Review: “Go To School” by The Lemon Twigs
By Charlie Sternberg, Staff Writer
The Lemon Twigs have not taken any breaks from writing music since their debut album “Do Hollywood” came out in 2016. The two brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario, released an ep “Brothers of Destruction” and two singles earlier this year, but the real meat and potatoes that has had fans salivating at the mouth was the prospect of their sophomore album. The Twigs proved that they had the creative aptitude and songwriting chops to write fun music with a retro flair, but the real question was how they would grow and improve. Do Hollywood was a solid debut from the relatively young band, but too many bands fall victim to the sophomore slump and risk falling back into relative obscurity.
The band could have played it safe and done more of the same, which probably would have been fine for most fans, but instead they decided to write a rock musical concept album about a chimpanzee named Shane, who is raised by adoptive parents to believe he is a human boy. Shane convinces his parents to allow him to go to high school where he meets a host of characters and learns some hard lessons. For sure, this was an interesting choice for the boys, but the execution is extremely solid. The tale of Shane is a coming of age story in which the chimp progresses from a naive child into a bitter and defeated tragic figure. Along the way, he falls in love, gets beat-up by the school bully, eats bananas for breakfast, and struggles to make friends. The climax involves a terrible incident which forces Shane into isolation. Straddling the line somewhere between Matilda and The Wall, Go To School is quirky and odd but also deeply affecting.
What strikes me is how there’s an overwhelming sense of authenticity in the lyrics and performances on the album. This isn’t just a story about a chimpanzee going to school, its a deep reflection on alienation and not fitting in. Brian and Michael use Shane as a mouthpiece to open up about their own insecurities and make themselves vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen them do before. Being only nineteen and 21, highschool is still relatively fresh in their minds, so a lot of the experiences feel relatable and realistic.
The orchestral arrangements, which were composed by Brian, are lush and well balanced. The track “Born Wrong/Heart Song” is particularly unique on the album because it ditches the rock instruments for full broadway-style orchestration. The clarinet and strings are gently float around but the horns add a touch of darkness to the fairytale aesthetic. Michael gives one of his best vocal performances on this track, expressing a range of emotions from sadness to anger and hatred.
The song “Lonely” is a heartbreaking moment where Shane laments how he feels different from his classmates. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. The lyrics are angsty and corny, but it’s perfect in the context of the character. Shane is a highschool student overwhelmed with uncertainty and doused in insecurity trying to figure out his own identity; the lyrics should sound more like a diary entry than a shakespearean soliloquy. The song reminds me of myself at that age and the overwhelming social anxiety I would feel when it seemed that everyone was hanging out with their friends after school without me. I’m sure that many listeners will be able to identify with Shane’s sentiments.
Don’t worry though, not everything is just angst and depression. There is a lot of fun to be found in Go To School. For instance, “Queen Of My School” is an old-fashioned rollicking rock song in which Shane’s sexual fantasies are realized. It’s probably the best track to blast and sing-along to in the car because of how energetic and wild it is. Subtlety is thrown out the window here, but a high school story that doesn’t include some awkward sexual discovery and raging hormones is not a believable story at all.
Some other memorable performances include seventies singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren as Shane’s father on the song “Never Know,” Susan Hall as Shane’s bitter mother on the track “Rock Dreams,” and Jody Stephens of Big Star playing drums on “The Student Becomes the Teacher.”
The characters and performances are strong, but there are some themes that feel underdeveloped. “The Student Becomes the Teacher” contains a lyrical reference to violence in schools. When Shane tells his father that he wants to go to school, his father tells him, “There’s just no way / Don’t you ever turn on channel five? / and we want you alive.” I think this concept of how school shootings are portrayed and sensationalized in the media could have been explored a little more. Mass shootings are a huge problem in schools across the country right now and a major source of anxiety for parents, teachers, and students alike which is unique to this generation. Especially given the dramatic climax of the story, it seems out of place that the band would reference and gloss over an issue as prevalent as this.
It’s exciting to see the Lemon Twigs pushing their boundaries and topping themselves in a unique way. Go To School is engaging and relatable. Its nostalgic and sometimes over-indulgent in its over-the-top presentation, but always in a fun way and not a frustrating way. Its light and humorous at at moments, but also heavy and emotional when it needs to be. The story is attractive but the characters and performances are what make it special. Although I wish some ideas were developed more, what strikes me the most about The Lemon Twigs’ musical is how it emphasizes the importance of love and empathy.
In a time when people who disagree are often at each other’s throats, Go To School reminds us that the one thing we all desire deep down inside is to feel loved by someone.