The Academy Is...

Fast Times at Barrington High

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    8
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For half a decade, the Academy Is... watched from the sidelines as Fall Out Boy became the Midwestern kings of emo. Fast Times at Barrington High makes a well-deserved grab for the crown, though, flaunting a combination of rock & roll bombast and pop-schooled songwriting. It's hard to tell how much credit belongs to frontman William Beckett, whose vocals and songwriting skills have nicely progressed since the band's debut, and which accolades go to Sam Hollander and Dave Katz, the production team otherwise known as S*A*M & Sluggo. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the album's first six songs, all written with the duo's help, are also the most radio-ready pop numbers here. "Summer Hair = Forever Young" is a fist-pumping declaration to youth and warm weather, while "His Girl Friday" -- the highlight of side A -- boasts the sort of muscled, sugary chorus found on albums by Motion City Soundtrack and Jimmy Eat World. The mood changes slightly during the album's latter half, where Beckett takes over the songwriting reigns and steers his band closer to the rock camp. "Beware! Cougar!" is a particular highlight, while "After the Last Midtown Show" pays tribute to Gabe Saporta's former band with piano flourishes and vocal harmonies. Fast Times at Barrington High doesn't go to the hoop with every song, but it scores more than enough points to make it a career highlight, not to mention one of the best emo-pop albums of 2008.

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