Monday, September 17, 2018

The Lemon Twigs Go To School, Part Two

The Lemon Twigs just released what might end up being my favorite album of 2018.

But first---

My introduction to The Lemon Twigs was late night television and I was quite frankly blown away. This, I am sure, is why their full length debut, "Do Hollywood" was a disappointment to me. The live performances, both on the tube and YouTube, were outstanding. These D'Addario kids had talent oozing out of their pores, they were confident and they served it up like musicians who had been doing it their whole lives, and yet their average age is 20. "Do Hollywood," on the other hand, came off as too many ideas with little focus and weak production.

Since then, the hype has been non-stop, with relentless comparisons to all my musical heroes, from Todd Rundgren and David Bowie to Nilsson, Cheap Trick, Big Star and back again. And now, a concept album about a couple who cannot have children, so they adopt a chimpanzee named Shane, who goes to school, gets bullied, commits arson and kills 100 people in a fire. As Mojo magazine pointed out, at least it makes more sense than "Tommy."

The Lemon Twigs were on the verge of becoming more trouble to me than they were worth. By now, I was too overwhelmed to care. What I wanted was a new record by a new band with influences right in my wheelhouse, you know, like a perfect Saturday, record shopping in Asbury Park. (See Part One.) Instead, I was getting two smug kids, in over their heads, delivering some unlistenable double album about a monkey. The advance press wasn't helping. Some loved it. Some hated it. Best laid plans, you know...I no longer cared about The Lemon Twigs, and I already had tickets to see them live.

The album arrived on Friday in a beautiful gatefold package. I took a deep breath and listened once, cleansed the palate with that recent unreleased Coltrane album, took a few more deep breaths and listened a second time.

The Lemon Twigs Go To School is triumphant!

The story/book does not matter. Forget about chimp. Okay! Forget about the chimp, damnit!

If you have taken anything from Burning Wood in ten years, it's that I've been moaning all this time about new artists and their inability to write songs and create memorable records. So who would I be now if I didn't embrace work as ambitious as "The Lemon Twigs Go To School?"

Not all of the 60 minutes works, but most of it works like a charm. If I told you I discovered an unreleased Big Star tune and played you "Queen Of My School," you'd be gobsmacked. If I told you that Todd Rundgren hasn't sounded more Rundgren-y since "Something/Anything?" than he does on "Never Know," you'd agree, assuming you like Todd in the first place.  Even the ballad, "Lonely" would have fit perfectly on "A Wizard/A True Star."

"Go To School" is a masterwork, maybe too ambitious for those of you who need something as raw as the Stooges, as basic as early Stones or as primitive as the Velvet Underground. But records like "Ziggy Stardust," "Tommy," and "S.F. Sorrow" did not come out of the womb legendary. Do I think "The Lemon Twigs Go To School" is destined for legendary status? No. I am not that crazy. But, if you claim to love music, this record should not be dismissed. If you claim to love the classic rock of the 70's, the Raspberries, The Kinks, The E Street Band or 10cc, all with carefully orchestrated arrangements, vocals and musicianship, than a misguided story line should not get in the way of one of the most musical albums I have heard in years.  There is a lot to love here and it is worth your time.


buzzbabyjesus said...

I had exactly the same introduction to The Lemon Twigs, and was equally disapointed with "Do Hollywood".
I adopted a "wait and see" policy on the band until they transcended their talent, and wrote some actual fucking songs.

I saw a review of "Go To School", checked out "The Fire" on YouTube, which I kinda liked, but hated to album cover and was going to pass until your "Part 1" yesterday.
I downloaded it in anticipation of today's positive review.
I also opted for the "Brothers Of Destruction Ep.

Haven't heard any of it yet, but fingers crossed, here I go.
I'm rooting for the band.

cmealha said...

First, how did you get the album already. I'm, still waiting for delivery.

On the whole I think the album has a lot of moments of transcendent brilliance but I agree with you that everything doesn't work. For such young kids, attempting a work of this scope is an act of pure audaciousness. There are beautiful songs like 'The Lesson', 'Lonely' and the unbelievable 'If You Give Enough' but then there's 'Small Victories' which seems like they came up with a couple of interesting separate songs and then shoe horned them together. Also, there was a bit too much of the nasally Broadway singing style when a straighter vocal may have been more effective

Those are small criticisms because throughout it all you can see the brilliance and the promise of so much more to come which has me excited. I give it an A+ for effort and A- overall.

Shriner said...

OK -- I'll give it a shot. I, too, was one of those who wondered what I was missing about the debut album, but I try pretty hard not to disparage things I don't like any more (life is too short) so I never had anything to say about it previously.

Anonymous said...

The songs you pointed out are on the money with their reference points and are great, but the Broadway-style singing (as pointed out above) on other songs is just killing me.


cmealha said...


The more I listen, the less annoying it becomes because there is so much other wonderful stuff going on. The arrangements are brilliant.


Sal Nunziato said...

In defense of the B'way style singing--it really isn't on more than a few songs. But also, if this was indeed envisioned as a concept, it makes some sense. If you are not a fan of the B'way musical, then I completely get the aversion. But think of Bowie singing "Time" or "Five Years" or for that matter, anything! Rundgren was influenced heavily by Gilbert & Sullivan, Pirates Of Penzance, etc. Maybe it has no place in rock and roll, but this is very much NOT your average rock and roll record.

hpunch said...

I only listened once so far ( too obsessed with the new Richard Thompson). I embrace all concept albums ( as you well know, from my constant praising of Soap Opera alone. ). I didn't even catch the plot, thanks for pointing it out to me. I was kind of let down at the beginning of the record, but then started loving it towards the end. I have a feeling I'm going to feel the way you do in a few more listens.

ken49 said...

There is certainly some talent there as some of these songs are complex and at the same time have great hooks and hidden melodies. The singing on some songs is going to take some time for me to adjust to it.

pmac said...

Reminds me somewhat of The Honeydogs "!0,000 Years" concept album. Thanks for the share.

Dr Wu said...

It’s L.O.V.E. at first listen. Beautiful. And sooo glam! Thanks for the share, Sal! Totally in my wheelhouse.

Chris Collins said...


heartsofstone said...

Such range for young musicians. It may not all work, but what an attempt. Great Todd cameo.