade (3:47)
09. The Party (5:06)
10. One Dream (2:32)

Time – 42:25

Disc Two: Remembrance Days
01. Indian Summer (4:57)
02. The Lesson of Love (4:40)
03. Humdrum (4:18)
04. Power to Believe (5:14)
05. Hampstead Girl (3:42)
06. Here (4:24)
07. In the Hands of Love (4:49)
08. Ballad in 4/4 (3:59)
09. Doubleminded (3:52)
10. Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime (3:43)
11. In Exile (For Rodrigo Rojas) (6:44)

Time – 50:22

Disc Three: A Different Kind of Weather
01. Love (3:44)
02. Mercy Killing (4:44)
03. Lucy September (3:06)
04. Gaby Says (5:03)
05. Waterloo (5:04)
06. Twelve-Eight Angel (4:18)
07. St, Valentine’s Day (2:45)
08. It’ll Never Happen Again (3:32)
09. Forest Fire (4:15)
10. Lowlands (3:47)
11. Not for Second Prize (2:53)

Time – 43:11

Disc Four: The River Ran On…
01. The Love Parade (Remix) (3:56)
02. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (3:07)
03. Girl in A Million (For Edie Sedgwick) (3:47)
04. In Places on the Run (Edit) (3:42)
05. In the Heart (3:10)
06. The Chosen Few (4:29)
07. Indian Summer (Single Version) (4:26)
08. Hampstead Girl (B/V Mix) (3:42)
09. Sunrising (4:50)
10. The Demonstration (4:22)
11. The Last Day of the War (Pt.1) (2:00)
12. The Last Day of the War (4:49)

Time – 46:20

Disc Five: Be-Sides
01. The Day it Rained Forever (2:52)
02. Poised on the Edge of Forever (3:35)
03. Test Tape No.3 (5:06)
04. Bound to Be (Demo) (2:39)
05. Things We Said Today (2:56)
06. Doubleminded (Demo) (3:45)
07. These Walls (4:38)
08. The Party (Acoustic Version) (3:32)
09. Living in A War (4:17)
10. Immaculate Heartache (5:07)
11. House of Heartbreak (8:16)

Time – 46:43

Disc Six: Back Tracked
01. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental) (3:07)
02. The Love Parade (Instrumental) (3:32)
03. Humdrum (Instrumental) (4:19)
04. The Power to Believe (Instrumental) (4:39)
05. Hampstead Girl (Instrumental) (3:41)
06. Here (Instrumental) (4:23)
07. In the Hands of Love (B/V Mix) (4:53)
08. Ballad in 4/4 (Instrumental) (3:59)
09. Doubleminded (Instrumental) (3:53)
10. Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime (Instrumental) (3:44)
11. In Exile (For Rodrigo Rojas) (Instrumental) (6:44)
12. The Demonstration (Instrumental) (4:05)
13. In Suspendium (1:37)

Time – 52:36

Disc Seven: Love Etc…
01. Life in A Northern Town (Extended) (5:21)
02. The Love Parade (12” Mix) (6:16)
03. Indian Summer (Extended) (6:50)
04. Angel of Mercy (12/8 Mix) (5:59)
05. Mordechai Vanunu (5:40)
06. Love (7 Extended Mix) (5:01)
07. Love (Dreamstrumental) (5:09)
08. Love (Dream House) (7:36)
09. Love (Love is 12) (6:54)
10. Love (Whales in Love) (4:02)
11. Love (Hare Krishna Mix) (7:02)
12. Heaven (Pts.1 & 2) (4:32)

Time – 70:22

Total Time – 5:51:59

Nick Laird-Clowes – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Piano, Banjo
Gilbert Gabriel – Keyboards, Vocals, Dub Bass
Kate St. John – Vocals, Oboe, Cor Anglais, Saxophone, Piano Accordion
With numerous guest musicians

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 23rd February 2024

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