[sic] Magazine

The Lemon Twigs – Go To School

With a notoriety owing as much to their haircuts as their tunes, The Lemon Twigs are Long Island rich kids with an extensive musical upbringing. As Brian and Michael D’Addario‘s 2016 debut Do Hollywood proved, however, the preciously young brothers are prone to undeniable flotsam, yet so too are they capable of some lovely indie/psych-pop melodies. Stepping up now from Do Hollywood’s already flamboyant glam-rock into conceptual – let’s also generously call it “ambitious” – 70s rock-musical territory (the artwork confirms it), it’s a fair bet you’ll absolutely hate the band now if you couldn’t stomach them then.

Go To School is an hour long and it was written, recorded and produced by the brothers and, get ready for this, it’s about a grieving couple who, on the stillborn birth of their child, decide to adopt a chimpanzee. Said ape, Shane, soon tires of home life and yearns to – yep, you guessed it – go to school, where – perhaps predictably – things don’t quite go to plan. The album also houses some serious Mom issues, the brothers’ real mother Susan Hall playing that role here and the father character – why ever not?! – is taken by classic-rock hero Todd Rundgren. If this all sounds cute, it quickly isn’t. Trust us when we say it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Also a clumsy, sumptuously indulgent allegory on the USA’s modern-day racial tensions, gender/sexuality challenges, and the subsequent issues of “fitting in”, Go To School features a huge supporting cast of backing vocalists and instruments for hire as well, which includes a Theremin and, unsurprisingly at this point, Jody Stephens of Big Star occasionally on drums to boot. The multi-instrumentalist brothers also bring double bass, cello, banjo, mandolin and chimes to the party, consequently laying down a lavishly arranged rock-opera with all the trappings of a big budget sophomore studio album, and as a result it’s also a very confused one.

Despite The Lemon Twigs’ obvious talent and musicianship, their showmanship too often spoils things. Too much style over insufficient substance, some of even comes off as unremarkable, which in the eyes of attention seekers such as these, must surely be seen as criminal, particularly on a track like “Queen Of My School”, a number that – lest we forget – is about the prom queen getting busy with a chimp. With so much going on, the listen too often still manages to smooth out into a suspiciously slick potion, the only feathers being ruffled being those worn by snobby critics that sneer offhandedly at the retro extravagance of it all – the counter argument being that, of course, some of these same people probably don’t think they make music like they used to. Well, here’s proof that they do, but also an answer as to why they don’t do it regularly.

Pure School of Rock fantasy, there’s dodgy lyrics and overblown theatrics at every turn. The big, bouncy opener rasps like Rod Stewart and struts like Mick Jagger. Shaggy FM-radio rock, the sound is taken to full 70s excess later on during the honky-tonking “This Is My Tree”, barroom piano and sax a full-on Rolling Stones wet dream. Along the way you’ll also encounter the creak of outsider alt-country, Latin-inflected rhythm sections, squiggling wah wah, massive chorus drops, teary piano ballads and a bonkers bonus closer that rolls like end-credits.

Shades of the never-understated Bowie elsewhere, there’s also crunching drums and guitar scales borrowed from Queen and, in fairness, the brothers do still know their way around a decent melody as “The Lesson” tries to prove, only to be thwarted by rinky-dink Paul McCartney nonsense and herein lies the biggest problem. The Lemon Twigs wear their hearts on their sleeves; they are what they are, but that means you can only rarely take them seriously. The makings of “The Bully”, for example, ought to be a sombre subject and yet they’re treated to a bossa nova lounge shuffle and spirited horns for some reason. The strings and woodwind of “Born Wrong/Heart Song” set the backdrop for a stirring vocal solo that, spot-lit alone pleading a fluttery falsetto to the balcony and pit, would make even the likes of Rufus Wainwright blush. Even during the rousing climax of “The Fire” you have to ignore the silly bits to enjoy the freewheelin’ country-rock and imagery of a chimp burning the school down with his classmates still inside otherwise on offer. The best days of your life never seemed so exhausting.

Best track: “The Fire”

~Go To School is released August 24th 2018 via 4AD.~