THE APPLES IN STEREO: TONE SOUL EVOLUTION (1997)
1) Seems So; 2) What’s The #; 3) About Your Fame; 4) Shine A Light; 5) Silver Chain; 6) Get There Fine; 7) The Silvery Light Of A Dream; 8) The Silvery Light Of A Dream (Part Two); 9) We’ll Come To Be; 10) Tin Pan Alley; 11) You Said That Last Night; 12) Try To Remember; 13) Find Our Way; 14) Coda.
Well, the good news is they are at least evolving. The second album sounds everything and nothing like the first — everything, because they are still The Apples, not The Oranges, and nothing, because they have changed (a) the production — the crackly, fuzzy lo-fi has been replaced by a cleaner, more discernible sound that actually evokes the band’s favourite music more faithfully (the original Beach Boys would have series of non-stop individual fits listening to the castrated guitar of Noisemaker); (b) the vocals — now we all know that Robert Schneider can really produce a cool, mildly nasal, mildly raspy, ultimately sweet tone somewhere in between Ray Davies and John Lennon; (c) the attitude — this is now much more jangly pop than trippy psycho, with synthesizer effects, overall, discarded for lack of need, and guitars colored in far yellower and oranger tones than they used to be.
Most importantly, Schneider took the time to finally deliver some good songs. Filler still abounds, but now it takes on the form of multiple graciously pleasant fall-offs of tangible peaks. Thus, ‘Shine A Light’ will never bring a tear to my eye the way the Rolling Stones can subdue me with their ‘Shine A Light’ (yes, I know, there is no comparing the two, but the blame falls on Schneider — nobody forced him to name the song the way he did), but it opens up with a terrific, inspiring power pop riff, and the vocal melody successfully catches that inspiration and runs along with it, making it the band’s finest effort in life assertion. Then there is ‘Tin Pan Alley’, combining a happy ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’ ska punch with Birds-like jangle and another catchy bit of singing — also a fav, well deserving of its name this time around (the real Tin Pan Alley guys might not have refused to take in that one... then again, it’s not really TPA style, but who cares).
Some of the songs, like ‘Try To Remember’ and ‘We’ll Come To Be’, this time around, truly make a bite at capturing the Beatles'’spirit circa Revolver time — they are not so well written, and do not linger long, but they are better at pure jangly pop than psycho; this is passable. The rule of thumb, though, is that generally, the happier they sound, the more rainbow-ish their riffs are, the more chances they stand at making this music last longer than a day. Conversely, when they begin the song with a hard-rock riff — ‘What’s The #’ is the earliest and the blandest example of that — they sound like a bunch of diabetics trying to replicate ‘Louie Louie’ at the local karaoke bar. Their acoustic stuff is hardly better: ‘About Your Fame’, a flabby two-minute acoustic and accordeon ballad, only starts getting cool with the introduction of that electric slide one minute into the song (meaning one minute of waiting for goodness and one minute of actual goodness).
So, in the end, this is still hardly Hall of Fame material, but it did show two important things: (a) The Apples were willing to learn, evolve, progress, and grow fins or wings depending on the situation; (b) their chief songwriter did have a certain amount of talent to burn in addition to all that impeccable taste in influences. It still didn’t quite show why they had to drag along that «In Stereo» tag, but that would eventually be explained, too. In the meantime, a very modest thumbs up for all the extra seductive sounds without a solid substance.