Welcome to the second part of our Yes Special for the festive season in support of the recently released box set of the first dozen Yes albums, The Studio Albums: 1969 - 1987. Part I of this special can be found here.
This time we will be taking a look at the albums from Relayer through to Big Generator with a bonus trio of reviews covering Union, Talk, and Keys To Ascension Part I, not previously reviewed on DPRP.
Once again a big thank you to all the guest reviewers from the world of prog who have graciously given their time and thoughts to this Special. Below you will find contributions from Theo Travis (Steven Wilson Band/Soft Machine Legacy), Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson Band), Rob Reed (Magenta/Kompendium), and Luca Scherani (La Coscienza di Zeno/Höstsonaten).
We hope you enjoy it.
Happy Reading and A Happy New Year for 2014 to all our readers and friends!
Yes — 90125 (2004 Remaster)
Three years is a long time in music, when Yes had last released a new album John Lennon was still alive and Led Zeppelin hadn't split up. By 1983 punk and new wave had fizzled out and the new Romantics and electro outsiders ruled the charts and, with MTV making huge waves, the emphasis on style over content was starting to enter the language of the era causing huge detrimental effects on those artists who had always been substance over style.
There can be no coincidence that in the late '70s and early '80s several of the big names of prog's first wave - Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Gentle Giant for instance - split up, whilst others, like Genesis and Rush, moved further away stylistically and musically from their traditional sound, embracing new sounds and new technologies; you adapt to survive. Even Geoff Downes' and Steve Howe's post-Yes supergroup Asia blazed a trail of radio friendly stadium rock, it seemed like all the old prog bands were, well, progressing.
One of the criticisms levelled at Downes and Horn when they'd joined Yes for Drama was that the songs would be shorter, more pop like and less Yes, so goodness knows what those doubters thought when they picked up 90125. Gone were the extravagant Roger Dean illustrations that spoke to so many Yes fans, instead in its place was an ultramodern computer generated sleeve, which ironically enough now looks more dated than Dean's landscapes. The cover screamed modernity but upon putting the record on your turntable the contents would have shocked you even more. Gone were the expansive, building instrumental pieces, the epic soundscapes with Jon's haunting, mesmerising, unique poetry. Instead, we have nine short, sharp pop shocks.
Talk about the shock of the new. Produced by man of the moment and former Yes-man Trevor Horn, who employed all his studio trickery and state-of-the-art sound banks, whilst the new musical force in the band was Trevor Rabin. Probably the most polarising member of Yes, Rabin is a fantastic multi-instrumentalist, writer, guitarist, vocalist and performer, and crucially when looking at 90125, we must remember that he had joined the ever reliable Squire/White axis and former Yes-man Tony Kaye on keys to form a new band.
This new band were going to be called Cinema, and so the tracks when they started out were never intended to be Yes tracks, with all the history that brings. However, as the complex material took place, Rabin felt they needed a vocalist. Jon Anderson reappeared, and so, with him singing, it made perfect musical (and no-doubt commercial) sense to label the project Yes.
Jon Anderson was back - "hooray!", rejoiced the purists, "we have the Yes sound back!" - however, it sounded the least Yes-like of the albums they'd produced to that point. Drama is more classic Yes than 90125, yet the material on the latter is superb.
The songwriting axis of Rabin/Squire/Anderson are credited as writers or co-writers on most of the tracks, the exception being the instrumental Cinema, which showcased the musical prowess of NewYes.
The single and first track on the album, the radio staple Owner Of A Lonely Heart, is as far away from Starship Trooper as you can get; a concise compact rock song, with Anderson's vocals crisp and clear, ably supported by the vocals of Trevor Rabin, whilst Horn's razor sharp production is all synths and samples. The dominance of Trevor Rabin's vocals throughout the album, such as on the superb It Can Happen, which is probably the strongest track on the album, and the Jon Anderson co-write City Of Love, which features one of Jon's finest vocal performances on the album, gave the impression that Yes now had two lead vocalists, with Jon being a singer rather than a frontman, and it's this change which is the biggest thing that hits you from 90125.
Instead of the lyrics being all Jon's you get the impression that he isn't the key member of the band, that role belonging to Trevor Rabin who is in the driving seat working with Squire/White to pull this album together.
90125 isn't the greatest album ever made. Leave It should, frankly, have been left off as the wonderful harmonies can't hide the vacuity of the lyrics and the paucity of ideas. And yet there are also gems, like Changes which features another fantastic Jon/Trevor lead vocal, and the closing Hearts which is Yes' greatest love song so far.
Bonus track wise, on this version you get a few remixes of the singles and a couple of the original Cinema tracks - Make It Easy, It's Over, and the original version of It Can Happen, performed by Rabin/Squire/White/Kaye - which give an indication as to where Cinema were headed before Jon's return and the rebranding as Yes.
Musically, Trevor Rabin doesn't just 'fit in' with the established Yes sound, he takes the band and moves them further on. Squire and White are on fine form, their skills as musicians showing throughout the album, as they adapt and refine their playing to suit the shorter, sharper songs with no indication at any point of dumbing down; the complexity and virtuosity is still there. It's just the canvas that they are painting on that is smaller. As for Tony Kaye, the second keyboard player to return to the Yes fold, whilst he is an undoubted talent, it's difficult, on this album produced by Horn, and with Rabin also credited as keyboard player, to determine what he actually contributed. Unlike on earlier Yes albums, his distinctive playing is swamped and hidden by Horn's production.
Is 90125 Yes' greatest album? No. Is it one of their more important albums? Yes.
For a record that was never initially going to be a Yes album, it sticks out like a sore thumb from what came before, and in my opinion the best album this Yes line-up produced was the far superior Talk, which combined both the pop sensibilities of the era and the prog history of the band (but that's another story).
90125 is one of the most important albums in Yes history because it proved that the band could have a future post 1980, and it paved the way for the band to continue touring, performing and releasing new Yes music to this day.
1981 was a very complex year for Yes. After the release of the successful Drama album and tour, the band was officially disbanded when vocalist Trevor Horn chose to pursue a career as a producer and Chris Squire and Alan White left. At that moment Geoff Downes and Steve Howe decided to form Asia with Carl Palmer and John Wetton. Meanwhile, Squire and White started work on a project with Jimmy Page called XYZ (the name taken from "Ex Yes and Zeppelin") but this was a short-lived project.
Later in 1982, Squire and White met South Africa-born guitarist Trevor Rabin, who had previously auditioned for an upcoming project called Asia, and together they formed a new band called Cinema which later was to involve former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and, eventually, singer Jon Anderson. And so the story begins...
90125 (named after its Atco Records catalogue number) was the result of circumstances in which these former Yes members regenerated the band with the help of Trevor Rabin and then recorded and released the most successful and commercial album ever in the band's discography, an album that reached the top of the charts and was the #1 seller in their history. And for me, it was the real breakthrough moment in the history of Yes. 90125 was also one of the early triumphs of Trevor Horn as a producer, a role that he has continued in to this day with great success. This period briefly featured Eddie Jobson from UK as a temporary member of the band, as a matter of fact he is included as keyboardist in the Owner Of A Lonely Heart video rather than Tony Kaye.
Many people have questioned how a band that was one of the most important acts in the early symphonic / progressive rock scene in the 1970s came to this? And the reply can be made in one word: Reinvention. It happened with other bands from that time that survived into the '80s like Genesis, King Crimson, Rush, among others, so why not with Yes? The '80s were a very difficult decade, musically speaking, because at that time other genres and styles were emerging that were more relevant than progressive rock, like glam metal, new-wave, NWOBHM (the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), or punk-rock.
The point is that as a result of all these circumstances the musical voice that Rabin, Squire and Anderson gave to the new Yes resulted in a much more powerful and commercial way of delivering progressive rock. For me the same thing happened with Journey defining the concept of the power ballad but retaining a progressive edge to their music. Despite Owner Of A Lonely Heart, widely known by most people, there are other great songs on 90125 with musical arrangements and influences that became part of future Yes albums like Talk, Union, and the 2001 compilation Keystudio. The influences from this album can also be heard in projects like World Trade from which future Yes member Billy Sherwood would emerge. Rabin's musical technique have been musically referenced in bands like Arena and Jadis, amongst others that are playing a major role in the New Wave of Progressive Rock that is happening in Europe right now.
Hold On, Leave It, and It Can Happen provide the most powerful riffs on the album, with aggressive guitar arrangements, vocal harmonies and a more risky approach in using other kinds of instrument such as sitar or electronic drums. But it was the instrumental called Cinema (honouring the early essence of this amazing album) that gave the band their first and only Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1985. For me, Changes is the worst song in the set but, contrary to this, City Of Love and Hearts are the best way to end an album like this, with that kind of prog-ballad song.
Squire's bass technique remains intact and the vocal harmonies resulting from the contrast of Anderson and Rabin's voices gives the album its overall sound but unfortunately White and Kaye remain in the background. The arrangements given to the music here were totally different to what had gone before despite the musical way in which the band did things in the early years.
90125 was a better album in many ways than others from classic '70s Progressive rock bands that were trying to survive in the new musical world of the '80s that were released at around the same time and Yes did it without losing their musical essence. And that's the main reason for me to give this proud album a rating of 9 in this review, they demonstrated to the whole world that they could be versatile too. So, if you can't believe what I'm writing right now, just take a look and realise that this happened 30 years ago and is still going round and round in many players around the world...
Keyboards - Steven Wilson Band
Starship Troopers or Big Generators. These are names I've heard for the two main factions of Yes fans. If you only love "classic" Yes, i.e. Fragile, Close To The Edge, etc., you are a "Starship Trooper". If you are a fan of 90125 and the Trevor Rabin-era Yes, you are a "Big Generator". I must confess, I'm a bit of both.
90125 is possibly one of rock's best back-from-the-dead albums. Many bands (especially prog bands), when faced with a changing audience in the late '70s/early '80s, struggled to re-invent themselves. Only a few managed this successfully. Genesis and King Crimson also pulled it off, but not many others. Perhaps Yes' transition worked because the project started off not as Yes at all, but as Cinema.
Yes had already been through a radical turnover a few years before, when key members Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman both left, after the band attempted a follow-up to 1978's Tormato. Apparently the sessions were a disaster, and the project was shelved. Yes was in limbo. Steve Howe, Alan White, and (last original member) Chris Squire picked up the pieces and produced the surprisingly enduring Drama album, with help from Geoff Downes on keyboards and Trevor Horn (the big-time producer) on vocals, who were both recruited from The Buggles.
The Drama touring cycle ended, and Yes decided to call it quits. After a few side projects Squire and White hooked up with talented multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer (and South African rock star) Trevor Rabin. They began working on a new project, to be called Cinema, with a more direct and rockier approach than Yes. As the album neared completion, Jon Anderson was brought in on vocals. When they added Jon's voice to the existing tracks everything clicked; it sounded like a modernized Yes. Phil Carson from Atlantic Records suggested that the album would be way more successful if the band was actually called Yes (and not Cinema), hence 90125 emerged as Yes' big resurrection and second lease on life. Very impressive, especially considering that only two years before they were on their way to the glue factory.
90125 is one of those albums that everyone hopes to create but probably never will. The perfect balance of songwriting, performance and production technique have rarely been matched. At this time (early '80s) many progressive rock albums were so layered and padded-out that you could hardly discern a groove anymore. Thanks to Trevor Horn's production, which used lots of space and new technology like digital samplers, the album had an exciting, jagged edge.
Who hasn't heard Owner Of A Lonely Heart about a trillion times since the '80s? Of course, it is a great song and an excellent arrangement, but I am also still amazed by the mix! Holy cow, have you heard this thing recently? It is a production masterpiece, I would say in the same league as Quincy Jones' mixes from albums like Michael Jackson's Off The Wall.
The basic groove is a simple three note riff with an ultra-dry drum sound. Over this are a series of verses, choruses and musical stabs, each event more 'hooky' than the last. Production elements that have become commonplace, like the James Brown sample hits, the abrupt contrast between a dirty / echoey drum sound and a super-clean one, the wild jump-cuts in the overall mix, still sound fresh. And not a string pad in sight. Considering that it was recorded in the pre-Pro-Tools analogue era is all the more impressive. This was Yes' first #1 in the USA (it made it to #9 in the UK).
The rest of the album is not quite as spiky, but still sounds great. It is probably heavier than most Yes albums. For a lot of the remaining tracks it's the '80s "gated-reverb" on the drums, a sound originated by Phil Collins for Peter Gabriel's third album (Melt) on the song Intruder. It is a roomy, echoey sound, but the echoes are chopped off after a split second, so there is an improbable space between the hits. It's a cool sound, but it can peg a recording into a certain time frame.
Up next is Hold On, a halftime rock-shuffle, with tons of layered vocals and guitar power chords, but also sporting a few interesting counter-rhythms and vocal breakdowns. One thing that I particularly like about this era of Yes is Trevor Rabin's guitar playing: it is refreshing, for me anyway, to hear a rockier, more blues-based approach in this context. He plays a great solo this one. (OK, Starship Troopers, don't get me wrong! I love Steve Howe too, especially Yessongs-era)
It Can Happen started off as a Squire song. Not too sure about the sitar sound, but the vocal harmonies are impressive and well written. Good, strong melodies, all the way around, and a very cool half-time section in the middle. This track is a good hybrid of old and newer Yes.
Changes underscores, perhaps, what I miss about the earlier Yes. The intro is different and promising, with an uptempo marimba riff in an alternating 7/8 and 10/8 time signature, written by Alan White. The bass line enters and there's a few breaks, but then it abruptly switches to an ordinary 4/4 rock groove, and plods along for the rest of the song (except for a brief recap of the lick at the very end). What? This cool odd-meter idea was left unexplored, I feel probably to play it "safe". This riff is something that perhaps an earlier Yes would have developed more, melodically and rhythmically. (Sorry to say, Big Generators, but the Starship Troopers win this round!)
