It's a fair bet that Russia's Apple Pie go down an absolute storm when they play live in their country. I'm guessing that there's not as many progressive rock bands in Russia as there are in the US, UK or even Sweden and so a self-confessed Neal Morse/Spock's Beard/Dream Theater/Flower Kings/Pink Floyd (etc etc) inspired band of fine musicians is going to be a real treat. On disc however, certainly on the strength of Crossroad (recorded in 2006 and sung in English), they feel slightly flat.
This album opens well enough: up to and including "Nothing" the album is really enjoyable. During this beginning period the music shows the greatest influences from the Morse/Spock's Beard camp, both compositionally and texturally. The band's mix of instrumentation, strong melodies and harmonies during these compositions are all pretty well spot on. "The Beginning (Once Upon a Time/Overture)" is a good opener: beautiful acoustic guitar, a pretty melody and attractive harmonies during the "Once Upon a Time" section give way to 6+ minutes of instrumental progressive rock Morse-style in the "Overture" phase. This is fairly typical of the compositions as a whole - there are lengthy sections of instrumental music to be heard even when the compositions are not as clearly delineated into sections as this first one.
The next three tracks are of a similar high standard: "Crossroad" is probably the rockier of the four opening tracks which works well with Vartan Mkhitaryan putting in some good work on guitars. "Nothing" is very pretty, ending with a sweet saxophone break from Aleksey Bildin (whose main job in he band is the bass!)
After that I sense that there is a downturn. It is a subtle downturn but, for me, it is there. As the band's admitted influences from the Morse/Spock's Beard camp is reflected in the music on Crossroad it is appropriate to use Neal Morse's most recent album Lifeline as an example of what I'm trying to say. Lifeline has been well received by some reviewers and fans but opinion is more divided over this album than his previous major works (Testimony, One, ?, Sola Scriptura). Even on this website opinion is divided: some of my colleagues thinking Lifeline is a fine album, possibly the best of the year, whilst I and at least one other think it's his poorest work to date. And this is the point - when the music doesn't quite gel, opinion is divided and it can be difficult to identify exactly why the effect isn't as successful as others.
So, back to Crossroad:- after "Nothing" the main factor that the album suffers from which affects its overall appeal is a lack of "soul" or "belief". The band begin to mix in other styles with the Morse-inspired progressive rock: big band swing, soul, jazz fusion. Nothing wrong with that in principle - after all, it is only recently that I applauded Karcius's similar eclecticism on their album Episodes. Here, however, the eclecticism feels forced, as if the band feel that it is something that they must do to maintain interest, rather than the way that it springs from Karcius's disc, as the result of a pure love and joy in the music making.
Don't get me wrong - the music is never unpleasant. However, neither is it as successful as the opening four compositions. The prog rock fusions with the big brass sound of "Temptation", with the soul of "Still Got My Faith In You" and the jazz of "Nothing Comes Everything" all contain music that is enjoyable but which lacks the "wow" factor. The remaining compositions are closer to the opening section of the album in influence and song structure - perhaps with the exception of the long instrumental opening to "Final", which is very Camel-ish - but remain or contain below par sections.
Overall then, for me, the album is a slight disappointment after its promising beginning but die-hard fans of Neal Morse and Spock's Beard out there may take a different view. My guess is that Crossroad, despite possibly being a concept album, is the product of many years of accumulated songs suddenly pushing their way onto disc by virtue of the band getting a record contract. It's a long album and a bit of gentle pruning would not have gone amiss.Track Listing:-
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