As has often been remarked, even by the band itself, the ingredients that go into School of Athens' sound can seem a bit incongruous: modern-rock riffing, a little ivory-tinkling, proggy breaks and the dramatic bombast of Drew Fogle's musical-theater-style vocals. It's overwrought, overdone and in all ways excessive. In other words, quite a bit like an indie-rock Queen -- and who wouldn't do that if they could?
Surely, My Chemical Romance doesn't have that one sewn up yet.
The Manuscript, School of Athens' new CD, kicks off with Fogle singing, "My empty soul, so dirty / will soon be tempered by the fires of hell." The band's slightly campy sense of humor makes this sentiment hard to read, especially when the song is bizarrely derailed halfway through by a kind of cabaret-ska interlude. In a similar narrative style, fan favorite "Blues in D Minus" tells a lust-for-fame story that again suggests an almost compulsive ironic distance.
But if the first few songs are an introduction to School of Athens' more-is-more, no-holds-barred style, the second half of the CD contains the superior material. "Kids With Guns" and "Chameleon" contain some intriguing musical ideas, particularly in Neal Rosenblat's atmospheric guitar lines. And "Aftermath," the disc's most Ben Foldsy piano number, packs loads of genuine melodic pleasure, punctuated by good-vibrations guitar and sun-drenched '70s vocal harmonies.