“What can I say? It is a ridiculous album.” That’s Michael D’Addario, lead singer with New York’s The Lemon Twigs talking about ‘Go To School’, one of the most shocking albums released last year. And when I say shocking, I mean I was truly shocked by it. Who else among their peers, in this era of curated playlists, thought it would be acceptable to bang out a concept album, particularly a concept album about a chimpanzee named Shane, who is sent to school and is bullied, loses his virginity, burns the school down, and then legs it to live a reflective life in the woods? (Answer: not many.)
It’s the type of mad idea that The Who were dabbling with in the 1970s. And that decade is obviously a key influence on The Lemon Twigs. Sure, the 1960s is always held up as a period of great experimentation in popular music but the 1970s can also lay claim to being just as interesting, encompassing everything from glam through to disco, punk and hip-hop. And the 1970s also saw bands taking off on some wild flights of fancy that often bordered on the ridiculous (Rick Wakeman’s 1973 instrumental prog rock album ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’, anyone?).
But despite all the nonsense, there was, at the very least, a sense of pioneering wonder at what pop music could be. And that’s something which is very evident on ‘Go To School’, which touches on the theatricality of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ but also brings in elements of ‘Aladdin Sane’ era Bowie, ‘Goodbye Yellow Road Brick Road’ era Elton and ‘Transformer’ era Lou Reed. There’s also a healthy dose of musical polymath Todd Rundgren in there – never a bad thing – and the man himself even crops up on the album. If you’re looking for a band striving beyond ‘will this do?’ then give yourself a nice twist of Lemon and I’ll see you down the front.
The Lemon Twigs, Saturday 23 February, Riverside, Newcastle, 7pm, £16.50. riversidenewcastle.co.uk