While we're at it, although Tony Kaye and Trevor Rabin did a good job on keyboards (both are credited), I do miss a stronger voice in that department. I think that, say, a few organ solos on 90125 would have been nice! But, perhaps, a bit out of character for what they were doing and how they were changing at the time, I'll admit.
The song Cinema was originally part of a 20-minute piece. It would have been interesting to hear this line-up do a long-form piece! Journalist Chris Welch once compared this track to something that could have been on Relayer, and I think he's right about that. This track won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Rock Performance in 1985. It's a two-minute overture, with crashing drums and ringing guitars, and its crescendo builds perfectly to the opening bars of Leave It.
Leave It is a vocal tour-de-force, accompanied by a near-perfect rhythm section arrangement and some amazing experimental drum sounds. I read that they cut the vocal tracks first and Alan White added the drums later. This way he had the opportunity to color the drum part on an existing track, the way a keyboardist or guitarist normally can. His combination of reverse hits, bashing drum fills and tight beats are some of his best work, in my opinion.
Our Song continues the powerful sound and melodic themes; you get the feeling they still have a few more tricks up their sleeve. Then they hit with City Of Love, one of my personal faves. After the ploddy duh-duh groove in the verses the song kicks into an ultra heavy octave blues riff. Parts of this tune sound more like Led Zeppelin than Yes. I'd venture that this heavy side of the new Yes helped pave the way for what later became prog-metal.
The album wraps up with Hearts, a slow tempo power ballad featuring some Yes-ish harmonies and counter-melodies. The song starts with a chanting refrain offset by another Bonham-type drum groove. The contrasting chorus is highly melodic, very diatonic and Anderson-esque, although I'm pretty sure that Trevor Rabin wrote most of this one. I heard that Jon continues to perform it live in his solo shows. Another good mash-up of old and new Yes.
Some fellow Yes-fans I know feel 90125 is a bit too "commercial FM rock"-oriented for their tastes. I never really felt that way. To me, 90125 was and is a fresh take on a classic style. Plus, it sounds so great, so massive. They somehow managed to squeeze 110% into the final mix. The follow-up, Big Generator, was a mixed bag but for now, 90125 captures a moment when everything miraculously fell into place.
Yes — Relayer (2003 Remaster)
When you think of Yes, your mind is drawn to the classics. Perhaps Starship Trooper from The Yes Album; Roundabout from Fragile, or maybe even Close To The Edge which has seen more than its fair share of re-releases over the years. When we talk about bands that seem to imitate Yes, e.g. Druid, Starcastle or, more recently, Glass Hammer, we tend to consider a Yes that plays sweet sounding, precise music that errs on the side of pleasant rather than hard hitting. When speaking of Yes, we rarely consider the brief period before the mid-'70s hiatus when Yes began to add a very different dimension to their music, one that only briefly surfaced on the introduction of Close To The Edge and was inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. With its tracks becoming increasingly rare in today's Yes concerts, given its sheer difficulty for the band to perform nowadays, we tend to overlook the dark horse that is the jazz-tinged Relayer, an album that represents a side of the band that nearly everyone has forgotten about, and yet without which Yes could not have been revered as one of the best progressive rock acts of the early '70s.
Rick Wakeman, the most prominent of Yes' keyboardists, once made a very astute observation about progressive rock, saying that it "wasn't just about breaking the rules, but knowing which rules to break in the first place!" It's my firm belief that with Tales From Topographic Oceans, Yes had, to use a pun made in the album's liner notes, gone "over the edge" somewhat by breaking rules that should have been left alone. The result was far from a disaster, but sadly lacked the finesse and direction that had made the band's previous output so compelling. Wakeman himself knew this to be true and has voiced this opinion publicly over the years. It was certainly one of the main reasons he found himself leaving the band, although his decision was made only when he realised that Yes' jazz-based direction for their next album differed vastly from his classical tendencies. As Wakeman left to pursue a solo career, the Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who had previously enjoyed a stint in The Nice-based band Refugee, was drafted in to take his place, thus giving Yes a breath of fresh air.
While commercial sales of Tales had seen Yes go higher than ever before, reaching #1 in the UK charts, Yes were aware that the album had not been a critical success. Fans who had been expecting to hear four songs of the same high standard as Close To The Edge were disappointed and understandably put off by the overbearing double LP. The experiment that was Tales had not been a triumph, meaning Yes had to think outside the box; their job was to find a different way to evolve than to just get more and more grandiose with each album. To this end, they fell back on the successful album structure they had used for Close To The Edge - one sidelong track followed by two shorter tracks - but resolved to shift their sound away from the well-structured pieces of the past, risking the alienation of even more of their fans. Taking its name from a lyric from The Remembering on Tales and featuring one of Roger Dean's most beautiful paintings, reflecting a poem by Donald Lehmkuhl found on the inner sleeve, Relayer was, in a sense, one of the biggest gambles Yes ever took.
On the first listen, the opening piece The Gates Of Delirium is quite a lot to process. The first two-thirds of the track are incredibly dense, and feature some of Yes' most complex structures. However, subsequent listens reveal the elegant beauty of what is easily one of their greatest masterworks. Unlike the tracks on Tales, this piece is devoid of filler and, despite first impressions, actually follows quite a classical structure with three 'acts': the opening lyrical gambit, replete with themes of war and revenge; the energetic middle instrumental section, representing a vast and bloody battle; and the soothing piece entitled Soon, a prayer for hope and peace. Based loosely on Leo Tolstoy's War And Peace, it's astonishing that a track with such a calm ending could simultaneously be argued to be Yes' heaviest piece ever. The Gates Of Delirium is a blinding track, and has easily stood the test of time, remaining an inspiration to bands that err on the technical side of the genre.
After Soon, it's time for more pyrotechnics, as Yes play what is possibly their most frenetic track to date. Sound Chaser certainly lives up to its title; the music heard in this 9½ minute piece is unlike anything Yes have played before or since, as they explore far outside the realms of conventional jazz-rock, chasing those elusive sounds that so inexplicably strike a chord with lovers of real music. The rulebook has been defenestrated; nothing can be expected of this piece, except pure unorthodox genius. On a technical note, this is the one Yes track that I feel redeems drummer Alan White as a replacement for the indisputably brilliant Bill Bruford. While Bruford's clear and precise drumming technique is regrettably absent from Tales onward, there is no denying the extraordinary talent of White on this track, proving him to be a more than competent drummer for the likes of Yes.
Finally, the album closes with the extended track To Be Over. Perhaps taking inspiration from And You And I, this track focuses on melody and harmony, rather than the discordant exercises of the previous tracks. Unlike And You And I however, To Be Over does not hit the spot in the same way, and is just a little too soft and saccharine after the decidedly boundary-pushing pieces that precede it. Even worse, this track is simply too convoluted and inconsistent to be considered especially beautiful, despite how lovely some of its moments are. To this day, I've never been able to fully connect to this song, which sadly prevents Relayer from being the flawless masterpiece it could have been.
While unquestionably superior to Tales, the previous album's disappointing content would hinder sales of Relayer, resulting in its matching Close To The Edge at #4 in the UK charts, still a very worthy return. Following extensive touring, the band took a hiatus to focus on recording solo albums, some more fulfilling than others. It was only in 1976 that the band would reform in Moraz's homeland of Switzerland to record Going For The One, perversely without Moraz himself. The politics of the group were just as questionable then as they are now, as they replaced a disgruntled Moraz with the more universally loved Wakeman once more.
However, the line-up that exists on Relayer only goes to serve its very uniqueness in the Yes canon. Truly, this album stands out as one of the most remarkable Yes records ever released for its experimental jazz-inflected pieces as well as its dark and difficult execution. When hearing that a new band sounds like Yes, I always regret that this will never mean that it takes after the music heard on this album, but rather a sappier cleaner imitation of the band's more accessible material. Despite being one of Yes' best albums, Relayer is wholly under-appreciated, even by the band themselves. While they may have slipped into mediocrity now, Relayer shows a young band that are not daunted by taking huge risks and making significant changes to their sound, thereby asserting themselves as one of the best progressive acts of all time.
Relayer stems from 1974 and is the successor to the majestic Tales From Topographic Oceans. However, it bares little resemblance to that particular album, in fact it is almost diametrically opposite being as it is far more free form in its structures, tones and timbre. The lush orchestration is still there but seldom have Yes sounded so primal and raw.
This album came at a difficult time and crossroads for Yes. After the furore surrounding Tales, Rick Wakeman left the band (for the first but not last time) and the vision for a new work that Jon Anderson had (based loosely on Tolstoy's War And Peace) was virtually intact except that it lacked the additional layer of sound and sonic textures that Wakeman's keyboards had added. Various names were mooted and discussed but in the end Yes plumped for Swiss-born Patrick Moraz.
Moraz had come to the fore as one third of Refugee (basically the remnants of The Nice after Keith Emerson left for ELP) who had made a respectable self-titled album for Charisma that clearly displayed his prowess and his liking for a funkier jazzy style of playing reminiscent at times of Weather Report's Joe Zawinul. Several of the albums pieces reflected his compositional skills too - see the DPRP review of the band Live At Newcastle City Hall in 1974.
Moraz was recruited into the ranks of Yes and although much of the album was written it certainly wouldn't have been the same without him. As it is the only studio album he recorded with the band is his sole contribution to the Yes legacy, although there are a few live tracks on the Yesshows album.
Relayer is a unique record in the Yes canon, but many propose it is to be a darker counterpart to Close To The Edge in that where that album is lighter and more delicate in tone, Relayer is brash, harsh and at times discordant and raw. And here in its remastered form it sounds bloody glorious.
The three tracks of the original album plus three bonus tracks, each with its own distinctive character, timbre and tone yet this is one cohesive album and is best appreciated in one sitting.
The album opens with The Gates Of Delirium, the epic track on the album and one that is very different to most of what Yes had delivered before taking them away from their earlier sound into a transitional phase. Opening with a very different keyboard style from what Yes fans were used to, here the keyboards are less about supporting and filling out the sound and more upfront, urgent and even aggressive. Steve Howe's guitar sounds different too - more primal, raw and abandoned. The first two minutes are gentler and more of an introduction because what follows is mind-blowing in so many ways. After a brief Jon Anderson vocal the fun really begins with guitar lines spiralling everywhere, interweaving with Moraz's jazzy keyboards - Patrick Moraz being very keen on the accent keys on his synthesizers and to great effect throughout.
Seldom have Yes produced such a tight, dense and cohesive sound from each of the instruments, it is a glorious sound to behold and yet in the midst of all this carnage emerges some beautifully melodious music until at the 15-minute mark we are introduced to the ethereal drone of keyboards as steel guitar swells to usher in the Soon element of the piece, an astoundingly simple yet oh so eloquent melody line underpinned by a gentle acoustic guitar. Chris Squire's bass can be heard subtly adding to the mix over which is laid Jon's plaintive and uplifting voice.
The Gates Of Delirium rocks like few Yes tracks do. It was and still is a stunning testament to the imagination of Jon Anderson and the immense talent that each musician bought to the album.
Sound Chaser opens with a very jazz-fusion-type keyboard sound and offers the rhythm section a chance to lock and groove in a pretty unique way for Yes, Alan White's drums crashing all around whilst Chris' bass is busy busy busy and Steve Howe plays complex lines underneath everything. It's a pretty fast piece and rushes along beautifully with guitar and bass playing unison melody lines before Howe goes off into Telecaster overdrive playing rapid flurries of notes against a sole keyboard sound. This is a widescreen piece and his guitar sounds awesome. He throws in several Howe trademark styles with sweeping arpeggios and volume swells adding to the effect, slowing down temporarily after the guitar break for Jon's vocal and then swelling again in support before the opening motif reappears briefly. A new inversion emerges and the pace is picked up again for Moraz's keyboard solo, sounding like a demented Jan Hammer, before the band all join in to hurry the song to its conclusion with Anderson's mini chant. Utter brilliance and so different to anything Yes had done to that point.
To Be Over is the most familiar style Yes piece here but even so there are several new twists on the classic Yes sound employed mainly by Steve Howe using his pedal steel guitar again and his Telecaster to get that almost countrified sound - I bet Steve Morse loved this album as a teenager. Overall this is a more sedate and measured piece yet even so it blends in so well with the rest of the album, the multi-layered voices in the final section drawing everything to a close - a fantastic conclusion to a brilliant album.
The bonus tracks offer up a single edit of the Soon element of The Gates Of Delirium and the opening and ending sections of Sound Chaser fused together into an abbreviated single edit. Then there is the studio run through of Gates that sounds very similar in the main to the final version, however it's wonderful to have it here as it clearly shows how the song evolved during the recording process. It's obviously rawer and less polished too but even so it's still a majestic piece and well worth hearing.
Finally, Relayer is engulfed in an absolutely classic Roger Dean sleeve, personally one of my favourites. It's a darker (well greyer) sleeve than usual, but it's a wonderful piece of artwork that elevates the whole album so eloquently.
Relayer is one of the oft overlooked albums in the Yes catalog. However, for me it's right behind Tales as my favourite Yes album, and it still sounds great some 39 years on. I urge you to rediscover it for yourself. A very important album and sadly the only one from Yes to feature Patrick Moraz, I'd love to have heard much more from this particular Yes line-up, but sadly it wasn't to be. The band splintered and Moraz left to join the Moody Blues. The rest of the band re-grouped in Switzerland with a returning Rick Wakeman and found themselves "going for the one"... But that's a different chapter for a different reviewer.
