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Simon Apple (USA) - 2004 - "River to the Sea"
TRACK LIST: 1. Leap of Faith 3:46 2. Weight of the World 8:03 3. The Colors in Between 4:41 4. Hold Me 4:40 5. A Way Outside 1:12 6. A Way Inside 3:49 7. Significance 3:34 8. Taken Root 6:33 9. The Weight Is On 0:59 10. Take My Life 5:10 11. For Every Loss 5:46 12. Katherine 4:46 13. A Lot of Hope 4:49 14. A Reason Why 0:48 15. River to the Sea 4:47 All tracks: by Miller / Saylor, except 4, 12, 13: Merrill, & 10: J. Dykes / F. Ridley. Produced by Miller. LINE-UP: Jeff Miller - keyboards; lead guitars; vocals Buzz Saylor - drums & percussion Dan Merrill - lead vocals; guitars With: Stefan Pizzuto - bass Tony Levin (King Crimson) - bass Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny) - bass Dave Stahl (Frank Sinatra) - trumpet (5, 6, 8, 13) John Helliwell (Supertramp) - saxophone (6, 13) Hugh McDowell (Electric Light Orchestra) - cello (15) Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser (Blue Oyster Cult) - guitar (7) Engineered by D Leonard (Rush et al.) Mastered by A Ayan (Rush et al.)
Prolusion. "River to the Sea" is the second full-length studio album by Pennsylvania's SIMON APPLE. Their first, "From the Toybox", was released in 1998, and next year the outfit's original lineup undergone some changes. The singer John Feldmann left the band because of his inability to tour with his newfound family responsibilities and was replaced with Dan Merrill. Simon Apple often donates their time by playing at the annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Valentine Gala held each February in their native state. A portion of the sales of their new album will be donated to the Foundation as well.
Analysis. Just by the look of the lineup on "River to the Sea", i.e. before listening to the album, any experienced Prog lover would have faultlessly guessed that this is solid material, regardless of what it's about stylistically. The band spent several years creating it, and their effort was not wasted. This is really a grandiose show and is an exceptionally pleasing listen, because the music and the arrangements, just everything was thought out even to the smallest details. The sound is elitist and is a true art in itself. Although guitarist and keyboardist Jeff Miller, alone or along with his band mates Buzz Saylor and Dan Merrill, penned nearly all of the tracks, the guest musicians' contribution to the album is quite appreciable. A few of them were in Pink Floyd's cohort on the band's latest studio outputs: "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" and "The Division Bell". Having initially perceived this fact as another significant sign, just by association, I didn't miss with my presupposition about the album's prevalent style, too. No, please don't think that Simon Apple is one of the open Pink Floyd followers, like Solar Project, for instance (whose music I also like, though). This is an honest and really huge band, whose creation has nothing in common with anyone's save stylistic similarities, which, though, are always inevitable in the presence of benefactor. Conventionally, the album can be divided into three parts, being separated from each other by the two instrumental landmarks: A Way Outside and The Weight Is On (5 & 9, no other instrumentals here), the first of which marks the change of the prime style, and the other the return to it. To me, the music in the first and the third parts as if unfolds the way that Pink Floyd could have moved on to after "The Division Bell" if they'd have gotten rid of some cliches and were about to recommence creating acoustic guitar pieces, as they did before Roger Waters' departure. So on most of the tracks on the implied territories we have what classic symphonic Space-Art-Rock of the '70s has transformed into during the next two decades (when the 'spacey' component was almost lost), with mostly intensive arrangements, diverse instrumental parts, lots of truly memorable themes and solos, and naturalistic sounds-effects in some in-betweens. There is one exception, however. On the longest track on the album, the largely instrumental Weight of the World, the band is extremely adventurous, entering territory that most of the genre's other units never ventured into. Art-Rock, Space Metal, Classical music-like interludes, quasi-Jazz-Fusion and more: its stylistic diversity is inseparably linked with the band's excellence in everything, which concerns music, though their latter value is evident everywhere on the album. As for the songs with acoustic textures in their basis, by these very textures, and also atmospherically, Katherine and Hold Me resemble Hey You and Wish You Were Here, and the short A Reason Why the opening track of "The Wall". The most unique and intricate music is presented on the four tracks in the middle of the album: from highly eclectic authentic Jazz-Fusion on A Way Outside, A Way Inside, and Significance to just a brilliant combination of quasi-Jazz-Fusion and a raw, dark Prog-Metal on the rather long Taken Root. With plenty of brass and piano improvisations, these compositions have probably more than a full-fledged band sound, like being performed by a small Rock orchestra, which, though, is true as a matter of fact. There is also one bonus track, the single edition of the amazing Weight of the World. It's twice shorter than the original, with all the 'subsequent events'. So the inclusion of it in the album was unnecessary.
Conclusion. The release of Simon Apple's "River to the Sea" is a major event, as this is a really major album, by all means, and is worthy of a platinum status, which it would have definitely received if it were released at least in the '80s. Nevertheless, this ace of trumps will be on firm ground in the pack of cards of contemporary Progressive. Only those exclusively into highly complicated music may remain cold about it. (>Top-20)
VM: November 9, 2004
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