Turns out, people fucking love musicals again. Take a peek at the album charts here in Britain and you’ll see that the soundtracks to some of this year’s biggest cinematic musicals, The Greatest Showman and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, have throttled the top spots for a few months now. So far, it’s stopped heavyweights like Florence & The Machine, James Bay, Nicki Minaj and more from hitting the top spot. The Lemon Twigs are getting in on the musical revival with their second album ‘Go To School’, though there’s a fair chance Cher doing ‘Fernando’ with Andy Garcia will stop this one from topping the charts.
Compared to the aforementioned musicals, ‘Go To School’ has a highly original premise. Here, New York-based bros Brian and Michael D’Addario tell a bonkers tale about an adopted chimp, Shane, who is raised by adopted parents and “thwarted actors/musicians Bill and Carol”. Shane doesn’t quite fit in at his new school, shockingly. Basically, it’s the Grange Hill episode you wished you’d seen on TV as a child
Weirdly, this direction comes as no surprise. The pair spent much of their youth in musicals and their 2016 debut album ‘Do Hollywood’ showcased all the razzle-dazzle of a night on Broadway via grandiose ballads and ‘70s rock odysseys. They’ve become quite the performers, too. Their live shows are liberating and full of silliness, scissor kicks and bombast, it’s no wonder they’ve landed a support slot with Arctic Monkeys on their upcoming UK arena tour.
That silliness translates itself in funny ways. The character-led vocals (Bill is played by cult rocker Todd Rundgren, and Carol by their mum, Susan) are a cute schtick at first, but become grating as we approach the end of this hour-long slog. The plot – paper-thin at best, we should add – takes centre stage, meaning that wicked melodies (which made 2018 standalone single ‘Foolin Around’ so mesmerising) are spurned in favour of an endless chase of the narrative.
‘Go To School’ is in danger of being a complete banana skin, but there are flashes of isolated brilliance here. ‘Rock Dreams’ operates both as a bombastic statement of intent and a grounding tale of failed aspirations, as ‘Carol’ says: “Well, it could’ve been me up on the stage! / It could’ve been me, if it weren’t for the chimp in the cage”. ‘The Fire’ tackles inner-school violence, and does so to surprisingly resonant effect, considering this is about a chimp burning down a school and killing classmates.
There are big ambitions on display here, and that attitude is both admirable and infectious in small doses. In the end, though, ‘Go To School’, feels less like a night on Broadway and more like being dragged along to an amateur performance at your local village hall. It’s charming and full of heart, but you’ll be grimacing all the way through it.