Yes — Going For The One (2003 Remaster)
Some moments in our musical lives we remember well, and they stay with us forever.
One of mine was my purchase of Going For The One back in 1983, 30 years ago and six years after its original release in 1977.
It was my first purchase of a Yes album, and it happened without intention. I had been taken by the hit song Owner Of A Lonely Heart and wanted to purchase the new album that it came from - 90125. So on a chilly Saturday morning in December I took the bus into town with a handful of coins, my pocket money for the month, only to find major disappointment in the record section of Edwin P Lees when I realised I couldn't afford it.
I held the LP with its silver-grey 1980s styling in my hands for several minutes, and then with a heavy heart I flicked through the other LPs in the Yes section. One that caught my eye was reduced in price and affordable and for a brief moment I toyed with the idea of picking off its small white price tag and replacing the one on 90125...
Maybe it was the fact that the price label on the latest Yes record was a persistent little bugger to shift or something else, but I stopped in my shoplifting efforts and put it down and looked at the cheaper album.
Of course the other album in question was Going For The One.
Despite being massively into a number of progressive rock bands, I was not really aware of Yes. I had little experience of their music, and I only knew them for the eye-catching Roger Dean artwork. I had a cool poster of Relayer on my bedroom wall next to the image of Kate Bush in her Babooshka bikini.
I didn't know this other album at all, but it was a pound cheaper, and I felt the need to take something home that day, so I bought it on a whim. It didn't even have a Dean cover, just some plain looking towers and a naked man's backside.
The woman who worked in the record shop was ancient, 50 in fact, and yet she seemed to know everything about music. She said that Going For The One was her favourite Yes album. It was enough for me, and I handed over my cash, which left me with just enough for a gatefold PVC cover - a luxury. If she's still around she'd be in her 80s now, and she wouldn't remember me, but I remember her. Her beady eye for shoplifters combined with her sage advice on music put me on the path to musical excellence.
The results of my purchase were pretty instantaneous and hit me squarely between the eyes. The shorter songs were catchy enough for a 15-year-old with an already worn out Asia LP, to get my teeth into from the start, yet the sound was out of this world.
It was bombastic, yet commercial. And so diverse. From the opening sliding steel guitar to the closing church organ that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end it had everything. Maybe the said organ on the album's centre piece track Awaken appealed to a choirboy of six years; it certainly evoked memories of singing in the glorious acoustics of York cathedral, the lofty, almost heavenly, sound of Wakeman's work with the choral backdrop moved something within me that has stayed with me to this day.
I later realised that all the best Yes albums featured the might of Rick Wakeman working in tandem with the pizzicato wizardry of Steve Howe on guitar.
The soaring end of Awaken was never again achieved to such marvellous heights by the band, and it lays down a challenge for the crown as one of the most spectacular progressive rock endings ever, albeit ever so slightly let down by the High Vibration/Peter Jackson ending, which finishes and then returns to finish again. Still, it's beautiful and moving in ways I didn't know existed outside the world of classical music back in 1983.
Thematically the song is deeply rooted in the book The Singer, published in 1975, which was popular in helping those with spiritual faith connect, or "awaken", to the gospels and the life of Jesus through allegory. My later experience of the book itself after listening to this album was more disappointing than the unique talent that Anderson has for creative language.
Then there was another song on the album that charmed me and made me realise that Yes were a singles band, long before Owner Af A Lonely Heart. Wonderous Stories is a spiritual feel-good song that I recalled from my childhood, when I would religiously sit on a Sunday evening taping the Top 40 off the radio. I probably never realised who Yes were in 1977 when I sat in silence inside my Dad's racing green Triumph Stag, mono tape player in hand. As a kid I was very much a dreamer and so the far-flung lyrical content of the song really grabbed me. I loved the idea of the storyteller returning to tell more fantastical stories in dreams that were to come, even though it's more likely, given the overall theme of the album, that Anderson is talking about a spiritual figure and enlightenment through scripture. Still therein lies the delightful ambiguity of his lyrics and the imagery behind them.
Another stand-out song for me then and still to this day was Parallels, again very church organ heavy from Wakeman. Not classical in the mould of Awaken, it bounces along with a rock and roll vibe, supplemented by some of Steve Howe's best guitar work, almost shredding it as the solid wall of church organ punches out heavily over the top.
Lyrically, the song is again referring to spirituality and the higher planes of existence that are in parallel to our own. It informs us that we have the power to get to them, and we should cross over. For one reason or another, in part due to a rather bigoted, old-fashioned minister at my church, I found it hard to connect to any faith-like aspirations at the time. That said, it's still a damn near perfect Yes song with some immense bass playing on it and has Chris Squire's writing style running through it like a stick of rock.
In contrast to Parallels, the previous song Turn Of The Century has a gentle acoustic feel that suits Anderson's love story, one of the few Yes songs that I understood perhaps more clearly from the start. The lyrics are an adaptation of the tale of Pygmalion who carved a woman out of ivory and fell in love with the statue. Eventually he is granted the ultimate gift via Venus who turns the stone into flesh. It's the stuff of Shakespeare and other areas of literature and underneath the story is the metaphor for finding real life and being reborn. Again this is classic Anderson, who, via the tale of Roan is probably alluding to the discovery of a higher love that, if you strive for it, becomes real. All very powerful stuff to a young man studying for his O-level in Classical Literature at the time.
Which brings me neatly to the title track from the album, Going For The One. The song is a lively, upbeat number which encourages you to aspire and achieve - sound words for one in the middle of exam revision. The message is simple, push yourself beyond your present state. If you stand as tall as the grasses, the same as everyone else, aim higher for greater rewards, whatever they may be. His one piece of advice to get there exists in the final verses which are a teaching about patience; look for the timing before you make your move, all presented through the idea of sporting endeavour. It finishes beautifully with a rapidly ascending flourish which puts the album on a high that it doesn't come down from.
By chance, I had started on a musical journey that would turn out to be the one of the best moments of my life. I was so taken with the album I remember going to school on the Monday, excited to tell my friend, Neil, about it. I hadn't been mates with Neil throughout my time at school but a chance liking for Genesis had changed all that. We met up in the school playground after French and he beamed at me as I explained to him about my latest purchase, my new fantastic discovery. "If you like that album then come to my house after tea and bring it with you." he told me. "I have another one you'll love, it's called Tales From Topographic Oceans..."
In 1977, I was a bit young to know anything of Yes so my exposure to this band didn't come until much later when I was hearing radio play of cuts from Big Generator and 90125. At that point I wasn't aware that Yes was an important progenitor of something known as progressive rock or that their influence had already formed a new kind of sub-genre.
It was finally in the late eighties when I remember camping out in the woods with friends, sitting by the campfire listening to music, when I properly heard Yes. At one point Going For The One was played and after the first track I had to catch my breath and never was my connection to music the same. Suddenly music was something that could affect the entirety of my perception and not just a passive activity or distraction. This incredible new relationship with music developed right then and there - and I still had not yet heard Awaken!
Flash forward 36 years. The listening experience has never decayed or lost its lustre. For me, it is still a standard for not just storytelling in music, but a glowing example of how music can transport the listener through layers of consciousness. Yes has always been the type of band that, unlike other über-talented acts, plays to the emotion and spirit of the audience first and displays their technical prowess second and only in support of the first.
Going For The One marked the return of keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Seemingly, creative differences were initially the catalyst for his departure, but after reading his bio I get the impression that he couldn't sit still anyway! Regardless, this album largely sounds like it was written for Rick's return especially when heard against the early demo versions that do not yet have the keyboards fully layered in. I still credit Wakeman for showing us the proper venue for an organ sound that I had only heard inside a church up until that point. Parallels is the best display of a church organ in a less than religious setting, the rock theme poignantly claiming the sound for a different culture is beautiful.
The delicate ballad Turn Of The Century brought something new in this release. This was a huge statement for how gentle songs can show technical prowess and display each instrument players' skills including Jon's vocals. Steve Howe's contrasts between quietly flying through the scales and his more forward easy melodic plucking still stand out in probably their best ballad work to date.
Wonderous Stories is one of those songs that sounds like it has a deep meaning but on its surface can just as easily be a Yes self-portrait. They have become that band that tells stories using unusual melodies at a level that no other band can seem to do.
At last, Awaken. Possibly the best of the epics in the Yes catalog, it may have been the bridge between the creative clashes that were occurring amongst band members at the time. This song has all the great elements of what Yes had become: melody, meaning, prowess, harmonic layering, multiple interpretations, and on and on and on.
Going For The One is the band's eighth studio album. It marked a pivotal placeholder in their long history, of what their potential is and how an album should be made. This is the quintessential positive vibe that Jon speaks of at live shows but isn't quite so common after all. After the less than accessible Relayer, the direction taken with this album was definitely a statement.
Now for a small complaint: the bonus material is weak and doesn't fit with my listening preference. I'm a listener to albums - start to finish. When a great album runs into unfinished bonus tracks, rehearsals, or poor sounding demos, I just lose my taste for it. I know I can just import the stuff I want and tailor my experience any way I like now, but why not treat a masterpiece with more respect? A nice remaster to bring it up to date and put the bonus material on another disc would suffice, that way the finished product is not adulterated by the junk that was never intended to be there and won't likely be listened to more than once. Beyond a temporary curiosity, what is the point? It appears to be filler for an otherwise short album.
I'm done complaining. Thank you Yes for the amazing album. I have enjoyed it for many, many years and will for many more to come. Going For The One is an important part of my history and for that I will never be able to thank this band enough.
Flute, sax, clarinet - Steven Wilson Band/Soft Machine Legacy
This album is one that I fell in love with at the impressionable age of 15. As an avid music fan with a keen ear for new sounds and ambitious and melodic rock, and a fondness for ambient soundscapes as well as an appreciation of great instrumentalists, this album pressed all the right buttons for me. I even liked - and still like - the reverb-drenched mix which for me enhances the ethereal and heavenly sound of the album.
Having read somewhere that the band spent two years recording this in a studio on the banks of Lake Geneva, this information together with the aforesaid Alpine and cathedral-like atmosphere gives a top of the mountain and almost religious feel. The inner gatefold sleeve artwork with the photo of the expansive lake and outdoor portraits of the band members standing in front of mountains went only to enhance this spacious and high altitude freshness. Of course, the front cover of the skyscrapers and the man's bottom seemed entirely unrelated and inappropriate to me - only the classic Yes logo maintaining the link to the other Yes albums.
The opening track, Going For The One, is in some ways an oddity in the band's catalogue. There are the screaming pedal steel guitar riffs that open the song and the uncharacteristically shouty vocals that begin each verse. There is a lot of searing guitar throughout the album and overall I would say it is a particularly strong Steve Howe musical statement. There is a quasi blues feel to the track if not in form then in demonstrativeness.
Turn Of The Century, with its acoustic guitars, lute, harpsichord and pipe-like keyboards has a madrigal quality, and that combined with the glacial reverb well encapsulate the mood of the album. Like other tracks on the album there is some great acoustic piano playing on this track (actually quite rare by Rick Wakeman on Yes albums) and some beautiful chamber music styled interplay and contrapuntal writing in this delicate and beautiful song.
Parallels was never one of my favourite Yes songs and the strong vocals and prominent church organ riffs never quite lift the track up to the level of others on the album. For me, this is simply a weaker song.
I grew up listening to the vinyl version of this album and Wonderous Stories always seemed to be a light but pretty song that served as a prelude or hors d'oeuvre to the track that was to follow. It is a very good example of Jon Anderson's great gift for melody.
While the album Close To The Edge is for me the greatest complete musical statement by Yes, with three perfect tracks and beautifully balanced and paced as a whole, I think the single greatest musical achievement in the Yes catalogue is the track Awaken. The opening and closing melodic statement "high vibration go on..." is such a perfect melody, and the soundscape backing so beautiful that the piece is set up wonderfully. The musical development and build up of the various parts seems so organic and with each riff being so strong and logical in its change of shifts, one is carried along through the piece with a sort of inevitable forward motion. The guitar solo is stellar and the quiet middle section otherworldly. There is an almost classical symmetry and form to the piece. When the vocals return at the end - 'like the time I ran away and turned around and you were standing close to me...' - I still find it spine tingling, and the melody combined with the ethereal chordal backing and the fact that this theme is a recapitulation all add to the musical satisfaction in the shape and beauty of this masterpiece of a song.
For me, Going For The One is one of Yes' defining moments and the last of the albums of their truly golden era. There were some very strong songs on Tormato and even on Drama too, but I consider that the glorious heights of Going For The One have yet to be reached again.
Yes — Tormato (2004 Remaster)
1978 was definitely a year in which music had a real identity crisis, and it's fair to say that the issue affected pretty much all popular music. It was two years since punk had kicked the door in, and already it was reaching its apex; progressive rock had seemingly been dealt a knockout blow and disco was peaking in the mainstream music scene. The charts were just a mishmash of styles made up of everyone from Boney M and Paul McCartney to The Smurfs, Leo Sayer, and Showaddywaddy. There were some bright spots, Kate Bush was certainly one of them, but for the bands who were there at the beginning of the decade carving out a new genre of music, the writing was on the wall. For many groups such as Genesis, ELP, Camel, and of course Yes, their future direction was ragged and unclear, in part impacted by the angry punks and in part affected by line-up changes, internal instability and raging egos. But in addition to this they also suffered from a drying out of ideas.
That said, in their defence all these bands had been incredibly prolific over a six or seven-year period, producing more great music in the first half of the decade than many bands would achieve in four times that length of time. But the well had begun to run dry for some and ...And Then There Were Three, Love Beach, and Breathless - all released that year - felt like second-best efforts compared to past glories with only chart success there to contradict the truth.
