If there is one way to describe Fast Times at Barrington High perfectly, it’s as an album that is musically superior to anything The Academy Is… has produced before, yet the majority of what each song means is really below what the talented William Beckett should be writing about. Lyrically it’s not as good as their previous two albums, but brief flashes of brilliance, like in Coppertone prove that Beckett does have it in him. Another problem the album has, like several other reviewers have mentioned, is that the songs blend together if you listen to the album in one sitting. Not in the good way that Almost Here achieved. Sometimes, especially during your second or third listening, you may find yourself confused as to which song you’re listening too. Until you know some of the lyrics, you may confuse the middle part of the album that hadn’t already been released online. Beckett’s voice also sounds horribly overproduced. If you’ve ever seen them live or heard a live recording, you know that it sounds much better raw. Even “Pour Yourself A Drink”, a far too short song on their From the Carpet EP, is a demo, yet Beckett’s voice sounds powerful and emotional and raw and everything most people desire from their music. Needless to say, he still sounds much better than most of the singers out there, and his vocals could have been a high point on the album. This review probably sounds extremely negative right now, but it is still a good album, and maybe if it had been released from a different band I might have thought it phenomenal, but The Academy Is… did set their expectations high with both their previous efforts and all the talk that the band had done about it. I was not disappointed; I just didn’t feel like I got all of what I expected.
The album starts out with About a Girl, the first song I heard from the album on Warped Tour. The first time I listened to the studio version, I was not incredibly fond of it. It sounds much better live, because Beckett’s vocals are truly strained and you do believe that he is really not in love and this really isn’t his heart. The studio version is probably the most overproduced on the album. It takes repeated listenings to get used to, and if you heard it on Warped Tour or even watched video clips on Youtube of it, William sounds like he’s almost over enunciating his words in this version. Summer Hair = Forever Young was the first song that I truly liked as more then just catchy new material from my favorite band on the album. When I heard it on Warped Tour, I had no idea what he was saying half the time but it had an infectious guitar riff going for it. The lyrics are not complex at all, but that did not stop me from loving it. It does have a bit of overproduction, especially at the beginning, but that does not stop the bridge at the end from hitting home no matter whether you’re in love or just saying goodbye to a friend. My least favorite song on the album, His Girl Friday, has never caught my attention at all. Just like Season on Almost Here, if I’m consciously listening I tend to hit the skip button. It has nothing to do with the content of the song or anything. I just am bored by the overly repetitive yet at the same time strangely complex chorus. It sounds too gimmicky and desperate for radio play that I just don’t like it. Not to mention Beckett’s voice sounds incredibly like a monotone when he sings in the lower range for an entire verse. My current favorite from the album, The Test, is fourth, and starts the middle part of the album that sounds the same at first until After the Last Midtown Show. Once you listen to the album more than twice you’ll be able to tell the difference like a piece of cake. The Test, like the bridge on Summer Hair = Forever Young, does not necessarily have to be about girls, although Beckett wrote it so. In high school, everybody goes through drama with someone they thought was their best friend, and the line ‘You’re a stranger I know well’ captures the sometimes shallow connections a person can make with someone they want to be their best friend. It’s the first real depth on the album. Rumored Nights, a song about discovering your significant other is cheating on you, is executed surprisingly well, as it isn’t a type of song I’ve heard done good other than by female country singers [see Carrie Underwood’s ‘Before He Cheats’] and the tone changes are perfect, the guitars matching the building despair that Beckett sings. The high notes on this song also seem untouched by the overproduction that the beginning of the album suffered from. Automatic Eyes is a solid song, but it does not really set itself apart as something special. Perhaps it’s because it’s sandwiched between Rumored Nights and another highlight, Crowded Room. It starts out with a Gabe Saporta from Cobra Starship rap that is pure brilliance because it’s both catchy and shocking, because I wasn’t expecting it the first time I listened to it. I read one review that said it was like an Avril Lavigne song done right, and that is accurate and not an insult, at least the way I look at it. It was inevitable after choosing to start it with an Avril’s Girlfriend or Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl-esque rap and ending it with a chanting of no, no in the background. Coppertone is another personal favorite because it sounds a lot like Almost Here, except much more musically mature. The chant of “These are the fast times” is a setback lyrically from one of the best-written songs on the album, one that kept it from being the highlight of the album for me. And then comes After the Last Midtown Show. It will no doubt be compared to Everything We Had, as I will do, but for me, after a slow start, it surpasses Everything We Had. The imagery in this song [oh, rhetorical strategies] is beautiful. The echoes are a little annoying, but you can only really hear them if you’re focusing on them. And when he launches into the second part, his voice sounds amazing. It’s one of the most honest songs I’ve ever heard about young love. Beware! Cougar! is a strange one. I read the lyrics before I heard the song and I totally envisioned another Checkmarks, except with the older woman twist. That’s not really what it is. But it is still very good. Paper Chase is catchy and its chorus was the one I found stuck in my head after my first listen. Perhaps ‘cause it’s towards the end. I don’t know. One More Weekend is a fantastic finale, although I can totally see After the Last Midtown Show closing it out again, like Almost Here closed out Almost Here. But One More Weekend suffices.
As of right now, I have not heard the bonus tracks. I'll edit when I have.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 [to compare, Almost Here was 10 out of 10 and Santi was 9.5 out of 10.]
Rumored Nights [ musically ]
After the Last Midtown Show [ lyrically ]
The Test [ overall ]
Coppertone [ overall ]