|Paul Hightower||28-April-2001||Yes (first album)|
Yes - "Yes" (Atlantic 82680-2, 1969, CD)
In 1968, Yes came quickly to the attention of the London rock press through their inventive rearrangements of other artist's material along with a tight and powerful delivery that earned them comparisons to Vanilla Fudge and the Fifth Dimension.
Their 1969 debut for Atlantic Records shows a band full of promise and vision, though limited by their own lack of experience, along with a producer who was unsure how to handle the band's innovative sound. However, all of the trademarks that the band still carries with it today are in full evidence on this album: the interest in complex vocal and instrumental work and a willingness to go beyond standard pop-rock structures. Then there's the band itself. Bassist Chris Squire kicks off the album's opener, "Beyond and Before," with a solo bass riff that in many ways announces his and Yes' arrival on the musical landscape. The ever-distinctive Jon Anderson sounds more raw and unpolished on Yes than on later releases, although his voice cuts through and demands attention as always . The third new talent of note is drummer Bill Bruford. Particularly when paired with Squire, he controls his position with an uncanny combination of finesse and power that would quickly gain the attention of his peers. Guitarist Peter Banks and organist/pianist Tony Kaye also deliver the goods though with less distinction.
The material on Yes verges on the pop side of progressive rock, ranging from the delicate piano and voice ballad "Yesterday and Today" to the thunderous overhauling of the Beatles' "Every Little Thing." A jazz temperament shows up in Stephen Stills' "I See You," while the progressive closer "Survival" gives an indication of the shape of things to come. It's clear that the compositions and arrangements were given much care and consideration, a hallmark of the band that has been both a benefit as well as a burden throughout their existence.
Considering the times, the production job is clean and well-balanced
the band complained that they were unable to give the album the care it
deserved. Nonetheless, the quality of the material and the performance,
particularly from the rhythm section, are praise-worthy. While not a
commercial success, Yes served as a valuable proving ground that allowed
Anderson and Squire to hone their vision for the future.
|Paul Hightower||28-April-2001||Time and a Word|
Yes - "Time And A Word" (Atlantic 82681-2, 1970, CD)
For their second album, Yes (Jon Anderson in particular), decided that instrumental augmentation was needed in order to give the songs the depth they deserved. There was obvious frustration that the band's debut, Yes, hadn't come off as grand as envisioned, or garnered the public attention they were hoping for. The answer was to hire an orchestra, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction, although very much a musical fad of the day as evidenced by groups such as Deep Purple and The Nice.
Although Time And A Word is comprised largely of original compositions (Anderson contributing to all), Yes's penchant for reworking others' material hadn't been entirely exhausted as demonstrated by the opener, Ritchie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed." When wedded to the Big Country opening strings, the track becomes a group showcase and best exemplifies the direction they had taken with this album. The late-60's R&B/post-psychedelic vibe hasn't been shaken off, although the group appears to be reaching for something more. The rhythmic attack of Squire and Bruford is also still going strong, although Chris Squire has since claimed that the hotly recorded bass tracks had more to do with bad headphones for the engineer than any conscious attempt on his part.
Overall these songs reveal a greater confidence as seen on the rocking "Sweet Dreams" and the progressively styled "The Prophet." The album has its clunkers, noticeably Anderson's hoarse attempt at a Paul McCartney style voice-with-strings-ballad on "Clear Days," although these are mitigated by the excellent prog-rock of "Astral Traveler" which includes a delicious instrumental fugue that's almost worth the price of the album alone.
Regrettably, Peter Banks's guitar is a shadow of its former self, squeezed out by the strings in most cases although still lacking any real inspiration. On "Time And A Word," he's opening the door and inviting himself out of the band. Tony Kaye continues the level of skill seen on the band's debut but clearly at least Anderson was wishing for more.
Time And A Word shows Yes coming to grips with life as a
working band at a crossroads creatively. The next album would settle
the score with regards to their ultimate fate.
|Paul Hightower||28-April-2001||The Yes Album|
Yes - "The Yes Album" (Atlantic 82665-2, 1971, CD)
With The Yes Album, a new chapter in progressive rock was written. Along with King Crimson, Yes were truly charting new territory in rock music. Following the disappointment of Time And A Word, clearly a move had to be made. And as with all organizations grappling with uncertainty a shakeup helped to release the heavy baggage of their early days and reveal a promising road ahead. The first casualty of the bands ever revolving lineup was guitarist Peter Banks.