Of course, in amongst these bands were the giants of prog, Yes, returning to the studio to write and record after a massive world tour and shifting more than half a million copies of Going For The One. They, too, appeared to be a spent force, and yet they started the process of creating their ninth studio release, Tormato, in late 1977.
It's an often maligned album suffering under the weight of its illustrious forebears and the terrible production inflicted on it at the time by a lack of band cohesiveness. The re-issue liner notes mention that there were five pairs of hands on the faders in the studio. All in all there was a lack of direction when it was needed most, previously provided by former producer Eddy Offord.
But despite everything, Tormato has got a lot of good stuff on offer and there are still flashes of brilliance to be enjoyed. The 2003 Rhino re-mastered release has done wonders for the sound of the album and adds a decent number of bonus tracks, bolstering the original 8 to a total of 18, of which there are certainly none that you would pelt with soggy red fruit.
The album itself has a different outlook to the band's more spiritually themed past efforts with the strong influence of an interest in UFOs plus the mystical and mysterious patterns of the Tors - ancient rock formations in Devonshire. If crop circles had been a more prominent feature at that point, they would have probably turned up on the album as well.
These themes weren't fully realised by the infamous Hipgnosis cover and of course rock and roll myth tells us that the image they designed was deemed to be so horrendous by the band that Wakeman hurled a tomato at it, an action that resulted in the renaming of the album from Yes-Tor. Whatever the truth of the cover, the results only compounded people's "thumbs down" opinions towards the album.
The other perception that clouds some objective judgment of the material is the fact that the tracks are shorter with only one song touching the 8-minute mark. This is something of a red herring when looking at the quality of the album as Yes were in fact strong in the short song area with much of Fragile coming in at less than 5 minutes and the popular Going For The One also made up of a number of shorter compositions.
In truth, the British press were out to get the old dogs of the '70s and Yes did not need to feed their blinkered opinions with another album of 20-minute otherworldly epics wrapped in a Roger Dean gatefold. Times were changing and Yes knew it.
Regardless of the circumstances that went into the making, design and production of the album, the end result is still largely satisfying and deserves more credit for its songs and musicianship than it generally gets. All the elements of the classic 'Yes' sound are still present and at times they are potent, both exciting and moving.
The opener Future Times / Rejoice still has a feel that harks back to the times of Tales From Topographic Oceans, particularly coming from the guitar parts and the style of dropping out of intense instrumental moments into the essential Anderson / Squire vocal harmonies. There is a familiar feel in the synth sound too from the Polymoog which features alongside the use of the Birotron, Wakeman's preferred Mellotron-like replacement at the time.
Wakeman's classical style still stands out well on this song, and whilst it appears elsewhere on the album too, there are also moments where his delivery does disappoint.
Don't Kill The Whale follows, a strong indication of the simpler, single friendly approach which would feature a more stripped down, poppier sound, whilst retaining the more traditionally lavish lyrical qualities:
Rejoice, they sing, they worship their own space.
In a moment of love they will die for their grace.
Don't kill the whale...
Clever adjustments in the lyrics still manage to show depth with a basic "what it says on the tin" message. Strangely however, the pro-ecology theme was criticised by the press as cheesy and Wakeman's perceived tinnier sound was trashed as well. It was a no win situation for the band - if they played the song with masses of Hammond over rich Mellotron they would also have been damned. Wakeman's input aside, the song has some delightful guitar passages with hints of a bluesy Chuck Berry-like style mixed with Steve Howe's usual finger work. It still made a modest chart position of 36 in the U.K. and featured a rather naff but thoroughly enjoyable Chroma Key video showing the band performing in the sea.
The latter half of the song features Jon Anderson singing "Dig it" over a trippy beat and swirling keyboard which sounds familiar when listening to styles found on later albums from Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. The song shows an interesting progression for Yes, and by definition they were that kind of band.
Madrigal follows, a short, delicate piece of prime Yes in the form of Rick Wakeman's harpsichord partnered with Steve Howe's Spanish guitar. Another single from the album, it has a charming promo video to accompany it showing the imposing Wakeman, looking the part in 18th century duds, sitting down to play the harpsichord.
The band sound comfortable in this musical setting, and it stands out as one of the highlights of the album. The content of the song is very much Anderson singing to us of a higher spiritual place and the celestial travellers there of. Is it heaven? Who knows but it's a favourite topic that stubbornly defies the hard edged minimal styling of other bands of that year like the Boomtown Rats and Jilted John; compare "I was so upset I cried all the way to the chip shop" (Gordon Is A Moron) with "Sacred ships do sail the seventh age" (Madrigal).
Depending on how you look at this Yes song, it's either stuck in the past and a relic of the era that Punk was attacking, or a band of huge popularity sticking up two fingers to the music world and doing exactly what it wanted to do instead.
Madrigal serves as a nice interlude before the pace of Release, Release which is a stadium rock number from a band who could fill stadiums by the thousand. Lyrically this song is punchy and seems to taking a swipe at the changing music scene, the media and the effect they were having:
No matter, where you go, you're going to find,
You won't see me in front, but you can't leave me behind
Simple to lose in the void sounds of anarchy's calling ways.
Is there lack of concentration?
These lines are suggestively ambiguous and delivered with an intensity that is a departure from the style of earlier albums, the frenetic charge of the piece is perhaps also a sign of the times. The band themselves dropped the song from the set on the subsequent tour after only six shows as it was too draining to perform night after night. Musically it incorporates a head down, rock-out guitar solo over the back of wildly cheering crowd and reminds the listener that these guys are masters of their craft and still a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately Release, Release is the high point of Tormato and after this track the album begins to run out of fizz and feels patchy and unresolved.
Arriving UFO is a song of the time, its theme reflecting the fascination for all things sci-fi that was gripping everyone at the time, on the back of Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Sales of telescopes were high as the mood was tuned into the idea of life on distant worlds and away from the grim realities of seventies economics and unrest.
Whilst the song captures the moment in its ideas it doesn't deliver in musical terms. Yes can do mystical and space-like, but it seems that in 1978 this was a thing of the past. Instead, we get an often discordant noise that at times irritates like an annoying wasp at a picnic.
Circus Of Heaven fares better but still feels largely unsatisfying. The sound jumps around a little incoherently before a moment of sentiment that is just a little too sweet from the innocent voice of Anderson's son, Damion. The fairy tale imagery of the song would have been as defiant in the face of the music press as punk was to the mainstream. Unicorns, centaurs and elves, as well as The Gardens Of Babylon, would all have reinforced the stereotype of Yes as a dinosaur lacking a finger on the pulse of the day. Purposefully constructed or not, the content does dip too far into a slightly sickly (Disney) fantasy. In amongst it all is the repeated reference to the Seventh Age, the second coming or the end of this world and the beginning of another. It continues the fascination Anderson has with the significance of "Seven".
Things do pick up with the emotional, heart-warming Onward, a Squire-penned track that simply sings of his love for his wife. The composition is strong and the lyrics are passionate and very Yes-like. However, the production choices leave the listener feeling a little flat and a track that could have been outstanding slips to average. The addition of orchestration is evidence of this as it weighs the song down and disconnects it from the rest of the album. The looping guitar pattern that runs through the song is also much too prominent and the song lacks an independent voice that would have toned down Howe's influence.
The last track, whilst it may be favoured by some, perhaps due to its sound more than anything else, is more of an expanded studio-like jam which doesn't fully resolve into anything satisfactory. On The Silent Wings Of Freedom leads with a strong rhythmic presence between White and Squire and stands out for the use of the 'Dipthong' bass pedal which achieves a notable 'Bow-Wah' sound. However, the composition is clunky and doesn't flow well throughout.
As much as fans feel it's a touch of the original Yes, and it's not hard to disagree, there is a lack of fulfilment from the closing notes and a mere sense of what Yes could be. Perhaps more than any other track on the album this illustrates the tired Yes, in need of a break, reinvention and vitality. Given that it would be many years before this line up would play together again, this finale is an unspectacular close to a glorious era.
The bonus tracks on the reissue offer mixed results but have some highlights. The Howe number Abilene is a better song than its original status of B-side to Don't Kill The Whale implies. The guitar part is unsurprisingly the strongest element of the song, finishing with the lovely Danelectro Coral Sitar Guitar sound which features on Close To The Edge and other albums.
Money has a Doo-wop fifties rock 'n' roll vibe to it and is light and bubbly. Its tone recalls the Simon & Garfunkel cover, America, from Fragile-era Yes. A tongue in cheek parody of Denis Healey by Wakeman gives the track a slightly darker tone, hitting at the tax hikes and exile faced by stars such as Yes and Led Zeppelin in the '70s.
Picasso is perhaps the strongest track. An Anderson number, its gentle acoustic portrait of the Spanish artist reflects well Anderson's talents as a solo artist. It's only a shame that this gem did not get more prominence on the original album. The excellence continues with another Anderson track, Some Are Born, which is a catchy leftover and has a great vocal and busy percussive middle.
You Can Be Saved is nondescript, neither exciting nor particularly bad. It's demo like and could have featured as a passage within another track. High is another leftover, rough and ready production wise. Anderson is lost in the mix, and yet despite this there are indications of another good track that may have elevated Tormato had it been pushed onto the album, but with the original running time being approximately 40 minutes, vinyl limitation would be the likely reason why some of this material didn't feature. As it stands it is a listenable jam of ideas and a nice inclusion on the re-issue.
Jon Anderson's naked voice is a delight to listen to on the minimal Days. It's only a one-minute fragment, but it has a sweet chanting quality which is both rich and relaxing.
The real surprise towards the end of the bonus material is Countryside which is a Spanish influenced piece with some excellent bass work from Squire. The track has a nice swing to it and is a real foot-tapper.
Finally, we have Everybody's Song, an unfinished piece that later found its way on to the Drama album in the form of Does It Really Happen?. This fact demonstrates the quality in some unfinished work at the time that could have appeared on Tormato given more time to allow the material to develop.
All told Tormato is the end of a beautiful era in the life of Yes, a time that was never replicated or bettered. The album doesn't emulate the highest points in the early '70s too well, and is not straightforward pop either, all that was to come. It struggles to find its identity in a music world that didn't care about it much anymore.
Time has not been kind to this album either, as with so many others from the late '70s by the aforementioned peers. But like it or not, it is the swansong of the '70s Yes and one that deserves a little more love.
You say tomato, I say Tormato; let's call the whole thing "off".
These words, to be found in the booklet for this remastered version of Yes' ninth studio album, released in 1978 after the band had been together for "ten true summers", summarise the view of many Yes fans. But is it fair to dismiss Tormato as both a minor work and evidence that Yes' inspiration had run its course?
After the monumental heights achieved on the previous half a dozen albums and following on from 1977's wonderful Going For The One which climaxed in Awaken, one of the most moving and complete pieces of Yes music ever, it is easy for Tormato to be overlooked and regarded as substandard. Although critically panned, I wouldn't be inclined to pay too much heed to that as with Punk at its height, and almost all the music press in the UK scrambling to climb onto the bandwagon, reasoned analysis must have been hard to come by at the time.
Tormato is certainly a long way from perfect, but it is also a considerable distance from being the car crash that many seem to regard it as. Rick Wakeman has said that the band didn't get the best out of some material, and I think this is clear in some choices made, but elsewhere the quality of the band shines through. Self-produced by the band, the album would no doubt have benefited from having an outside pair of ears to give some pointers towards a more successful direction as having five pairs of hands adjusting the faders is often a recipe for disaster. Steve Howe accepts that the band were somewhat unsure of themselves musically at the time, probably as a result of the shifting musical landscapes around them, but there is much to enjoy here and the remastered version certainly resolves some issues with the sound of the original release, although it is still a little thin, particularly in the keyboard department.
Originally to be called Yes-Tor after a rock formation on Dartmoor, Tormato, featured another Hipgnosis sleeve, after that chosen for Going For The One, that focused on the band at the landmark in question. It was never going to be the best cover in the world but choosing to keep the results after an exasperated Wakeman had apocryphally defaced it with a ripe tomato is just bizarre and probably adds to the wider perception of the album as being a bit duff.
The main problems are the scattershot approach, the variety within the music on the album and the failure of the band to deliver enough emotional peaks. This leads to a sense of fragmentation but also Wakeman's keys often sound weedy and lightweight, unlike the sounds he had achieved on albums like Going For The One and Close To The Edge. Tormato is notable for Wakeman's use of the Birotron, a Mellotron-esque device that used 8-track cartridges to replicate other instruments and sound effects and is now regarded as one of the rarest keyboard instruments in existence.
But it is not all substandard. Energy and a sense of exhilaration open the two-part Future Times / Rejoice which settles down into a locomotive rhythm from Alan White with almost call and response vocals. The first part, the only composition on the album credited to the whole band, sees Steve Howe immediately visible and producing some particularly interesting work. Chris Squire is also in fine form and the stage is nicely set for an album that as a whole sadly fails to hit the heights achieved on releases over much of the previous decade. There are noteworthy moments though; the end section of Future Times being a case in point, Jon Anderson's counting lyrics following an upward spiral until the gentler Rejoice emerges, unsurprisingly from the sound of it an Anderson solo composition. Squire's bass is quite unusual and twangy, and he makes some fine choices with another unusual piece of instrumentation, the "Dipthong pedal" which is also used to good effect during On The Silent Wings Of Freedom. Wakeman also emerges here with some exquisite runs which are far superior to his somewhat weedy sound and low-key performance elsewhere. The instrumental outro is superb and classic Yes leading into another unusual addition to the Yes songbook, Anderson and Squire's Don't Kill The Whale.
