I was too busy with a demanding job and a growing family to listen to much pop music during the 1980s. What I did hear usually came from friends who sent me tapes. But somehow or other I did hear The Dream Academy’s debut single, “Life In A Northern Town. ” I seem to remember hearing it from some distance, perhaps from someone else’s car radio (commercial radio in the area was a wasteland into which I didn’t venture very often). Maybe that gave the song’s striking chorus an added hint of wistfulness. At any rate, I’ve always wanted to hear it properly, so when something reminded me of it recently I bought the whole album from over-priced and irritating iTunes.
I’m happy to report that “Life In A Northern Town” is a great song. According to AMG it’s intended to be an elegy for Nick Drake; this knowledge gives the nostalgic atmosphere and the mysterious departure described in the last verse an added tincture of melancholy. However, I’m sorry to report that the rest of the album is a bit of a letdown in comparison. The other songs are good, in a complex and interesting way, but, for me at any rate, they don’t quite connect emotionally. Still, it’s a very fine album, with elaborate arrangements and production that are always throwing something not quite expected at you. The songs would have benefited from a better singer—the one male voice that carries nearly all the load is decent enough but something stronger and richer would have helped the songs. Occasionally the production slips over into the excessively slick and grandiose sound that seemed to be popular through much of the ’70s and ‘80s. But those are minor flaws. All in all, it’s a very fine piece of work. And you probably really need “Life In A Northern Town,” even if you have to buy it from iTunes.