His replacement was a Londoner named Steve Howe who, previous to joining Yes, had been kicking around various groups and as a sideman, steadily making a name for himself as a hot-shot guitar ace. Howe probably seemed a solid replacement at the time, having both rock and jazz styles as part of his repertoire. What was probably not known then was the versatility he would eventually display, particularly when it came to acoustic playing. Witness the live recording of his solo acoustic ragtime workout "The Clap" which appears on The Yes Album and it's easy to see why he was quickly given a feature spot in all Yes live performances. Howe also managed to quickly insinuate himself into the deepest musical fabric of the group, as demonstrated on the album's opener, the classic Yours Is No Disgrace. Here he effortlessly glides between rock, jazz, and some tasty acoustic flatpicking across the nine plus minutes of the track, and with him on board, Yes is given new life.
Moreover, a confidence bordering on arrogance led Yes to challenge all of the assumptions about what it meant to play rock music. Song lengths, meter changes, instrumental colors and textures all seemed to be up for grabs and on this album Yes seems to revel in the possibilities. Even producer/engineer Eddie Offord (who at the time was also working with Emerson, Lake and Palmer) seemed at a loss to capture the leaps of creativity, although a better matching of the recording skill to Yes' musical imagination would come with the next release.
Whether coincidentally or as a response to Howe's presence, Anderson and Squire also raised the bar on The Yes Album. Anderson appears to be discovering his muse full force both compositionally as well as lyrically, while Squire's maturity as a bassist and arranger for instrument and voice have a profound impact on the material. The wordplay of songs like "I've Seen All Good People" and "Perpetual Change" demonstrate Anderson's trademark ability to craft "lyrics as musical notes" that still manage to have deep evocative meaning. For Squire, his bass lines often contain a killer-instinct and power which have often left more than one fan in dumbstruck awe.
As for the rest of the group, drummer Bill Bruford maintains his standard level of excellence throughout the album, although organist Tony Kaye is often left in the dust by the others and seems to struggle to keep up. This was no doubt recognized by Anderson who must have been making moves quickly to mend that situation.
The Yes Album presents the band on the launching pad of progressive rock stardom, allowing them to make a complete break from their late-60's post psychedelic/R&B roots. It also represents the first of a three-album cycle that, along with Fragile and Close To The Edge, is often referred to as the "main cycle" or period when the group was at its creative height.
NOTE: For those wishing a deeper insight into this album, the renditions
the songs that appear on the 1973 live album Yessongs are often
the penultimate versions with "Yours Is No Disgrace" ranking with many as
of the best live rock performance of all time.
Yes - "Fragile" (Atlantic 82667-2, 1972, CD)
Buoyed by the success of The Yes Album, Yes quickly embarked upon putting together their fourth album in three years. Also, seeing how fruitful the replacement of original guitarist Peter Banks with Steve Howe was, they decided that a further shakeup couldn't hurt. Exit Tony Kaye and enter Rick Wakeman. Kaye had been receding into the wallpaper and Anderson and Squire were interested in a musician who could provide a palette of sounds and textures rivaling an orchestra, though without any of the negative baggage as experienced on Time And A Word.
Wakeman was a busy studio player at the time having just recently left the Strawbs and having worked on recordings for artists such as Cat Stevens and David Bowie. A sour group experience with the Strawbs would mean that some extra heavy duty arm twisting was required to get him to even show up for a try-out with Anderson, Squire, Howe, and Bruford. However, once the lineup began work on new material, the chemistry quickly gelled and all left the initial sessions exhilarated.
As an album, Fragile is an interesting experiment. The tracks are a mixture of group pieces ("Roundabout," "South Side of the Sky," "Long Distance Runaround," and "Heart of the Sunrise") and solo compositions from each of the five band members, apparently Bill Bruford's idea. What the resulting output gave them were a top-ten radio hit (Roundabout), future concert staples, as well as stock live solo pieces that would live on up to the present day.
Musically, the experiments and ideas explored on The Yes Album are refined and clarified on Fragile, including Anderson's quirky wordplay, the multi-segmented extended compositions, and the intricate instrumental interplay and layering. "Heart of the Sunrise" probably represents this methodology at its extreme while "Roundabout" condenses it into an ear-friendly package (though savagely edited down for radio play).
Typical of the effortless creativity found on this album are the pairing of Jon Anderson's "We Have Heaven" with the group piece "South Side of the Sky." The former, an anthemic multi-layered vocal track, segues via an interesting bridge of receding footsteps, a door slamming, and a cascade of wind, into "South Side." One of Yes' all time fiercest rockers, South Side features blistering guitar work from Steve Howe plus a relentlessly pounding rhythmic drive which is then juxtaposed in stark contrast against an elegantly rich middle section featuring piano, percussion, and stupendous three-part harmony. It's an example of the sort of composition and arranging that was quickly leaving Yes' peers in the dust. Credit should also goes to Eddie Offord whose maturity as a producer and engineer gives Fragile the sonic depth and sophistication it deserves.