Protest songs are few and far between in the Yes canon, the John Lennon references to giving peace a chance in I've Seen All Good People on The Yes Album not withstanding, but here they put together a direct little number with some great hooks. Howe leads from the front again; the rhythm pounds allowing him to fly. Wakeman seems a little lost for most of this, trying to find something constructive to say and often noodling around in the background, his solo section when it arrives is not completely satisfying, although it ends on a high. Squire adds piano - maybe Wakeman was at the shops when they recorded that bit - and the "Cetacea" section (the latin name for the order of mammals which includes whales and dolphins) is interesting with the rhythmic intensity rising to a release.
The mood changes significantly for Madrigal which works supremely well on an excellent melody and fine vocal from Anderson supported by Wakeman's wonderful harpsichord, an instrument I'd like to hear him play more often. Howe joins the party to give this soothing little piece an extra dimension but after only two minutes - it's gone. Andrew Pryce Jackman, who had played keys in The Syn with a pre-Yes Chris Squire, provides the background string arrangement from an idea by Wakeman and the whole thing always leaves me wanting more. The rhythm is subdued, a tasteful background feature, as this is all about the acoustic chamber trio.
Release Release is a fairly straight but well realised rocker, Squire taking the vocal in the breakdown. Anderson returning for a bouncing section that couldn't be more energetic if it tried, the intensity building as Yes hit their stride. The momentum is lost somewhat with a brief White solo section - maybe the reason he gets a writing credit here alongside Anderson and Squire - supported by the cheering of an arena crowd which makes way for some strident Howe lead, his inimitable picking style making for a fascinating section as the pace increases and the rest of the band pick up where they left off. Anderson is on top form delivering the quick fire lyrics but Wakeman's dexterity cannot hide the thin sound he achieves. The fugue like vocal section before the finale is excellent and particularly well delivered.
And so ends the old side one. For me, these four songs are a thoroughly enjoyable 20 minutes or so. Time to put the kettle on, and then we're back for side two...
...which is a largely different kettle of fish, starting with the much-maligned Arriving UFO. This was always a skipper for me but to be fair there is much to enjoy. I can take or leave the twee lyrics that are just too ordinary for a band of the stature of Yes, but the playing has some fine moments, especially from Squire who shines on this one. Wakeman's playing is skilful but the effect is diminished by his shrieky sound choices which are often annoying. The whole thing should be epic and awe-inspiring but other than Squire's superb bass it all sounds a little flat, although the instrumental outro builds nicely before fading away into spacey effects. This is indicative of the main issue that can be levelled at Tormato, it just does not sound grandiose enough when compared with its predecessors.
If you can make it through the cringiness of some of the imagery, Anderson's Circus Of Heaven again features good work from Squire and Howe but is far too whimsical and belongs on an Anderson solo release rather than a Yes album. It just feels that the band were short of quality material and included songs that they would previously have discarded. This is the start of the subsequent period of Yes' existence where the inclusion of substandard material can let down otherwise solid albums, often seemingly the result of Anderson submitting songs which the rest of the band were unable to better. These songs appear quite small scale with lyrics that are far too hippy-spiritual and love-focused and not up to the standard of previous Yes works. The inclusion of a vocal addition by Jon's son Damion after the circus departs is so cloying that it should have a health warning on it - "No clowns" indeed - and if the Circus Of Heaven actually has a keyboard with a sound as weedy as this then I'll be mightily disappointed.
Whereas previous albums from Yes could be taken as a whole, the great arc of their peak period shining like a path to glory, from here on Yes albums need to be taken out of the context of their release dates and considered as stand-alone albums on their own merits. None can rightfully be compared to the band's finest works which were self-contained masterpieces, statements of intent and burgeoning creativity. But although none of the later albums hit the heights of the earlier works, they all have something to recommend them without being wholly satisfying.
So, back to Tormato and from the ridiculous to the sublime with one of the album's high-points, Chris Squire's supremely melancholic Onward. When I (eventually, I hope!) turn up my toes I've requested this played at my funeral (Awaken is just too long for your average crematorium schedule to accommodate!) and under those circumstances I'll be disappointed if there's a dry eye in the house. Just beautiful. Howe takes the rhythm on a cyclical guitar pattern, Squire adding melodic bass, his vocals combining beautifully with those of Anderson. Their voices have always blended well but here it is just sublime, the addition of strings and brass, beautifully and sympathetically arranged by Andrew Jackman again, make the whole thing magical. If this piece doesn't move you, check your pulse - you're probably dead already.
Anderson and Squire again combine in the writing of the album finale and one of the best songs from the post-heyday, On The Silent Wings Of Freedom, which sees Squire come out of the traps picking up the melody in some style, Wakeman and Howe swooping around him while White hammers along on a dexterous and driving rhythm. Steve Howe steps forward as Squire slides to rhythm duties, his ethereal tone introducing Anderson. This is a simply great song that works on every level. The words are interesting, the playing jaw-dropping in parts, the energy high with everyone seeming to be on message. I'd always thought that this must be a group composition as everyone appears to be contributing some great ideas, so it was a surprise to realise how well it works for the band as a whole. Squire is at his imperious best, his tone varying from bell-like and vibrant in the quiet parts to bombastic and thumping in the heavier sections. The energy builds again, White and Squire driving the music along under Wakeman's solo, which is again a bit too thin, the album ending with a race to the finish and sudden stop.
Tormato has always been an album that suffers when compared against the classic albums which is a shame as there is plenty to enjoy. The Rhino remastered version is a treat from the perspective of bonus tracks included, ten in all (including a sneaky hidden one at the end), eight of which were previously unreleased at the time. Some are great, some not so great, but they are all interesting from the perspective of where the band were at the time of Tormato and where they would head next in the fraught quest to deliver a follow-up, tracks from the resulting Paris Sessions being included as bonus tracks on the Drama reissue.
Of the bonus tracks here, Steve Howe's Abilene, the B-side to Don't Kill The Whale, comes across like an old friend, familiar from the YesYears box set which introduced me to many interesting songs that never made it onto Yes albums proper. There is a laconic air and upbeat vibe, Anderson delivering the words very nicely. Wakeman again appears to be a man trying to find a place for his keys so his imminent departure cannot have come as a huge surprise. He has more to do on Money, impersonating Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey as the band satirically attack the taxation policies of the then Labour government in the UK. Another odd song for Yes familiar from YesYears, it wouldn't have fitted on any of the albums but at least it sounds like they're having fun.
A couple of Anderson numbers are next. Picasso has a nice melody but is typical of Anderson's solo work and has since become part of his unreleased Chagall project. The rest of the band contribute tastefully, but it is difficult to know what they could have done with this to put a Yes stamp on it. Likewise, Some Are Born is as upbeat as you would expect with a catchy vocal, but it is too under-developed and doesn't seem to want to take us anywhere interesting. The vocals on both are a little wayward. The band add what they can but it isn't much and although nice to hear these lost sketches I'm quite glad that they were never completed for an album.
Squire's You Can Be Saved is a nice theme, his vocal mixing with that of Anderson, coloured by Wakeman's keys. There is no guitar to speak of and again this is not a track that lends itself to getting the full Yes treatment. Clearly unfinished, Squire is heard to strain a bit here and there, but this is a pleasant little number that is nice to hear if not essential.
Howe's High will be a familiar theme to many as it became Sketches In The Sun from GTR's self-titled debut album. In this setting there is much work left to do to polish it up and Anderson singing the days of the week is no doubt a fill in guide vocal. It builds and the band are clearly trying to take it somewhere, but I doubt that it would ever be anything truly special. A plaintive aside comes in the form of an Anderson a cappella demo, Days, which is fey, folky and filled with thoughts of nature. Peculiarly Anderson territory and nicely done but Yes? No. Like Some Are Born, this track was later re-worked by Anderson for his Song of Seven solo album.
Countryside, by the band minus Wakeman, seems to see them suffering from a lack of topical inspiration although when they get going the music moves along quite nicely and has some good moments. It's nice to hear the band grooving together and enjoying live in the studio creation but the classic Yes years appear far behind. This track was later re-worked for Howe's Turbulence album where it became Corkscrew.
With an eye on the future we have Everybody's Song, an early demo that was finally reworked into Does It Really Happen from the Drama album. The opening is different and very sinister, a nice switch as the track eventually coalesces into the bass part that we are all familiar with - after a bit of a stutter as Alan White adapts to the rhythm. It's interesting to hear Anderson singing this, both the differences and similarities of this version are striking.
Finally, we have an uncredited instrumental version of Onward, the strings and French Horn coming to the fore to deliver the true beauty of this awesomely moving melody, Squire's bass supporting nicely with the removal of Howe's guitar, his part taken over by strings. A brief but shimmering jewel on this album which can be easily overlooked.
So, not great but worthy of exploration, an interesting but transitional album that was always going to be difficult to make. The Yes sound is altered, not as fundamentally as on the next two albums, but there is seemingly a desire to move things forward which is let down by limitations in some of the writing and a lack of confidence amongst the band as to what the finished album should sound like.
Save the over-ripe fruit and veg, Tormato is not the nadir of Yes' output and has some fine moments.
Yes — Drama (2004 Remaster)
How do you follow up the lacklustre Tormato, 1978's Yes album that followed the triumphant second coming that was Going For The One?
Tormato, sounding more like five solo albums trying to escape rather than one coherent work, wasn't bad due to the inclusion of songs like Don't Kill The Whale, Release, Release, and On The Silent Wings Of Freedom, which showed a new direction that the band were moving towards.
Instead of being a stepping-stone however, Tormato became a full stop - Anderson & Wakeman leaving after its lukewarm reception and the struggles of trying to complete a follow-up.
Replacing keyboard players was never a problem for Yes, Wakeman had left before, and would jump back onto the roundabout again in the future, but it was the loss of Jon Anderson that seemed more of an issue, as Jon was, and is, still seen as the voice of Yes. Some would say that anything without him just wasn't Yes.
You can't talk about Drama without talking about another band - The Buggles. This band, far more than most, can lay claim to having a huge impact on '80s music and pop culture. A studio based duo of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, they had scored a massive hit in 1979 with the shiny future pop single Video Killed The Radio Star (which in just over 4 minutes encapsulated the manifesto of MTV, where it was the first video played) and with the template of the keyboard wizard and the most un-rock star looking front-man defined electro pop duos from Soft Cell to The Pet Shop Boys. Trevor Horn, with his ZTT label and production techniques utilised by everyone from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to ABC and beyond, defined what pop music was in the 1980s.
So, you take the three core members of Yes, the rhythm section of Chris Squire and Alan White - who to all intents and purposes are Yes encapsulated - and Steve Howe, one of the most progressive guitarists, and then throw into the mix the new wave, electro style and pop sensibilities of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, and you have a line-up that could either produce the music of their lives, or be an unmitigated disaster.
Drama, released on 22nd August 1980 (my third birthday by the way - unsurprisingly it wasn't amongst my presents that year) appeared 3 years after modern music historians like to claim punk killed prog. Yet if prog had died and this was one too many line-up of Yes for some fans to take, then how come Drama hit number 2 in the UK charts? Simple - the quality of the album. It was sharp where Tormato was sloppy; it was coherent where Tormato was muddled; it had a much harder edge to it, and some have suggested that the New Wave ethic of Downes and Horn had reawakened something in the old Yes men.
Yet there were nods to the past - Roger Dean's superb artwork; Eddy Offord returning to help produce; the longer songs, which were always the group's strong point. All were back with a vengeance. The Howe/Squire/White axis was on strong form, whilst the work of the newcomers proved that they were more than a match for their predecessors.
Downes is very much a classical keyboard player in the Wakeman/Moraz role, though with more of an emphasis on what his performance adds to the songs rather than a need to constantly solo. His work on Machine Messiah, Tempus Fugit, and Run Into The Light is superb and his interaction with Steve Howe's masterful guitar is sharp, crisp and takes all the best of Yes' musicianship and pushes it forward. Squire and White, having worked so closely together for a long time, are the dream drum and bass combo, instinctively knowing what the other is going to do, the bass filling the gaps left by the drums and vice versa, all the time laying down the musical foundations that Howe and Downes build upon.
Finally, the vocals, the most controversial part of the album to die-hard Yes fans. Trevor Horn - surprise, surprise - isn't Jon Anderson, and what's more he isn't trying to be. Instead, he is Trevor Horn, fronting Yes, his voice blending nicely into the Howe/Squire vocal harmonies, for so long an integral part of the band's sound, helping to ease the listener into the album.
The six tracks here, unfairly ignored and maligned by Anderson/Yes purists, are sheer musical gold. The opening 10 minutes plus of Machine Messiah is harder edged, the lyrics tauter and less abstract than Jon's, and Horn's vocals form an integral part of the Yes sound. By the time the 10 minutes are over, we are in new musical territory - it's still Yes, but not as we know it.
One of the shortest Yes songs, White Car, is an enigmatic and haunting musical interlude, leading into one of the great Yes songs, Does it Really Happen?, a driving full-on track, with all five players pushing at their musical limits. With some of the greatest Yes vocal harmonies in a fantastic performance, this is as close as it gets to perfection.
The Buggles' song Into The Lens (reworked on their Adventures In Modern Recording album, which, together with Living In The Plastic Age are must own albums for any Drama fan) is totally different from The Buggles' version, the Yes sound in full force here, taking the base material and turning it into gold. The closing brace of Run Through The Light and Tempus Fugit show the different musical facets of Drama, with Run Through The Light being almost reflective and atmospheric whilst Tempus Fugit is a rollicking Yes rocker, recently revived on the Fly From Here tour.
Drama is far more than the sum of its parts, it is a tour de force of musicianship and songwriting, where the injection of two new members gave the existing Yes men a shot in the arm and created arguably the most important album in Yes' history since The Yes Album.
