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DREAM ACADEMY (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Dream Academy (Warner Bros.) 1985
Remembrance Days (Reprise) 1987
A Different Kind of Weather (UK Blanco y Negro) 1990 (Reprise) 1991
ACT
Too Late at 20 (Hannibal) 1981

In a shocking success story, Dream Academy's easy-listening, generally dull pop found its way to the top of America's record charts in 1985. "Life in a Northern Town," the atmospheric Association-like '60s novelty tune (acoustic guitars, chanted vocals, cellos, tympani), is pleasant, pretentious and shallow, but nothing else on the first LP comes close to being as catchy or characteristic. Nick Laird-Clowes is at best a bland vocalist; his partners (Gilbert Gabriel, keyboards; Kate St. John, woodwinds, horns) are equally inadequate to his Thompson Twins fantasies. The LP employs many guest musicians; David Gilmour co-produced most of the tracks.

The riot of credits on Remembrance Days acknowledges production work by Hugh Padgham, Lindsey Buckingham and others. It's another airy record — stunningly clean, precise, sophisticated and of absolutely no significance. Dream Academy has thankfully abandoned the nostalgia gimmick, but Laird-Clowes' songs are still trifles, with clumsy lyrics that smack more of education than imagination. If Prefab Sprout didn't exist, Dream Academy would still be second-rate, an ornate frame for a missing picture.

Other than a disrespectful acid house rendition of John Lennon's "Love" (with guest chanting by Poly Styrene!) and the reasonably catchy "Mercy Killing," A Different Kind of Weather offers little vitality or stylistic variation on the trio's lush pop formulae. St. John's oboe and soprano sax is an effective antidote to blandness, but the languid material is almost characterless, relegating the album to handsomely accomplished ambience for the old at heart. Odd career path: Laird-Clowes wound up working with latter-day Pink Floyd.

Prior to Dream Academy, Laird-Clowes led the more down-to-earth Act. On the band's lone album, impeccable production gives his controlled passion and the band's tight, tasteful playing a clearly deserved chance to be heard. Elvis Costello and Tom Petty appear to be the Act's major influences (there are also nods to the Byrds and Springsteen) but the quartet rises above derivation, giving such songs as "Touch and Go" and "The Long Island Sound" indelible emotional authenticity.

[Ira Robbins]