Brian and Michael D’Addario, the multi-talented siblings who make up the Lemon Twigs, have certainly proven their songwriting and performing abilities with their first two albums, Do Hollywood (2016) and the concept album Go to School (2018), but, as with all art that draws inspiration from a specific moment in music history – in this case, ’70s glam rock and power pop – it’s always possible that this type of period-piece rock can run itself into the ground. Fortunately, that’s not really the case with the duo’s third album, Songs for the General Public. If you’re a Lemon Twigs fan, it’s not that surprising how this album plays out and there are no completely unexpected forms of inspiration. But with an album this good, none of that really matters.
Like their debut album, Songs for the General Public was co-produced by Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, and the inspiration – while mostly centered around glam rock staples like Marc Bolan, Mott the Hoople, and Queen – tends to veer off refreshingly into different areas. Sure, the opening track, “Hell on Wheels”, has a quasi-operatic feel that sounds like Meat Loaf svengali Jim Steinman took over the control room for a day. But the D’Addario brothers can also rein it all in with a gem like the urgent, melodic “Live in Favor of Tomorrow”, which takes cues from early-period Beatles, courtesy of sumptuous harmonies and a swift British invasion tempo.
Often, the influences tend to combine, resulting in shocking retro hybrids that sound like Brian and Michael are creating new sub-genres. “No One Holds You (Closer Than the One You Haven’t Met)” is a multilayered power-pop mini-symphony, like Big Star applying a dab of glitter makeup. Anthemic late 1970s Springsteen also rears its head with “Fight”, as a jubilant, piano-pounding arrangement mixes surprisingly well with the song’s downtrodden break-up lyrics. “It’s a big, big fight / Just like any other / We don’t care / We’re always gonna hate each other.”
Growing up as accomplished child actors, the D’Addario brothers apply their musical theater experience to their compositions, particularly on songs like the complex “Moon”. It begins with harmonica-laden balladry before blowing up into a complex, anguished showstopper complete with hilariously oddball lines like “the moon looks like a toenail tonight” and over-the-top, distorted guitar soloing. The brothers – who play most of the album’s instruments – even dip their toes into prog rock with the puzzling, exhilarating “Only a Fool”, playing around with insane time signatures and plenty of keyboard slabs that would make Rick Wakeman drool. But the song manages to accomplish the difficult trick of making complex progressive rock appealing to the masses by infusing plenty of hooks and general playfulness.
Songs for the General Public closes beautifully with “Ashamed”, which expertly brings together folk, AM radio gold, and classic country. As the acoustic guitars and peerless harmonies reach a sort of sonic apex, some rebellious electric guitar distortion breaks in, an indication that the brothers are most comfortable when working within a variety of styles and instrumentation. But this isn’t “genre tourism” – the Lemon Twigs are a band whose influences and tastes run deep, and Songs for the General Public shows that they can wrap all these ideas into a beautiful, oddly consistent package.