Without a doubt, Drama was the best name that Yes could give to this album, because it was surrounded by many events that would sooner or later play a major role in the progressive rock scene of that time. I prefer to write about these facts and try to make my conclusion rather than analyse again that amazing music and the job that the band did at that moment. I have to admit how difficult it is for me to write this review, particularly because Drama was the first time that we saw a major turning point in the history of Yes.
Many factors influenced the making of this album. Firstly, Tormato, the previous release, wasn't as successful as the band expected and there were creative and financial differences between the band members. In 1979 the band attended several rehearsal sessions in Paris with producer Roy Thomas Baker and internal divisions appeared because of their diverse approaches concerning the way in which the music should be focused, whether they should return to a more fantastical and atmospheric sound or keep the heavier rock sound from their most recent albums (Tormato and Going For The One). The result was an inevitable split which left the band as an instrumental trio with the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman.
At the same time, a New Wave duo called The Buggles had a #1 hit in the UK charts with the song Video Killed Rhe Radio Star whose video clip was the very first one aired on MTV. Whilst recording in the same studios Geoffrey Downes and Trevor Horn, being Yes fans, were introduced to the band and were later invited by Chris Squire to join the project.
The sound of the Drama album overall is a mixture between the fantastic and the heavier rock sound, with an influence from the new members that marked a new version of the trademark Yes sound. Amazingly, Horn's voice was very close to Anderson's range, and that made the transition easier. My favorite songs from this album are Does It Really Happen? and Run Through The Light but for me if the whole thing were 20 minutes longer it would be greater than it already is.
And, why so great? Because in a more subjective way the legacy of Drama, besides its success, are the events that happened after that tour. Unfortunately, Yes disbanded because Horn quit the band, his vocal register wasn't high enough to replicate Anderson's and the fans didn't receive him so well as the new frontman of the band. So, Yes officially ended in 1981. Howe and Downes started to think about Asia and joined with John Wetton and Carl Palmer. Trevor Horn began a highly successful career as a record producer.
Almost 30 years on from that moment, the Drama spirit emerged again. After many changes in the band, 2008 saw Jon Anderson replaced by Benoit David and songs from the Drama album started to be performed again live. And one of the contributions made by Downes/Horn at the time of Drama was the starting point for the 2011 album Fly From Here where a rearrangement of a song called You Can Fly From Here, written three decades before, became the basis of the main suite.
In the end, there was not enough drama at all... This is a very important album in the history of Yes, and with this re-release it's time for all our readers to rediscover this great album.
Drama may come across as the "odd one out" if compared with Yes' previous output. It is, however, a very interesting album, and surely one that I rate positively and always play with great pleasure!
When I first listened to the album back in 2001 I thought I would be dealing with a lesser effort, due to the absence of two of the most distinctive elements of the sound that had impressed me in higher-rated releases. On the other hand, now I think it may not have been the best approach to adopt before pushing the "play" button. If you expect an album in the tried-and-true Yes style, then it might be worth listening to Drama backwards, starting from Tempus Fugit - a song that would have been a perfect fit even for Yes' '71 - '74 output.
Indeed, it is easy to recognize which of the album's compositions originated with The Buggles (even if they were later rearranged by Yes) and which ones instead had been written before the two new members joined the band, although the booklet credits all members as writers of all the album's tracks. Even the lyrics focus on issues closer to The Buggles' The Age Of Plastic - such as the relationship between humankind and technology - rather than on the nature-related imagery so frequent in Jon Anderson's lyrics.
Looking at the songs in detail, Machine Messiah is a superb suite that hints at some examples of high-quality neo-prog. White Car belongs exclusively to The Buggles component of the band, while Does It Really Happen?, Into The Lens and Run Through The Light clearly lean towards sophisticated pop modes. As I have already stated, however, Tempus Fugit is the most evident throwback to the band's earlier output. Actually, many of the distinguishing features of the Yes sound can be easily detected throughout the album: Steve Howe's virtuoso style is unmistakable, as are Chris Squire's aggressive bass, with the clear, bright sound of his pick-driven attack, and Alan White's crisp drumming. Probably with the intent of reassuring the band's hardcore fandom, both Roger Dean's evocative artwork and Eddy Offord's skills and experience in the studio make a comeback for the occasion.
However, due to my professional bias, my listening efforts are inevitably focused on the work of the keyboardist, "new entry" Geoff Downes. And here the differences are truly hard to miss, especially in terms of style. In fact, while Downes does not strive for the high level of virtuosity of the two 'giants', Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz, his personal imprint is undeniably very strong, as he brings along an endless array of cutting-edge keyboards (for that time), though much less typically "progressive" if compared to his predecessors' instrumentation. He is also clearly very familiar with those keyboards - creating innovative sounds that will be very influential for the next generations of keyboardists - and his distinctive style brings the band's sound up to date with an impact that will later become an essential feature of Asia's music. Listening to the pads he uses as an accompaniment immediately evokes what we occasionally call - with a sort of biased contempt - "the sound of the '80s". The synth solos are also crystal-clear, as Downes does not aim for that bass-laden sound, propelled by a violin-like portamento, so typical of the Seventies. While the Hammond organ is a time-honoured survivor from the previous decades, among the many new features we can mention the widespread use of the Vocoder, a synthesizer that samples sounds in real time through a microphone. "Speaking" sounds are thus generated by putting one's mouth near the microphone ("I am a camera! I am a camera!").
For the joy of all us keyboardists, it should be remembered that Geoff was entered in the Guinness Book of Records in the '80s for having played on stage a set of no less than 28 keyboards! As a whole, listening to Drama in retrospect, I believe that Geoff Downes was the right keyboardist to bring Yes into the new decade. Together with Trevor Horn's outstanding production (and Horn would go on to become a successful producer) he brought about a change that - as painful and unexpected as it may have been for many fans - in my opinion was necessary and positive for the band's evolution.
Though the album and the following tour also enjoyed a good deal of commercial success, the band split up immediately afterwards. However, knowing what happened to the Yes name in the following decades, we also know that the band's "journey" has never truly been interrupted. Indeed, Drama is an essential piece of the development of one of the most beloved projects in the history of progressive rock.
I remember Drama arriving in my house in 1980. I was late to the Yes party being only 14. My brother Steve was the prog fan and all these weird albums were around. Tormato was the first Yes album I bought - for £1.99 - and played it to death. I was unaware of everything that had gone before, so I didn't mind the shorter songs; I expected nothing, and loved it. So when Drama came out I didn't mind that Jon Anderson wasn't singing or Rick Wakeman wasn't there.
I can remember the first thing that blew me away when I saw it first was the amazing cover; the Roger Dean masterwork. I still think it's one of his best and reflects what was inside - slick and precise and colourful.
I knew of The Buggles and liked Video Killed The Radio Star, but couldn't put them and Yes together when I first played the album. It was weird. It sounded like Jon Anderson, but it wasn't. It was only later that I realised how much Chris Squire contributes to the sound of the Yes vocal, and on this album he is to the fore, his and Trevor Horn's vocals becoming one.
The track Machine Messiah was up first. On first listening it was really hard to get into, the first couple of minutes bare and angular. I remember the apprehension waiting for the vocal to come in.
Ahh...it's gonna be OK, it sounds like Jon.
The album then just nails it for me.
The first thing that hits me, and what I love is the production which is amazing. It's by far the best sounding Yes album, even to this day. All the instruments are so well recorded and there is a space that leads to a real power. The drums are the best sounding drums I've heard. I always use these as a reference when I'm mixing.
The two albums prior to Drama, Tormato and Going For The One, sound like five people all pushing their individual faders up to 11. On Drama there is somebody at the helm, Trevor Horn and his team at Sarm West studios. These guys went on to make some of the best sounding albums of the '80s/'90s. Even Steve Howe, who's playing I always though was sloppy, is precise and powerful.
The keyboards are fat and real. Gone are the awful synths that Rick brought to Tormato. Here we have Geoff Downes on the Hammond and piano and some fat analogue synths. It really is a lesson in less is more. It sounds like a band and the songs stand on their own merits. Not over produced to hide dodgy song structures, the arrangements are fantastic.
White Car is a tease, and I wish it went on longer.
Does It Really Happen? has real power and a fantastic bass sound and playing. Into The Lens is so rich in its arrangement and the choice of guitar and keyboard sounds, any shortcomings in the vocal department are just passed over in this relentless, compact masterclass in songwriting and arrangement. There are no overly stretched out sections, so you don't get bored, no overly padded solo sections.
I think Drama has had bad press, but you would be amazed how much you see the fans on forums all saying that they love this album.
It really is the one Yes album without fat or padding. I just wish I saw it live!!
So to say that I use this album as a benchmark of sonic and musical achievement is an understatement.
Yes — Big Generator (2009 Remaster)
The midlife renaissance of Yes, turbocharged by Trevor Rabin and the return of Tony Kaye, resulted in the release of their most accessible album to date. 90125 was pure AOR gold, Owner Of A Lonely Heart becoming a radio classic, the rest of the songs a weighty canon of tantalising Yes-tunes.
Such a monumental hit album was going to take some following and not surprisingly, the eventual arrival of Big Generator in September 1987 was preceded by a very long and difficult gestation period. The departure of Trevor Horn, who had been so instrumental in the success of 90125, from the team meant that it was left to Rabin to take the leading production role.
This was not the best backdrop for what was to follow so it is something of a miracle that Big Generator found its own niche with a continuing commercial bent but without the brilliant dynamics of its predecessor. The songs are, by and large, strong but lack the 'wow' factor that ...Lonely Heart or the a cappella Leave It on 90125 possess.
Opener Rhythm Of Love made it into the US top 40, its strengths being tight vocal harmonies punctuating a powerful melody and killer drumming from Alan White. What is less known is that this is Yes' first song which is obliquely references sex, the lyrics open to a lot of erotic interpretation. The accompanying video featuring a sexy blonde being pursued by an automaton left little to the imagination.
The title track carries on in the same vein with big harmonies, a huge beat and lots of mechanical sounds from Rabin's guitar and Kaye's keyboards leaping out of the mix. Again, it is impressive and catchy, but just falls short of being in their major league.
Shoot High Aim Low is something of a curio. Much slower and deliberate, Jon Anderson and Rabin's voices alternating in the first verses before a big sweep of harmonies dominate the eponymous chorus. Again, White is all over this song with his metronome beat keeping it ticking over. There's a huge guitar break that comes in and doesn't quite hit the heights before White returns along with the melodies. The overall verdict is that it sounds ponderous and does not really go anywhere.
That is more than can be said for Almost Like Love which gallops along at a real lick, a mixture of meaty riffs and Anderson singing at breakneck speed throughout as all instrumental elements seem to race for the final line.
Strings begin for me the best song on the album, Love Will Find A Way, with jangling guitars leading an uplifting, hearty melody in which all five play an integral part, Chris Squire's vocals audible in the harmonies. This song was going to be given to Stevie Nicks by Rabin and thank heavens it wasn't. It's the perfect feelgood song with a touch of harmonica and some slightly dodgy lyrics; "I eat at chez nous". Quite!
Final Eyes reduces the tempo and again, it's a song which sounds like a filler rather than a main contender. It is pleasant, especially hearing Kaye's keyboards piping away alongside Rabin's electric guitar and again, it is punctuated by nice noodling, but it comes over as being a bit bland.
Squire's bass and Rabin's guitar set us up for I'm Running, the album's magnum opus and again, it evokes some strange moments as the intro reminds me of the old theme tune to the BBC Television programme It's A Knockout. However, this is a different proposition as the song bears plenty of classic Yes hallmarks through its constant shape-shifting and some interesting moments including allowing Kaye's piano to come in - and that curious duck sound halfway through. Anderson is also given free rein with the vocals and sounds totally at ease within his comfort zone. It's a great run-out for all the band members, including that wonderful close harmony section towards the end, and for all the above reasons it remains a personal favourite.
It ends with Anderson's gentle acoustically-led, spiritually-charged Holy Lamb which could have been taken from one of his solo albums and was a portent for songs such as The Meeting on the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe self-titled album released three years later.
So the old prog joke goes, this is an album, not a track, whose ending bears absolutely no relation to its beginning. It is certainly not one of their major league offerings, but nor does it plumb the depths of one or two other offerings which shall remain nameless.
The fact remains though: it does lack direction in places and some real excitement.
And so to the last album featured in this box set of Yes' Atlantic Records releases, Big Generator from 1987, the twelfth studio album by the band. Released on Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic, it was their last studio album for the label and the follow-up to the massively successful 90125 which had attracted many new listeners to the band with its new sound, modernistic and shiny, courtesy of producer (and ex-band member) Trevor Horn and the material predominantly developed by guitarist Trevor Rabin.
90125 and its hit single Owner Of A Lonely Heart had performed beyond anyone's expectations and after the supporting world tour the band reconvened unchanged to record a follow-up which, as had become the norm for Yes, was a laborious process shot through with creative differences that saw the sessions drag on for two years. Rabin was seeking to progress beyond 90125 whilst Jon Anderson was beginning to yearn for more traditional Yes music, a situation that would see him leaving the band in 1988 after the Big Generator tour - which didn't feature Europe in its itinerary - and regroup with other ex-Yes members from the Golden Age of the band to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.
Trevor Horn was brought in for the early recording sessions but was dropped after only a few months due in major part to his inability to get along with keyboardist Tony Kaye. Reportedly Horn had also told Anderson to stay away from the studio for three months so that Horn could develop material with the other band members. Sessions moved from Italy to London to Los Angeles where, after the departure of Horn, Trevor Rabin assumed the production duties with Paul De Villiers and is credited for pulling together the music as it finally appeared on the album.