Following its release, Fragile quickly went Gold and deservedly
place in FM radio programmers' libraries for years to come.
|Paul Hightower||28-April-2001||Close to the Edge|
Yes - "Close To The Edge" (Atlantic 82666-2, 1972, CD)
Close To The Edge arguably stands up as Yes' grand masterwerk, the pinnacle of their creative heyday and the yardstick by which the rest of their output and that of other progressive rock bands is measured. Indeed, this album is often named as the end of the "main cycle" of creative excellence for Yes that began with The Yes Album 18 months before. It is telling that drummer Bill Bruford, never one to rest upon success, saw the completion of Close To The Edge as the perfect time to make his exit for King Crimson. As he later put it, "After that all I could see us making was "Son of Close To The Edge.""
What is it about this album, unable to clock in at even 20 minutes a side, that has earned it such a revered spot in hearts and minds of progressive rock fans and critics? It must be seen as the culmination and perfect expression of the five dynamic creative forces within the band at the time, all of whom still had something to prove.
The first side of the LP is comprised entirely of the title track, loosely based upon Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha and credited almost entirely to Jon Anderson and Steve Howe. Musically, "Close To the Edge" takes up where "Heart Of The Sunrise" (from Fragile) left off. It encompasses several stirring melodic and lyrical themes and is one of the best examples of progressive rock arranging for long format recording ever witnessed. So much so that several exhaustive critical analyses have been written about this piece and the reader is urged to search them out if interested in a truly in-depth look at this masterpiece. Suffice to say, "Close To The Edge" is an aural whirlwind that reminds one of why headphone listening was once so popular.
Side two comprises the live staple "And You And I" as well as the rocker "Siberian Khatru." The former was once described by keyboardist Rick Wakeman as a "mini quintet sonata". Certainly the primary musical themes in "And You And I" earn comparisons with the great melodic inventions of the classical age and its pastoral elegance and charm have made it an almost universal favorite among Yes fans. Steve Howe's spirited 12-string acoustic playing shimmers against Anderson's melodic leaps while Chris Squire and Bill Bruford maintain a relatively low, though firmly rooted, profile. Rick Wakeman demonstrates his skills on piano and Moog synthesizer, although fans of the Mellotron, the infamous keyboard which became a fixture among progressive rock bands of the early 70s, in particular, will find much to enjoy with his playing on this soaring piece of work.
"Siberian Khatru," however, immediately dispenses with the airy, angelic strains of "And You And I" with some of Steve Howe's nastiest rock guitar playing seen anywhere. Bill Bruford once commented that he enjoys "Siberian Khatru"'s innate logic and sense of flow, and it certainly stands up as a masterpiece of rock arranging. Seemingly every member of the band receives equal standing throughout the piece, lending contributions that never clamor for the spotlight and yet which provide the perfect input to either propel the song along or change its course. Like its two brethren, this track has long been effective live and never seems to age.
Certainly all of Close To The Edge conveys a sense of timelessness and is
likely to sound as inventive and engaging 50 years from now as it does
today. This album is truly a progressive rock masterpiece and undoubtedly
ranks as the creative hallmark of Yes' career.
Yes - "Yessongs" (Atlantic 82682-2, 1973, CD)
Originally released as a triple LP in a gatefold sleeve bedecked in a series of Roger Dean paintings, Yessongs captures Yes live primarily during the 1973 tour for "Close To The Edge." Original drummer Bill Bruford, who had departed for King Crimson upon the eve of the tour, was quickly replaced by Alan White who had the unenviable job of learning the daunting material in a mere matter of days. For Bruford fans, consolation can be found in the two recordings taken from the 1972 Fragile tour ("Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" and "Perpetual Change" (which includes Bruford's only recorded drum solo for Yes)) that are included here.
For the rest of the package, however, Alan White's kit drives the band along. White is arguably a better drummer for Yes in the larger concert venues they were to visit throughout the rest of their career, his style being overall harder and broader. Ultimately, what Yes misses from Bruford, his finesse and jazz delicacy, they gain from White's firmer sense of attack and drive.
The tradeoff works on Yessongs, especially since recording engineer Eddie Offord recorded the band pretty hot on all the tracks and Steve Howe and Chris Squire in particular are literally shredding paint throughout. The only sonic deficit is with Rick Wakeman's Hammond and piano. The former is regrettably thin and reedy, lacking any of the muscle of his studio work on songs like "Roundabout" while the piano is a victim of poor recording equipment of the era.
