Cover illustration of Melba Marlett's Death Is in the Garden, 1951
The Apples in Stereo take a lot of flak for not being a serious band. They've been producing solid albums of old-school bubblegum pop since the mid-'90s without feeling any need to deviate meaningfully from their approach to music, and they have no problem appearing on the Cartoon Network, singing songs about the Powerpuff Girls. Robert Schneider has steered the band through various lineup changes and permutations without compromising his vision of what the band should be, and I think that's admirable. And, if you're a fan of pop music, that's also a very good thing because you can count on an Apples in Stereo album to deliver the goods.
The Apples' new album, the sci-fi pop epic Travellers in Space and Time, is drawing a lot of ELO comparisons, but that's not really big news to anyone who spent any time with their last LP New Magnetic Wonder. The cowbells, processed vocals, and lush arrangements that brought A New World Record to mind are still there, and certain moments on the record (the guitar intro to "Dignified Dignitary" or the sawing cellos on "Nobody But You") may remind you of "Don't Bring Me Down" or "Do Ya" - Schneider is definitely more interested in the dancefloor-ready ELO hits than the prog-pop stuff. Travellers in Space and Time is overstuffed with hooky pop songs with few down-tempo moments or instrumental interludes. This is clear on disco-y numbers like "Dance Floor" and "Hey Elevator", songs that bring late-'70s Bee Gees to mind as much as ELO.
To me, the real story here is the additional songwriting and singing contributions on Travellers in Space and Time. For the first time since Hilarie Sidney's departure, Schneider is ceding some control of the band to his immensely talented bandmates. All six members of the band get songwriting credits somewhere on the album, and four of the songs have someone other than Schneider singing lead. I'm not sure if it really works, though, especially since these songs are mostly packed into the album's second half. The issue I have isn't with the songwriting, though - the songs are strong, but the other guys in the band just don't have a distinctive lead vocal style. I'll make an exception for Bill Doss, whose "Wings Away" is a highlight - he has a great voice that I've loved on Olivia Tremor Control and Sunshine Fix records. But the other non-Schneider leads on the record kind of drag things down - for the first time, I'm realizing that Schneider's singing is a really big part of the band's charm.
This minor gripe notwithstanding, I'm really enjoying Travellers in Space and Time. It's not "serious" music, but it's seriously catchy, and I think it would appeal to a lot of people if they'd just lighten up a little and give it a chance.
"Dance Floor" by the Apples in Stereo