The resulting Big Generator album was successful commercially with two songs reaching the USA Top 40, but it failed to reach the heights of 90125. The material, though rooted in a similar style to 90125, did indeed move into new territory and although this was no return to the classic Yes style, the album contained some interesting tracks that pointed to the future rather than the past.
Along with albums such as Tormato, Big Generator has a poor reputation amongst Yes fans. I have always found this quite peculiar and at odds with the album that I discovered upon its release in 1987. In fact, whilst a student at university, this was the first Yes album that I bought on release, and I raced back to my halls of residence to see what the band had come up with. I had heard and enjoyed the Love Will Find A Way single that was released before the album, one of the hookiest things Yes ever released, and was filled with anticipation for the full set of songs.
It was a strange listen at first, but I soon grew accustomed to it and found it more fulfilling than much of 90125. My first exposure to Yes had been hearing Awaken on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show on Radio 1 in the UK - I'd never heard the like - and around the same time a friend had bought a copy of the then newly released 90125 which I thoroughly enjoyed. Between these events and the release of Big Generator I had bought a number of older Yes albums and was open to both the traditional sounds of the band and their newer incarnation. Due to the method of my introduction I never saw the '80s albums as sacrilegious or a stain on the reputation of a once great band's past. It was just different. Being able to view each release on its own merits has allowed me to take subsequent releases from the band on face value, and I've never had any expectation of them producing Close To The Edge II, although that would be nice!
Originally not included in the 2003/2004 Rhino Remaster series which saw the Atlantic Yes albums reissued with a better sound and bonus tracks, Big Generator was only released in Japan, and this Studio Albums: 1968 - 1987 box is the first time that it has been available elsewhere with the bonus tracks included. As we will see later, this is no reason on its own to splash out on the box set.
Held within a sleeve that takes more inspiration from the cover of 90125 than from anything that Roger Dean had produced, the music on Big Generator sounds like a whole and complete album that flows quite nicely, all songs written by the band (with or without Alan White) except for Rabin's Love Will Find A Way and Anderson's Holy Lamb. It starts with the punchy and upbeat Rhythm Of Love which was released as second single after the release of the album, supported by a slightly saucy but not very good video for MTV - a Yes song with lyrics overtly about sex? For shame Mr. Rabin! The '80s Rock Chick in the video, having seemingly got dressed and undressed several times is even seen "riding a rocket" at the end! What gives?!
That said, the song is a worthy intro to the album, easing the listener in with one of the more commercial pieces in the set. What immediately becomes apparent is the sparkling contribution from Alan White, the drum sound that Rabin achieves is just fantastic, and White exudes drive and energy.
The songs on Big Generator can be placed into three categories:-
- The potential singles: Rhythm Of Love, Almost Like Love, and Love Will Find A Way - there's a lot of love on this album, but it seems to be coming more from Rabin than Anderson here;
- The more atmospheric pieces that aid the flow: Big Generator, Final Eyes, and Holy Lamb;
- The "epic" set pieces: Shoot High, Aim Low and I'm Running.
The singles bookend side one and start side two, the latter being, for me, the most convincing "chart song" that Yes ever released and one that I have never tired of - despite the clunking "I eat at chez nous" line of the lyric. Rabin's riff is propulsive and a definite ear-worm and his string quartet intro a masterstroke that immediately sets the song apart. Strangely, as Chris Squire has been know to deploy harmonica live on occasion - and as he mimingly does in the video above - an outsider provides the harmonica addition to Love Will Find A Way on the album. The least convincing of the three is Almost Like Love, which bizarrely features the Soul Lips brass section whose shrieking interludes date the song badly, but it is still quite fun and energetic.
Of the atmospheric pieces, the title track is a strange one, very rhythmic and industrial in feel, it plods and thumps its way along without going very far. Final Eyes is better with a typical Rabin flavour about much of it, the track working quite nicely between the two best songs on the album. To close the set we have Holy Lamb which always used to be the skipper for me, but now I enjoy it a lot more. It starts as a typical Anderson solo song with strummed guitars but builds through its short runtime as the rest of the band join in and ends with a soaring Rabin solo to top things off with a satisfying finale.
The songs I've labelled as "epics" are not really, just that they are slightly more extended pieces in the scope of '80s Yes, they do not compare with the true epics of the earlier era but both are interesting enough with Shoot High, Aim Low, a strangely titled song with a panoramic widescreen feel, a gangster flavoured road-trip with good use of keys. The best track on the album, however, is the scintillating I'm Running which comes straight out of left-field with a hyperactive intensity that joyfully skips about from one idea to the next. For me this is the peak of Rabin's contribution to Yes and is worth the price of admission on its own. It doesn't sound like anything else the band have ever done and that's to its credit; it's new, vibrant and different and Yes pull it off with style.
So, as this is the extended version let's have a quick peak at the bonus tracks of which there are five.
For anyone who was not there in the '80s or is hitherto unaware of the height of mediocrity that was the 12" single remix, this is a good chance for you to find out more about them. And then never speak of them again. Although occasionally used to good effect, New Order's Blue Monday 12" immediately springing to mind, these were purely a marketing gimmick that allowed more product to be sold with not a single additional note being recorded, just one guy twiddling knobs and adding extraneous bits and bobs to his heart's content. These things were ubiquitous and '80s Yes, initially under the tutelage of Trevor Horn who with Frankie Goes To Hollywood had excelled in such things, made "good use" of them on the 90125 singles and those taken from Big Generator. So we have two hideous travesty remixes of Love Will Find A Way and three of Rhythm Of Love with dance rhythms, brass and generally extended running times. If you listen to any of these more than once then you're either too drunk to switch it off or more into dance than prog in which case why are you reading this?
It's a whole bowl of "wrong" that does nothing for the album at all and should be studiously ignored.
Having used a cheese grater to scour the last remnants of the remixes from my memory I can now think about writing a conclusion. Big Generator is an album that emerged from a difficult gestation but, thanks to Rabin, has some fine moments. It's nowhere near a classic, however if it was any other band it would almost certainly be more highly regarded. It bears no resemblance to the Yes of old and was ultimately a further step along a cul-de-sac that finally resulted in a U-turn back to more typical Yes material once Rabin had left the band after the Talk album.
In the '80s/'90s equal numbers of fans seemed to vilify Trevor Rabin for ruining the band as lauded him for being its saviour. From our vantage point over a quarter of a century removed, there is no doubt that Yes would have continued in some form whether Rabin had got involved or not, but he is to be credited for widening the band's appeal and exposing it to new listeners. Yes members have a habit of picking up with each other and then moving on again but the gravitational pull of the band is too much for most of them to fight against. I've always been a fan of Rabin's playing, and he is certainly a rare talent but from where I sit writing this now I think that it would have been far more interesting if Cinema had been allowed to prove what it could do under its own name without the re-branding and reintroduction of Jon Anderson and all the baggage that went with it. No doubt Cinema too would have ultimately been pulled apart by the rampant black hole that is the spectre of Yes which would then have naturally risen again phoenix-like. But money, or the thought of it, does funny things to people and if I had the opportunity to use Coca-Cola as my brand name I doubt that wild horses would convince me to use "Jez's Fun Soda" instead.
An entertaining and fun record. Just don't expect Close To The Edge and you'll be fine.
DPRP Team Rankings For These Albums
|Tom De Val||8||8.5||5||8||5||4|
Yes Albums Ranked By DPRP Team
The albums ranked by the average rating of all the reviewers involved:
|1||Close To The Edge||9.87|
|2||Going For The One||8.83|
|4||The Yes Album||8.75|
|6||Tales From Topographic Oceans||8.59|
|9||Time And A Word||7.16|
We hope that you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
Now for the bonus feature of the other three Yes studio albums that have not been reviewed on DPRP to date: Union, Talk, and Keys To Ascension Part 1.
Thanks again for your support through some difficult times for DPRP in 2013 and here's to a successful 2014 for all!
Yes — Union
"I call it the Onion album because every time I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes" Rick Wakeman
The pathos in the above quote is typical Rick Wakeman, but the humour covers up a great deal of truth about one of Yes most underrated and impenetrable albums.
Union is the most misnamed album in the Yes catalogue - almost fraudulent - the title purporting to display a coming together of the band which had split into two camps after the Big Generator tour. Jon Anderson had become disenchanted with the '80s version of Yes and wanted a return to the style of music they played during their '70s heyday, so he left the band to regroup with previous alumni Bill Bruford, Wakeman and Steve Howe. Unable to use the Yes name by threat of lawsuits, as it was part owned by Chris Squire, they released a self-titled album as Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe in 1989 and successfully toured with An Evening Of Yes Music Plus.
By 1991, ABWH were struggling to bring a second album to fruition while the remaining members of "Yes-West", as it had come to be known - Squire, Trevor Rabin, Alan White and Tony Kaye - continued to demo songs and seek out a new singer to replace Jon Anderson. Billy Sherwood, who became a Yes member in the late '90s, was considered for the role, but it didn't happen at this time and the band were floundering.
With problems on both sides and record company pressure to revitalise the Yes brand, Anderson and Squire hatched a plan to bring both factions together as an 8-man "Super Yes". Unfortunately, although the supporting tour was a brilliant success that is regarded by many as one of the best tours the band ever did, the album was a cobbled together travesty of what it was billed as. Let's take a look at the list of players.
Jon Anderson - lead vocals
Chris Squire - bass guitar, vocals
Trevor Rabin - guitar, vocals
Tony Kaye - keyboards, vocals
Alan White - drums, vocals
Bill Bruford - drums
Rick Wakeman - keyboards
Steve Howe - guitar, vocals
Jonathan Elias - synthesizer, keyboards, vocals
Tony Levin - bass guitar, Chapman Stick
Jimmy Haun - guitar
Billy Sherwood - bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals
Allan Schwartzberg - percussion
Gary Barlough - synthesizer
Jerry Bennett - synthesizer, percussion
Jim Crichton - synthesizer, keyboards
Gary Falcone - vocals
Deborah Anderson - vocals (Jon's daughter)
Ian Lloyd - vocals
Tommy Funderburk - vocals
Sherman Foote - synthesizer
Brian Foraker - synthesizer
Chris Fosdick - synthesizer
Rory Kaplan - synthesizer
Alex Lasarenko - synthesizer, keyboards
Steve Porcaro - synthesizer
Michael Sherwood - vocals
Danny Vaughn - vocals
You have to ask - what in God's name did all these people do? You've got Rick Wakeman, why do you need 11 more keyboard/synth players? I almost expected to see my own name crop up among the cast list!
And here lies the problem with Union. It isn't.
The album is at first glance thrown together, a mishmash of tracks from the aborted second ABWH release and Rabin/Squire/Sherwood demos, interestingly with some production input from Eddy Offord. There is also scope for the inclusion of some solo works including a Steve Howe solo piece, although this had been recorded before the project and was included at the insistence of the record company (a good call, perhaps, as it garnered a Grammy nomination and is one of his most satisfying solo pieces).
Producer Jonathan Elias (who oversaw the project and produced most of the tracks, although he had no input in the Yes-West material) somehow managed to pull together the ABWH material into workable form, getting a writing credit on 8 of the tracks, and it is a miracle that the album as a whole sounds as good as it does.
For, amazingly, it does sound good. There are no major clunks between the disparate parts and although it does not work wholly successfully as an album due to the variety of styles, the material is actually very good and Elias has to take credit for that, employing numerous musicians to complete or replace the fragments he had to work with. The facade of the "Union" is kept up with Jon Anderson singing on the tracks from both camps and Chris Squire adding backing vocals to some ABWH material. His involvement did not go as far as adding bass, ABWH and King Crimson bassist Tony Levin works his magic there.
As a unified album, Union is a disaster; the greatest record company rip-off and calamity that I can think of. It is not Yes, merely a bunch of Yes members supported by a cast of thousands to complete a set of disparate songs. As Steve Howe has said, the album "was more in control of the producers than the players and that required a lot of compromise from everybody".
However, taken out of the "Onion" context, it's actually a bloody good listen. I enjoyed it when it came out, and I still enjoy it now. Most of the songs are superior to much of Yes' other later work. They don't hold a candle to the classics, but they are enjoyable and entertaining. A good album indeed but not necessarily a Yes album, it loses a lot of its sheen when the politics, background and interfering are taken into account. Amazingly, it transpires that other than on his solo piece Masquerade you can't actually be sure whether it's Steve Howe or Jimmy Haun playing his parts as Haun was called in by Elias to give his best Howe impression to help mould the songs into something that they weren't. The fact that it's not easy to tell is a credit to Haun but only adds to the confusion. Likewise, Wakeman's keys, you can pick him out here and there but who plays what generally is a mystery.
My advice with Union would be to forget all that you've heard about it and just take it for what it is - a decent bunch of songs with some fine playing, irrespective of from whom. Bill Bruford playing with Tony Levin is always going to be a joy, the tuned percussion and harmonic bass piece Evensong a lovely interlude. Jon Anderson is in fine voice and Trevor Rabin's playing is wonderful.
The ABWH material appears to be very limited in any original form and the bulk of the tracks purporting to be from this side of the "band" seem to be mainly written by Anderson and Elias with contributions to some extent from Howe, Bruford and Wakeman. These tracks range from the imposing opener I Would Have Waited Forever and forthright Dangerous through more thoughtful material such as Without Hope You Cannot Start The Day, which opens quietly with Anderson almost alone before the music swells in the second half, and the upbeat Silent Talking, but all have their moments and the closing Give & Take has Steve Howe (possibly) all over it. Shock To The System is more rhythmic. initially I'd have put this one down to Rabin but Howe's sound cuts through. The chorus is great and works a treat with Anderson in fine voice. Throughout all of this Wakeman is seemingly nowhere.