Otherwise, the band is red hot and displays such sure conviction and confidence that they must have been leaving audiences stunned in their wake. Witness the blistering attack of "Siberian Khatru," the bass heroics of "The Fish," and what is probably one of the most intense live rock recordings ever, "Yours Is No Disgrace."
Unfortunately, Eddie Offord must not have had time to properly set up his equipment on all nights and the package suffers from a lack of consistency in its aural dynamics. Some tracks enjoy an even balance and instrumental presence while others sound as if the mikes were positioned at the rear of the hall, the recording suffused with a cavernous, booming echo. Nonetheless, the rawness of the recording lends a certain visceral quality to Yessongs that enhances the "live-ness" of the collection.
Certainly, Yessongs captures Yes at a crucial phase in their
represents what for many was their first experience with the band. After a
listen, it's easy to understand where such intense fan loyalty comes from.
|Paul Hightower||28-April-2001||Tales from Topographic Oceans|
Yes - "Tales From Topographic Oceans" (Atlantic 82683-2, 1973, CD)
Tales From Topographic Oceans is one of Yes' most, if not the most, controversial recordings. While successful in many ways, it nonetheless demonstrates the potential hazards of the Close To The Edge model of composing and recording. In essence, Tales takes the same idea as Close To The Edge (the song) and replicates it across four album sides. Inspired (lyrically, anyway) by Jon Anderson's readings of Shastric religious philosophies, Tales stands as Yes' most ambitious undertaking to date and it is unlikely they will ever attempt it something on its scale again.
Musically, there are tons of great ideas and playing on Tales, particularly from guitarist Steve Howe, who co-wrote most of the material with Anderson. Howe shines forth throughout the material, enjoying several solo spotlight moments, most notably the evocative Spanish guitar work on side three ("The Ancient"). Overall, though, Tales lacks the consistency of quality of Close To The Edge or even Fragile. Some of the ideas seem oddly cut short while others are given more space than they merit. The collection also appears to suffer from some confusion in the editing and mixing stages, the overall result lacking clarity or polish.
This release marks the introduction (in the studio anyway) of new drummer Alan White. White's style contrasts noticeably to former drummer Bill Bruford's more jazz-centric sensibilities, although his playing and contributions to Tales can not be faulted. Chris Squire, however, is disappointingly distant to the overall melieu, his main contributions coming on side four ("Ritual") in the form of a rocked-up solo that is given a much larger and satisfying treatment on stage. Overall, one senses that he was simply not very interested in the whole Tales concept.
Tales would also bring to a head the growing dissatisfaction of Rick Wakeman with the musical direction Anderson and Howe were pushing. This plus his own burgeoning solo success led him to publicly question the value of the project and finally, to quit the band at the end of the tour in early 1974. Listening to the four sides, one must agree to some extent with Wakeman's criticisms, at least with regards to the keyboards. Again, there are several isolated moments of inspiration to be seen, although many times the keys merely serve to prop up the primary melodic lines or to provide filler to bridge two ideas. In fact, not until Wakeman's reunion with Yes in 1977 for the Going For The One LP would the integral role of keys seen on Close To The Edge and Fragile return to the band.
For the fans, Tales appeared to be a bit too much to swallow.
assured instant Gold status, although forcing audiences to sit through all
sides in succession proved to be asking too much and shortly into the tour
sides two and three were dropped in favor of past favorites. That said,
live performances of both "The Revealing Science of God" (side 1) and
(side 4) have validated these pieces, at least in a live context.
Yes - "Relayer" (Atlantic 82683-2, 1974, CD)
Relayer is a difficult album on many levels. It is arguably the last recording to come from Yes's most fertile period and their last album of pure progressive rock. With it, they close a chapter in their musical history.
Following the confusion and acrimony of the Tales from Topographic Oceans period, Yes elected to retrench a bit. For one thing, their star keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, had left in a huff to pursue a solo career and the replacement search ultimately yielded Swiss player Patrick Moraz, previously seen in the Nice/ELP modeled outfit, Refugee. Moraz could undoubtedly deliver the goods and even expanded upon Wakeman's stylistic palette, bringing an almost Jan Hammer-like jazz-fusion slant to his playing.
Secondly, the group retreated to the comfort zone of the Close to the Edge format. Relayer is similarly comprised of a side long multi-part epic backed up by two mini-opuses.
