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LIAM NAUGHTON AND THE EDUCATORS Leaning In gets 7.5/10

Liam Naughton and the Educators
Leaning In
Independent

7.5/10

Five years since his debut EP Cornerstone, Irish-born and now Perth resident Liam Naughton has returned with his debut album Leaning In. While there was plenty to like about that first taste of Naughton’s work it really was just an appetiser. This full length is more of a main course, drawing from a deeper well of influences and experiences and bringing them out with a full band (ie The Educators tacked onto the name) to illustrate a broader and more complete picture of Naughton as a musician, songwriter and a person. Leaning In is a meandering journey through alternative music centred around 90s guitar rock, as Naughton connects the dots between diverse influences and the experiences and emotions he seeks to reconcile lyrically in the process.

The album kicks of in a jangly college rock fashion with Life in Technicolour, reminiscent of early REM, while Party Words is a more subdued display which channels circumspect UK songwriters like Billy Bragg and post-Smiths Morrissey but without the pensive, and occasionally dated political messages clouding the mix. These really are songs about life, good friends, girls and the ever familiar frustrations of succumbing to society’s cake-tin mould of working a job when really your creative endeavours are pulling you elsewhere. The track probably also has the best guitar riffs of the album while Naughton shows his expansive vocal range and a tone that sits somewhere between some of the icons of his adopted homeland like Paul Dempsey and Tim Rogers.

New One is a hillbilly stomp that probably diverges a little too far from the path of previous tracks and although the melody is catch and the bass is boppy, it’s a tired formula that you feel you’ve come to understand well enough by the first few bars. The riffs on Liam Naughton’s songs seem to borrow from a widescreen selection of influences largely, from the mid 80s to mid 90s but never being pinned down to one exactly. Bipolar first reminds you of Courtney Barnett’s Lance Jr, which in turn reminds you of Nirvana’s About a Girl and it’s funny how someone bringing in influences from the likes of these finally got you to notice how so many others do it too.

Stupid Questions has sparkling acoustic guitar tones underpinning lyrics that are personal but not indulgently confessional and instead tinted with allegory in a way that really gives the songs the chance to breathe. Where the Chips Fall is also a more tender track that builds to the highest of heights on the release. Promise x Ur Heart is definitely something pulled from the Smashing Pumpkins’ playbook with warm and yet sinister guitar lines, although the vocals might not soar above it all as much with Naughton himself remaining true in his approach amongst the variety of different musical styles and influences on display throughout the LP. The closer Combat Kevin lets the lead guitar off the chain and it’s certainly impressive from a skill perspective – although it is a reminder that despite the great players on this album that’s not what you are going to take away from it.

Liam Naughton is a unique voice telling his story through music on this, his first full-length album. It felt like he really leant towards making it a more rock and roll album and that’s fine but the strongest moments and the ones that will stick with you the most were the songs where the band was complementary rather than steering the ship. The more tender and open tracks like Party Words and Where the Chips Fall put Naughton’s songwriting and personality to the forefront and that’s worth more to the listener in the end. Despite pulling in different musical directions at times this is a rich offering delivered with passion and poise.

BRAYDEN EDWARDS

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