It’s safe to say that musicals are on trend at the moment. There have been some incredible releases in the past year, with The Greatest Showman and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to name just two. So, it’s hardly surprising that the musical entity has found its way into Indie music; it was only really a matter of time.
Queue The Lemon Twigs with their second full-length album ‘Go To School’. The record is a sixteen-track musical, telling the story of an adopted chimp named Shane who is raised by his human parents, Bill and Carol. As far as musicals go, this is pretty wacky. The duo – Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario – recorded the entire thing in their parents’ basement, giving the album a definitively DIY-feel.
What’s less than impressive is the actual music itself. I’m not sure if the concept a musical raised my expectations, but I was let down by the album. Many of the tracks feel forced, such as opener ‘Never In My Arms, Always In My Heart’. This is when we’re introduced to the human characters, but it isn’t the storytelling that is at fault. The musicality doesn’t match the narrative, resulting in a song that’s pushing itself too far.
Our introduction to Shane, however, is a little better. ‘The Student Becomes The Teacher’ is almost a monologue. It tells of his feelings of entrapment after learning about a place called ‘school’ on his TV. He yearns to be a part of that community so “people remember him alive”. The production is much more appealing, taking a subtler approach that pays off.
‘Rock Dreams’ is a duet between Carol and Bill and is the first time we hear their vocals. Bill is played by cult rocker Todd Rundgren, whilst the role of Carol is filled by the brothers’ mum, Susan. Their vocals are good for this track, however they slowly start to grate on the ears as the musical proceeds. There are also too many sections squeezed into this regret-fuelled five minutes, leading to a track that almost sounds jumpy and overdone.
There are some gems amongst the strange disappointment. ‘Queen Of My School’ features warbling harmonised vocals and dotted conversational approaches. The simpler setup is skilfully composed and deserves a listen, even if you can’t make it through the whole album.
‘The Fire’ is another standout, proving that although the overall execution isn’t dazzling, the characters are at least multidimensional. This song tells of Shane’s explosive feelings which lead him to burn down his school, an act that “took a hundred lives away”. Somehow, you start to sympathise with a murderous fictional monkey, which is usually a sign that you should re-evaluate your life choices.
The Lemon Twigs, this record and the musical it holds, have a lot of potential. However, expectations and crammed productions let it all down. If, in the unlikely event, this does become the soundtrack to an actual musical, a lot of work needs to be done to boost it to its best. It is a decent album if you’re looking for something completely bonkers, just don’t expect it to appear on Elaine Paige’s BBC Radio 2 show any time soon.