Jon Anderson, no doubt feeling somewhat stung by the criticism leveled his way following the Tales debacle, retaliated with his new epic, The Gates of Delirium, based loosely on Tolstoi's War and Peace. Though not considered by many to be of the same caliber as Close to the Edge, Gates nonetheless succeeds in many of the same ways. It contains genuinely stirring melodic themes and structural ideas wedded to some fierce playing. The piece breaks down into three main parts: the opening third comprising a call to arms, the middle instrumental portraying the charge and assault of battle, and the final denouement, Anderson's elegiac Soon. Its an extremely challenging composition and band arrangement, as witnessed in recent live performances, but, when it works, it is a piece which can leave both audiences and musicians totally drained in its aftermath.
Side two opens with Sound Chaser, at one time pushed by the band for consideration as a single (though Atlantic Records had other ideas and released an edited Soon instead). This piece is more or less an instrumental workout for Squire, Howe, White, and Moraz with Anderson contributing some incidental vocals and percussive chanting.
Finally, the album closes with the more pastoral To Be Over, somewhat akin to And You And I though lacking its melodic brilliance and grandeur.
The musicianship on Relayer is first rate throughout. In fact, many fans consider it Alan White's best album, demonstrating that he was not the two-dimensional rock player some Bill Bruford fans would claim. Chris Squire also turns in some breakneck playing and effortless riffing, further establishing him as among the cream of rock bassists. Steve Howe fans may notice a new timbre to his guitars throughout Relayer, most noticeable on Soundchaser. For the entire album Howe put away the warmer sounding, large body Gibsons he had favored heretofore, opting instead for the much more brittle sounding Fender Telecaster. As a result, much of his playing on this record has a curiously metallic sheen and bite. Some of this quality may also be attributed to the fact that the entire album was recorded "hot," pushing the higher frequencies nearly into distortion in certain areas.
It seems with Relayer that Yes is making a statement. There's tacit acknowledgement that the whole Tales concept was a bit overblown though the band doesnt seem willing to concede total failure. Anderson especially seems out to reaffirm the bands raison d'etre, while the other four seem more or less happy to spread their instrumental wings and jam. Interestingly, interviews with Chris Squire at the time had him repeatedly referring to the album's "funkiness," obviously an overt attempt to garner some mainstream notice since nothing on Relayer will remind the listener of P Funk or James Brown!
As with Close to the Edge and Tales, Relayer is a classic album of unadulterated mid-70s progressive rock. Its relative merit seems to depend mostly upon whom you ask since it has the curious ability to be different things to different people. It certainly marked the last time Yes would attempt a recording of its ilk and in this way it holds a special place for many fans.
Yes - "Yesterdays" (Atlantic 19134-2, 1975, CD)
Following the Relayer world tour of 1975, Yes were exhausted and in need of a battery recharge in order to establish a clearer sense and vision of the future. Each band member went off to record solo albums and Atlantic Records, ever on the clock, opted to release this compilation for the 1975 holiday season. Rather than a greatest hits package, the label instead decided to cash in on the bands popularity by exposing the fan base to what most had never heard: music from the first two albums, prior to Steve Howe's joining the group. This hopefully would in turn trigger renewed sales of both Yes and Time And A Word. Finally, as an added inducement, both the full-length version of "America" (previously only available as a B-side) as well as "Dear Father," the B-side to "Sweet Dreams," were included. A new Roger Dean cover was slapped on the package (his last for the band until 1980!) and voila!, a new Yes album for the faithful.
The track selection well represented the offerings from the first two LPs and no doubt sales of both albums saw a boost as a result. The real gem of the collection, however, is Yes's remake of Paul Simon's classic "America." This was the last of Yes's gargantuan covers that helped establish them in London in 1968 to begin with and is still a marvelously energetic and inventive piece of arranging today. Work on the track was actually begun during Tony Kayes tenure with the band though it wasn't until Rick Wakeman joined the fold that the song, already played extensively live, found its way onto tape. "America" is one of those quintessential Fragile-era pieces that shows off all five band members without any sense of individual grandstanding. That said, if anyone shines the brightest, though, it has to be Steve Howe who turns in what is arguably one of his finest recorded performances ever. In interviews Howe has claimed that his virtuoso soloing on "America" was a deliberate attempt to appeal to the American market, much as the Beatles did with "Bad Boy" in 1965. Regardless, it's a stirring performance and a real treat in a live setting as demonstrated in recent tours.
Yesterdays is a great sampler for those curious about the first two albums though, to be honest, is worth the purchase price for the full-length "America" alone.
|Paul Hightower||30-May-2001||Going for the One|
Yes - "Going For The One" (Atlantic 82670-2, 1977, CD)
A lot can happen to a band in two years, especially a progressive rock band in the mid 70s. The times they were a changing and Yes, though not ready to make any radical moves, were not immune to the push and pull going on around them.
