Royal Academy of Reality

Swimming Pool Q's

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Royal Academy of Reality Review

by Mark Deming

Not many bands work up the ambition to record a new album ten years after going on long-term hiatus (and after 14 years away from the studio), but "ambition" is certainly one of the first words that comes to mind while attempting to describe The Royal Academy of Reality, the first recording project since 1989 for the Swimming Pool Q's. Anyone who remembers the intelligent, intricate, and idiosyncratic pop of the band's previous work is in for a very big surprise with this album; spreading 20 songs over 70 minutes and recorded with a lush, wide-screen grandeur that puts the group's major-label catalog to shame, much of The Royal Academy of Reality suggests a blend of psychedelia, prog rock, and new age soundscapes as interpreted by a handful of college-educated eccentrics from the deep South. Jeff Calder and Bob Elsey, the group's frontmen, recorded this album in bits and pieces with a massive cast of supporting players over the space of nearly ten years, and they have to be congratulated for the strength of their vision; while these 20 pieces run from smart pop to semi-orchestral anthems to aural backdrops as delicate as spider's webs, there is a remarkable cohesion and thematic unity here as the reconstituted Q's musically ponder the fate of the Earth and our corner of the universe. Given its stylistic and thematic scope, it feels strange to report that if The Royal Academy of Reality has a flaw, it's that this album needs more material to tie together its many disparate elements; this set covers so much ground that it sometimes sounds as if a few of the stops along the way got lost in the re-telling. But the striking scale and superb craft of this album are impressive by any standard, and you have to congratulate the Swimming Pool Q's for pulling off such an accomplishment while left to their own devices; if it isn't quite a masterpiece, it's an accomplishment no one who hears it can casually dismiss.

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