The Lemon Twigs

Go to School

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AllMusic Review by

When the Lemon Twigs' 2016 debut Do Hollywood arrived, it sounded like a weird dream where an even more over-the-top Sparks covered Harry Nilsson. If the band sounded like they were raised on musical theater and power pop, it's because they were, with brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario born to '70s multi-instrumentalist/songwriter father Ronnie D'Addario and musician mother Susan Hall, who helped them realize their young dreams as child actors. With parents that introduced them early on to dazzling rock & roll and Broadway musicals, the glam-infused pop sound that materialized by the time the teenagers started making records of their own is no surprise. Do Hollywood followed a similar framework of bite-sized references to classic rock as Foxygen, whose Jonathan Rado produced the album. With sophomore album Go to School, the brothers take that blueprint to even more ambitious heights, presenting the album as a musical following the loose storyline of a chimp raised by human parents. If this weren't an outlandish enough place to start, Go to School takes every outrageous impulse as far as possible, infusing glam theatrics, musical theater camp, and even guest appearances from power pop legends into already crowded maximalist pop songs. The record charges out of the gates with Bat Out of Hell intensity with "Never in My Arms, Always in My Heart," melodramatic glockenspiel and bratty lead vocals telling a story of lovers unable to have children and setting the scene for the winding storyline that follows over the next 14 tracks. Those paying close enough attention will be able to follow the storyline and cast of characters, but there's enough to enjoy in the sheer scope of ambition these songs offer. Todd Rundgren (playing one of the adoptive parents of the chimp) sings on the raging "Rock Dreams" as well as the jumpy '70s rock-modeled "Never Know." Big Star drummer Jody Stephens drums on "The Student Becomes the Teacher," one of a few moments on Go to School that reflects the massive influence of Big Star. "Queen of My School" lands in near-tribute territory, with the Twigs embodying the production and vocal style of Alex Chilton with hints of Dwight Twilley for good measure. The album shifts between modes of overblown '70s-rock delight as with these songs or standout songs like "The Fire," and moves into more orchestral, Broadway-inspired moments like "Born Wrong/Heart Song" or the syrupy ballad "If You Give Enough." Much as they've committed entirely to the detail-obsessed throwback weirdness of their first album, Lemon Twigs commit wholeheartedly to the bizarre narrative that Go to School is built on. Leaving no ridiculous tangent or exaggerated flourish unexplored, the result is a larger-than-life spectacle grown from strange but excellent songwriting.

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