Following the 1976 world tour and cycle of solo albums, the band decided to part ways with Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz who never seemed to quite gel with the rest of the group. Ironically, writing and rehearsals for the new album were begun in Switzerland at Mountain Studios in Montreaux. Through a series of exchanges with manager Brian Lane as the conduit, it turned out that the timing was right for a return to the fold of Rick Wakeman. He and Jon Anderson buried the hatchet over the Tales From Topographic Ocean fracas and he quickly rejoined the band and went to work.
Going For The One is one of those records that seems to capture the entire band at some kind of peak, particularly Jon Anderson whose composing and vocal work throughout is nothing less than inspired. His guiding hand shines across much of the album, including the elegantly restrained "Wonderous Stories," the narratively gorgeous "Turn of the Century," as well as the dynamically charged magnum opus, "Awaken." Chris Squire contributes the pounding rocker, "Parallels," a holdover from his Fish Out Of Water solo record, as well as some characteristically super-star bass work. Steve Howe, perhaps taking a back seat compositionally (probably mined by his solo record, Beginnings), nonetheless turns in some excellent playing throughout, including his speediest to date as well as the jaw-dropping slide guitar soloing on the title track. Wakeman's return was evidently as important for the band behind the scenes as it was on record. Clearly he was an important part of the overall band chemistry, providing the wit and levity so necessary to counteract Anderson and Howe's serious and workmanlike demeanors, much in the same way that Phil Collins did with early Genesis.
With Wakeman back on board, Yes were clearly re-energized and found the strength and confidence necessary to tackle a world just beginning to come to grips with the onslaught of disco and punk rock. Going For The One carried them through 1977 though bigger challenges were yet to come.
Yes - "Tormato" (Atlantic 7 82277-2, 1978, CD)
Yes's 8th album caught them at a time when the entire musical and cultural climate was changing. Perhaps perched too lofty for their own good, the band was unaware of the shaky ground upon which they actually stood. Out of this came a record typically rated among the poorest of Yes's 70s output.
Jon Anderson has stated that he sensed growing resistance to his efforts to steer the band's musical direction so with Tormato he deliberately took a hands-off approach and let things develop more organically. Unfortunately, the other four members of the band, either through lack of influence or sheer laziness, failed to pull together to create a unified and cohesive statement, one of Yes hallmark strengths. As a result, Tormato can most generously be described as "uneven."
The album kicks off energetically enough with "Future Times/Rejoice," primarily an Anderson effort that marches purposefully along while refusing to plumb the depths of complexity seen in the past. This is followed by Chris Squire's "Don't Kill the Whale," a foreshadowing of Anderson's growing New-Age philosophical bent and Squire's willingness to move toward the shallower end of the musical gene pool in order to score radio play and sales. The next piece, "Madrigal," is an abrupt departure into quasi-baroque, Spanish guitar and harpsichord noodling that, despite the instrumental chops, fails to impress. Following the adage of "always leave them guessing," the next tune, "Release Release," is about as straight a flat-out rocker as Yes has ever written, including an in-studio drum solo from Alan White.
Side two of the record continues the pattern of irregularity, moving from the prog-rock of "Arriving UFO" (forever lambasted for its suspect lyrics) to the daffy, summer carnival atmospherics of "Circus of Heaven" to the plodding romanticism of "Onward," one of Yes's only true love songs. For those despairing for anything to remind them of the Yes of old, the album closes with Chris Squire's "On The Silent Wings of Freedom," an old-style Big Song that features one of his more memorable bass riffs and recaptures some of the power and excitement of days gone by.
Still, as a package Tormato fails to work. While Squire and White seem squarely rooted to their respective places in the picture, Howe and Wakeman continually vie for alpha-male position in the "how many notes can YOU play in a bar?" stakes, causing the songs to often become instrumentally cluttered. Meanwhile, Anderson seems to be off in space, content to let the others worry about matters temporal while he expounds on candy floss, UFOs, and cetaceans. The die-hard fan will still find plenty to like about the album since with Yes even the worst tracks typically have something going for them. But for the public at large, by now turning its attention to bands like Elvis Costello and The Talking Heads, Yes were quickly becoming an anachronism, joining other prog-rock giants like Genesis and ELP in the land of mass confusion.
Yes - "Yesshows" (Atlantic 82686-2, 1979, CD)
Faced with some down time as a result of the confusion following the departures of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman in 1979, Chris Squire agreed to take charge of the production of Yes's second live package and the last to chronicle the group's 70s heyday.
