Album review: The Lemon Twigs are much more than retro on 'Go to School'
The thing about rock and roll is: if it's good, it's good. It doesn't matter if you're trying to sound like someone from 40 or 50 years ago -- it's not necessarily about innovating as much as it is about achieving a certain feeling of power and a...
The thing about rock and roll is: if it's good, it's good. It doesn't matter if you're trying to sound like someone from 40 or 50 years ago - it's not necessarily about innovating as much as it is about achieving a certain feeling of power and a touch of mystery. It's about the spirit of the thing, the craft. Rock and roll is like a house or a car or a lawnmower or a hat - it doesn't matter that it's the newest design. It matters whether it works for the user. It's utilitarian.
So, there's no way that The Lemon Twigs can get away without being accused of being "retro," of shooting for a sound that was popular in the '60s. There's just no chance, given how much the band sounds like The Who or Big Star or Todd Rundgren, just to name a few luminaries from rock's past. But it's what they're doing with that set of tools that makes them feel fresh and exciting.
"Go to School" is the second full-length from the Long Island-bred D'Addario brothers, and it's a doozy. The siblings - Brian and Michael - play just about every note on the record, and they have a clear sense of ambition that infuses the proceedings with a wild energy that is infectious. Add to that a focus on drama and songcraft and a clear vision for how they want their songs to be presented sonically, and it's a potent brew.
The record is even a sprawling concept record that is bizarre and not easy to follow, which is another thing the band has in common with their forebears. On this LP, The Lemon Twigs tell the tale of a monkey who is raised by humans to pass as human. This isn't necessarily obvious or even information that would help one enjoy the music, much like no one really needs to know the story of Tommy to like The Who's "Tommy." At the end of the day, it's about the tunes and the performances.
The band comes roaring out of the gate with the drum-driven "Never In My Arms, Always In My Heart," which shows off the skills of Michael, who is only 19 (his brother is 21). The song - as well as much of the record itself - is a solid, melodic composition featuring some Beach Boys choral-style vocals, but it's elevated quite a bit by the flowing, pummeling toms in the drum performance. It's totally Mod stuff - these guys could've easily opened for The Nazz or The Move in '68.
"Queen Of My School" is another barnburner that hinges on a fiery drum performance. The song is heavily indebted vocally and guitar-wise to Alex Chilton, but it's the rollicking drum track that fills the song with life. Big Star never banged so hard. It's songs like these that surely attracted actual Big Star member Jody Stephens and Todd Rundgren himself to guest on the record.
But it's not all rock. As with many '60s bands, the group also has a serious predilection towards ornate chamber-pop that evokes Electric Light Orchestra or things like Love. The bells and layered falsetto vocals on "The Student Becomes the Teacher" demonstrate this, as do the fully-arranged Disney strings on "Born Wrong/Heart Song," a tune that recalls the Bee Gees' pre-disco days.
Again, none of this is new. But what it is is good. "Go to School" is filled with youthful energy and an amazing focus on being totally weird in all the right ways. It's probably one of the year's best records.
Artist: The Lemon Twigs
Album: "Go to School"
Produced and recorded by: The Lemon Twigs
Personnel: Michael D'Addario and Brian D'Addario (most instruments), guests