The sound on the rocky set pieces is dense with lots going on and plenty of percussion. Immediately making an impression is Levin's bass which adds a new texture previously not part of the Yes palette, as also heard during the excellent Holding On. The multi-tracked vocals are well realised and Squire can be heard clearly here and there as can some obvious Bruford drumming with Howe/Haun adding some nice soloing, but the songs are largely a studio exercise for which Elias was responsible.
The four Yes-West songs are heavier on the whole and not quite as polished - unsurprising, as Rabin was shocked to find that his demos had been used before they were completed. He subsequently referred to Union as a "black mark" on the band's history.
The Yes-West material comprises Rabin songs Lift Me Up, which was released as a single, and the lighter Saving My Heart which is pleasant but inconsequential, plus Miracle Of Life, co-composed by Rabin and Mark Mancina, and The More We Live - Let Go from the Squire/Sherwood writing partnership which goes for a big sound, rhythmic and atmospheric, and nails it quite nicely. This song later appeared on their first Conspiracy album and along with Miracle Of Life was co-produced by Eddy Offord.
The differences between the songs from the two camps are stark: The Yes-West songs are not as dense and the rhythm section is more typically latter-day Yes, add to that Rabin's voice (with Anderson's added) and soloing, and we would be in 90125 territory except that the songs bear only a fleeting resemblance to the band's '80s material. Miracle Of Life is interesting for the neat little Hammond organ motifs from Kaye. It is noteworthy that this is the only Yes album that Rabin was involved with where he didn't play any keys.
The remaining tracks are generally solo/duo works that often act as linking pieces. In addition to Masquerade and Evensong we have Anderson and Wakeman joining forces on the atmospheric Angkor Wat and Anderson's Take The Water To The Mountain. All are certainly pleasant and generally worthy without being showstoppers.
Throughout, the material is pretty good and there are few weak moments. I'm sure that if it were not for the debacle that was the politics behind its release Union would have been considered a success and not suffer the stigma that it currently does.
The fact is that the album exists, and it is worth hearing so stow away any preconceptions, ignore the background and "but who plays what" games and just enjoy it.
My conclusion is a 7.5 out of 10, which applies to the music. It's a 3 if you just can't ignore the background.
Yes — Talk
Having assembled as an eight piece for Union, truly one of Yes' Marmite albums, the Big Generator line-up regrouped and Talk came out in March 1994.
Whereas Big Generator, which had the hard task of following the great 90125, lacked a real punch and direction, Talk has a renewed vigour, serious cohesion and real drama.
Talk has many of the same elements as Big Generator, predominantly Rabin's full-on rock chops and White's powerful drumming, but this time there is a real drive and belief about it. The sound/production too is much clearer and sharper.
The Calling carries on the great Yes tradition of memorable openers, it being a classic, classy rocker which sounds upbeat, urgent and boy, does it kick! More romantic, more laid back, I Am Waiting carries on in a similar vein in which Rabin's guitar soars and Anderson is in fine voice. It's pleasant, melodic and easy on the ear without making any huge demands.
Now, when I first bought Talk all those years ago, there was one track which grabbed me more than any of the others, and it was Real Love. This song is heavy duty in so many ways. For a start that slow burn rhythm is almost tribal. That regular pounding beat underpins some wonderful word play about the whole meaning of life; "Call this real love, activates this mission to be on the same timeline". They don't write them like that anymore. Any song which also references Professor Stephen Hawking has to be on to something! Never mind some of Rabin's more cultured rock moments on this album, this, to my mind, is pure prog pay dirt!
State Of Play gets back into the true rock groove with its clean melody lines, Kaye's Hammond organ underpinning Rabin's guitar and Chris Squire's bass coming to the fore as the song reaches its final climax.
Next is Walls, on which Rabin takes the lead vocal and, as memory serves, this is a personal song about a stressful time in his life. Again, it shows his ability to deliver songs that make perfect sense to the brain because they are full of lovely hooks and shot through with rich, engaging melodies.
There's a real shift in tempo now to the slightly Eastern-sounding and rather lovely Where Will You Be, which has all the hallmarks of an Anderson song with its romantic, spiritual lyrics about the meeting of soul mates. The lighter feel, lilting rhythm and acoustic guitar solo make it a real feel-good song.
As befits many a Yes album, the magnum opus is left until the end and Endless Dream is worth waiting for. This is Rabin's paean to '70s Yes, reinventing it for the early '90s. Starting with the instrumental section Silent Spring with tinkling keyboards, the drama begins almost immediately with crashing guitar chords and Hammond organ arpeggios before the symphonic section comes in, Squire's bass rumbling along. Kaye takes a more prominent role using his keys to speed up and slow down the tempo.
A slightly blurred vocal from Rabin begins the middle movement Talk and it is clear that Rabin has done his homework on how to write a Yes epic.
Anderson takes over the vocals before it phases into a guitar led rockier section with lyrics cocking a snook at television evangelists. There's a dreamy synthy section with other worldly guitars and Anderson's voice shining before again they crank up the sonics a notch or two to start a lovely Endless Dream sung section where Anderson hits one of the more remarkable notes of his illustrious career on "dream". It gives goose bumps now, as much as it did nearly 20 years ago.
The final passage has an ethereal quality to it with the delicate instrumentation accompanying some beautiful choral vocal harmonies. It is quintessential Yes, carefully constructed and initialled with loving care.
Talk is by no means a classic, but it has certainly stood the test of time very well with its combination of Rabin rock and Anderson alchemy, along with the rather stunning Endless Dream.
Yes — Keys To Ascension
The '90s were a rough time, both for the members of Yes and their fans. After the unmitigated disaster that was Union, fans who loved the 'classic' Yes sound and preferred the alternative band Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe were dismayed to see that 'Yes-West' had won out. The Trevor Rabin-based band continued to work, and produced Talk in March 1994, a week before my third birthday. Oddly, the album seemed to yearn for the prog rock of the '70s and indeed Rabin had requested that Rick Wakeman stay over from Union to contribute to the album, a movement that would not come to pass being the victim of numerous conflicts. To me this epitomises the post-Big Generator Yes, a band endlessly marred by big egos, political disputes and unparalleled bureaucracy. Union would really leave a stain on Yes' history that the band would never be able to shirk, leaving their reputation as artists in tatters.
Nevertheless, there was a period in the '90s where it looked as if everything was going to be OK once more. Disheartened by the lukewarm reception of Talk, both Rabin and Tony Kaye decided to leave the broken Yes; Rabin to become a soundtrack composer while Kaye largely left the music industry, although he would later help to found both Circa and Yoso. Suddenly, there was a huge gap in Yes and, in an unanticipated move, both Wakeman and Steve Howe agreed to rejoin. If I weren't a toddler at the time, I can imagine waking up, reading the news and having to look twice. The so-called "classic" line-up of Anderson, Squire, White, Wakeman and Howe was back! I mean, it was never my favourite line-up - they did record Tormato together after all - but it would have been exciting nonetheless.
To celebrate this new venture, the band set about writing two new songs in the vein of the old Yes. I can just see them now: "Bloody hell, we did sound quite good in the '70s didn't we? Let's ditch this new wave crap and give the fans what they want!" Something those fans had been longing to hear for a while and, one can argue, that they are still longing to hear now!
The first of these, Be The One, clocks in at nearly ten minutes, and is one of these multi-part doohickeys. Part I, entitled The One, is really quite unimpressive, and is of the style and quality heard on Union. You can tell that Jon Anderson has grown softer with age; the number of times he says the word 'love' or 'loving' in this song - and indeed elsewhere in his discography since the '90s - is excessive.
Nevertheless, the listener is brought out of a coma when the band reach the second part, Humankind, a more aggressive and busy section. It doesn't come close to Yes' '70s work, but it does give the listener just a hint of that "classic" Yes sound they do so obsessively desire. Rounding the proceedings off with Skates, the song dishes out a couple more choruses and a typical Howe guitar solo before the conclusion.
If Be The One wasn't epic enough - let's face it, it wasn't - That, That Is, with its daft title, was able to surpass Close To The Edge in terms of length, making it eligible to be the next Yes epic. The more mature of us are aware that in progressive rock, as in life, size isn't everything, and the previous track certainly caused me to doubt whether That, That Is would hold any water. Amazingly, it does!
Indeed, the opening instrumental, entitled Togetherness, happens to be one of the most beautiful Yes pieces in existence. Wrought with contrast and tension and held together by Howe's amazing skill as both a songwriter and musician, this piece is altogether too good for the remainder of the suite.
Inevitably, the instrumental ends, and it's time for something completely different. In the section entitled Crossfire, Anderson worryingly appears to be singing about 'street' issues. Lyrics include:
Shirley gets to help her with the child though she's strung out on crack time
Shirley never knew what it was to be held in real love
Together getting high to get to mess up their night
Anything to get up so they're losing their mind
Just to get high, breaking out from this life, gotta get them a drug to get higher.
Perhaps if the streets were on Mars would it sound more like a Yes song. As it is, I don't think Jon Anderson of all people is the one to get me to relate to injustice in the ghetto. Sorry.
Nevertheless, the music is still rather adequate all the way through. Again, it doesn't hold a match to The Gates Of Delirium, but given what Yes fans had to go through in the early part of the decade, this may as well be the Second Coming. In the notes to the new remix of Close To The Edge, Steve Howe remarks how Rick Wakeman was adept at connecting the various segments of songs together with his classical training. With this in mind, I feel like the transitions in the song must be the work of Wakeman; the suite has a very good flow to it and doesn't lose momentum during the segues.
The themes and riffs used in this track are all fairly decent, although my favourite theme after the instrumental is the very catchy All In All part, which is featured several times towards the end of the track along with the Togetherness theme, making That, That Is rather satisfyingly cohesive. It's not the best Yes epic by a long shot, but it's worth a listen or two.
Of course, the band weren't quite up to writing and recording a full album's worth of tunes at this point, but to market the return of the "classic" line-up (I'll never stop using those quotes) the band recorded a series of concerts in San Luis Obispo, California, with the intent to release the proceedings as a live album. I still can't quite understand why the band would play three nights in the same place back-to-back. Why not make a tour of it? In any case, the band released a few of these live tracks alongside the new studio tracks for their first ever live/studio release Keys To Ascension. When this album was released, fans compared the live tracks with bootlegs that had inevitably been made of the original concerts and noted that excessive overdubs had been made, taking away from the authenticity of the live recordings. I personally am not so fussed by this. If the sound isn't that great on the night, people at home don't want to be listening to a bad recording. Today, I'm still haunted by Greg Lake yelling "Feedback! Feedback!" during ELP's 2010 rendition of Tarkus.
The track list, it has to be said, is a pretty phenomenal one. Classics such as Siberian Khatru and Roundabout are to be expected, but the band give us some unforeseen delights too. Most notably, Yes play The Revealing Science Of God in its entirety, a track that has rarely been played live since the Tales From Topographic Oceans tour. Despite my hang-ups about that particular album, it's wonderful to hear this track live and seeing just how the band perform it live. The band follow on with the equally unanticipated America, a truly overlooked Yes gem. The band absolutely rock the house on this one.
Perhaps the only downer for me on this album is Onward, but this has nothing to do with the performance, which features a special instrumental introduction by Howe on this album entitled Unity. No, the problem of Onward can be heard just as clearly on Tormato as it can here: Howe's incessant plucking utterly ruins what is otherwise a very beautiful track. If I could go in and surgically remove Howe's part from history, I would be seriously be tempted to do so.
All is forgiven however when Yes play yet another epic, that piece of genius they recorded back in Switzerland, Awaken. Jon Anderson's voice is on top form here, as it was back then. Lastly, the band play a fan favourite, the intoxicating Starship Trooper, replete with new solo segments during Würm bringing the track time up to 13 minutes.
Truly it was a special time to be a Yes fan. Seeing your favourite band reform and make one of their strongest albums in years must have been very promising indeed. However, this period would not last long. Fired by Keys To Ascension the band set about recording a new studio album, featuring yet another interesting, if still not wholly brilliant epic Mind Drive. However, in keeping with Yes bureaucracy, the record company decided to capitalise on the success of Keys by packaging the studio album with the leftover concert tracks and calling the result Keys To Ascension 2, interestingly one of the first albums we ever reviewed, appearing in the very first reviews volume of DPRP early in 1998. Rick Wakeman, who was unhappy with this treatment, left Yes for the fourth time - leaving at the first sign of trouble had become his trademark - although he would be persuaded to come back again in the new millennium.
The original Keys To Ascension sets went out of print a long time ago. Published in 2001, Keystudio simply brought together the studio elements of both sets, but even this has gone out of print now. Fortunately, a more complete and well-priced box set has since taken their place, the 5-disc Keys To Ascension, featuring all four original CDs as well as a DVD of the original concert video.
I have to say, the concert video itself, while containing some cracking music, is woefully directed. Most of the cameras filming the band are located on the opposite side of the hall so that we can barely see what the band are actually doing. On top of this, the video is laden with tasteless stock footage, often getting in the way of being able to see the band themselves. Really one of the worst concert videos I've ever seen. The bonus concert, filmed during the Tormato tour I'm afraid does not do much to remedy this.
While not the best Yes music around, Keys To Ascension shows a band putting aside their differences and reforming in the attempt to make great music, something any fan can admire. More importantly, it shows the last great peak of Yes' music. After Keys To Ascension came Open Your Eyes, an album which would have benefited greatly if it were given the subtitle "But Shut Your Ears". For standing head and shoulders above the rest of Yes' '90s output - not that this in itself is saying much - the aptly named Keys To Ascension certainly deserves your attention.