As opposed to 1973's Yessongs, which was essentially a document of the Close to the Edge tour, Yesshows plumbs a variety of tours to fill out its two discs (originally issued as a double LP in a Roger Dean sleeve), mostly with Rick Wakeman on the keys though Patrick Moraz makes an appearance. There's also no attempt to present the material chronologically, either. Side one, for instance, begins with "Parallels" from 1977's Going for the One tour, followed by "Time and a Word" from the 10th anniversary tour of 1979 which then segues abruptly into "Going for the One" from 1977 again.
The standouts are the two sidelong pieces, "Gates of Delirium" from Relayer and "Ritual" from Tales From Topographic Oceans. The former is simply a stunning live effort, especially considering the sheer challenge of pulling the piece off on stage at all. The latter proves that what can sometimes lack cohesion and conviction in the studio can suddenly find focus and life on stage. Yes has always been a band that somehow transcended their already impressive studio work on stage and these two pieces, and this collection in general, prove this without a doubt.
Yes - "Drama" (Atlantic 16019-2, 1980, CD)
Here again was one of those major milestones in Yes life. The year before, following frustrated efforts to record a follow-up to 1978's Tormato, founder Jon Anderson and star keyboard player Rick Wakeman left the band to pursue solo careers. The remaining trio of Squire, Howe, and White soldiered on, working on new material and hammering out arrangements as a guitar/bass/drum combo, expecting the vocal and keys spot to sort itself out in time. (Interested readers should track down bootleg recordings from these sessions.)
By coincidence, working in a nearby studio (and under the same management) were the duo phenomenon, The Buggles, flush with a #1 single in Europe, "Video Killed the Radio Star." The group was composed of keyboard player Geoff Downes and singer/bassist Trevor Horn and Squire must have quickly taken note of the possibilities. As the story goes, the two "just happened to stop by" and were invited to jam with the other three. Having passed some sort of audition, Squire formally invited Horn and Downes to join which they did, awed by the thought of joining with their musical heroes.
Atlantic Records, again ever on a schedule, immediately began pushing for an album with a world tour to follow. Taking the existing material along with a couple of Downes/Horn pieces, the new record, dubbed Drama, began to take shape. Being great fans of Yes main cycle albums, Downes and Horn urged the others to return to a more classic-Yes approach and sound and the other three agreed, though the current musical climate was not to be ignored. Roger Dean was even hired for the visual packaging, though even he opted not to simply regurgitate his prior work.
The album includes two longer tracks, "Machine Messiah" (arguably influenced by Pink Floyd's "In the Flesh") and "Into the Lens," a re-worked Buggles track. The former is a true progressive rock romp, including brilliant playing by Howe and Squire while the latter is more pastoral though not without energy or verve. Sandwiched between the side end pieces are the very brief "Man in a White Car," another Buggles holdover, and Squires "Run Through the Light," a piece Yes had been working on since the post-Tormato sessions with Anderson and Wakeman.
Perhaps the album's best tracks are the side end pieces, "Does It Really Happen?" and "Tempus Fugit," both serious rockers. The former is a whirlwind of action, similar in some respects to Squires "Parallels" and also featuring brilliant bass work including a full solo at the close. If the album needed a hit, then "Tempus Fugit" filled the role, gaining regular radio play on FM rock stations. Again based on a Squire bass riff, the song jumps along at a heady pace, spurred on by fiery runs and blasts from Steve Howes Stratocaster.
Squire and Howe both turn in performance of heroic proportions on Drama with Squire emerging as the star of the record. Alan White keeps the whole affair on the ground and Downes and Horn seem content to just keep up. Horn in fact has few solo vocal moments, more often dueting with Squire. Squire is a much better singer in the studio and on tour Horn was left much more to his own devices, more so of course on the legacy material where his lack of range and power was laid bare for criticism. Still, the band managed to sell out stadiums and arenas throughout America based on past reputation though this eroded quickly over the course of the tour. In England, in fact, the public and the press both gave the band and the new album the cold shoulder. It became apparent that the experiment was not going to survive the one album and tour and at its end the band dissolved.
Yes fans are often contentious about the relative merits of Drama. While many bemoan Anderson's absence, many nonetheless are hard pressed to find fault with the album musically. The final critique more often than not tends to be, "great prog rock album, though not really a Yes album." For this writer, I suppose that depends upon how you define a legitimate Yes album. True, Anderson is missing from the fold, though for instrumental heroics from Squire (also a founding member by the way) and Howe, Drama has few peers.
Yes - "Talk" (Victory 383-480-033-2, 1994, CD)
Here's yet another album with the Yes name on it that bears almost no resemblance to the band's classic period, essentially a Trevor Rabin solo album with Jon Anderson singing. First, I've got to say something about this god-awful new Yes logo, I mean, is this a joke or something? So what if Peter Max designed it, it's obvious that he's past his prime too - so I guess the packaging is a perfect match for the contents after all. On to the music. Where is Squire's bass? Where is Kaye's Hammond? I don't hear much of either of them anywhere, just Rabin's guitars and synths, Alan White's lifeless drumming, and Anderson's voice, with vocal backing from Rabin and Squire. To be sure, there is a bass present, but like on 90125 and Big Generator, Squire appears to intentionally be hiding his identity. Tony Kaye, on the other hand, sounds like he was left out of the mix pretty much altogether.The first five tracks, comprising about 66% of the album, are straight ahead guitar rock, no frills save Anderson's voice. The opener "The Calling" seems like an attempt to re-create the success of "Owner of a Lonely Heart". These five tracks are truly pretty good for what they are, but musically challenging they are not. Then things change: "Where Will You Be" is a lighter track with good vocals from Anderson, no heavy guitar, and a kind of a trace ethnic feel. After that we come to the long track, sixteen minutes of "Endless Dream", which clearly hints of earlier times; even White loosens up a little, but those phoney-baloney 90125-ish dramatic sequences just aren't convincing when stacked up against classics like "Close to the Edge" or even "Awaken". Overall though, it's a good track, possibly the album's best. In short, it's about par with "90125", not a total dog like "Big Generator", but if you're interested in hearing something that sounds like classic Yes, save your money and check out the group Realm. (Originally published in Exposť #3, p. 13, Edited for Gnosis 3/21/01)
|Jeff Melton||15-July-2001||Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes [book]|
Chris Welch - Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes
(Omnibus Press, ISBN 0.7119.6930.2, 280 pp.).
Just when die-hard fans had given up, Close to the Edge appears on the literary shelf as a well-written chronicle about one of the best loved progressive bands from the United Kingdom. Yes has long been a target of ridicule by the staunchest fans of rock and roll, punk, and progressive purists for almost 30 years and clearing up the haze is no small undertaking. Chris Welch, former writer for Great Britain's acclaimed Melody Maker magazine, has crafted a creditable insider's look at the history of the band from their inception up to and including 1997's Open Your Eyes. The writer was an early champion of the five-piece act, having also written a critical endorsement included in the liner notes of their very first album from 1969.
The real insight with this book versus any other in print (except for possibly Dan Hedge's authorised biography) is the attention to detail and focus on the early part of the band's career. Too many other critiques have attempted to explain the philosophical aspects of Jon Anderson's lyrics (e.g. Thomas Mosbo's Yes But What Does it Mean?) or Yes' vague position in the political scheme of things. What it simply comes down to is that Yes is a band different from any other in their approach to fuse multiple styles which resulted in a large cult following.
Several anecdotal stories permeate the ten chapters of the book. For example, in 1969 Yes was part of a tour, which included the Nice and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who went to Scotland to do a gig. Unfortunately for them, the entire facility was rained out so the entire gig was a bust. The evening's proceedings later deteriorated into a long night at a local pub with Keith Emerson pounding out, "Give Booze a Chance," and a beer-drenched rendition of John Lennon's anthem. Also well documented is Rick Wakeman's infamous odorous protest on the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour where he devoured smelly curry meal live on stage story during a performance of "The Ancient." Plus we also get a few nasty snippets of the insidious band politics which have always plagued the band. Welch spoke to Bill Bruford about his cloudy departure from the band in early 1972 to join King Crimson. This was an important turning point for the group since they were about to undertake their first headlining tour in the US to support their brand new epic, Close to the Edge. Somehow manager, Brian Lane finagled a deal to allow Bruford to leave the group, whereby he would give up fifty percent of his royalties from the album sales to tour drummer Alan White, who had less than a week to learn the Yes repertoire before their first gig in Texas. Welch elevates the band stories by avoiding hero worship and focusing on the their musical accomplishments rather than grandiose extremities. The key members of the band were keen to bust up a hotel room on tour like any other big time rock band. Imagine Steve Howe venting some hostility during the 1978 Tormato tour by pummeling a wall with a chair and you get the picture.
The real clarity of the storytelling comes from Welch's timely interviews
with the band and his gifted ability to praise the group without pandering.
I highly recommend this book to any and all fans of classic rock and to the
members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for neglecting the group during
the past few years of eligibility.
|Links for further information|