Hmm, not bad. New band member Rick Wakeman makes his way onto the heart of the band’s sound, but ends up mostly buried deep down in the mix so you wouldn’t have known about him at all were it not for the credits and for his short solo spot.
Well, no, of course I’m exaggerating. He does shine on several lengthy wankfests. However, unlike most people, it seems, I tend to think that his being added to the band didn’t revolutionize its sound – just like Banks’ replacement by Howe didn’t revolutionize it, either. Yup, both Howe and Wakeman have their little tricks that couldn’t have been done earlier (like Howe’s country/classical acoustic ditties and Wakeman’s medieval piano parts), but the main effort is still placed on lengthy spacey rockers where these tricks don’t work.
Actually, the album is neatly divided into just these two parts: lengthy spacey rockers and the band members’ solo spots, all highlighting what they did best. And much as I tend to get sceptical about the band’s ‘classic’ period, I’m surprised to say that most – heck, nearly all – of this stuff really works. The rockers, in particular, are definitely up a grade from the last record. Again, the most interesting parts, for my ear, at least, are provided by Chris Squire’s bass (the guy was good), but Howe adds some uplifting solos, Wakeman gives in some mellow pianos and synths, and Anderson delivers his lyrics with his usual emotionless, faceless intonation, but at least they are accompanied by accomplished, memorable melodies.
The problem with all of these is the usual overdoing of instrumental sections, but I guess that goes without saying. But at least they rock – which I couldn’t really say for The Yes Album, which dragged. They’re fast, they have great basslines and good vocal hooks. And not every prog band could master that even in 1972, which was the heyday of prog, as you probably know already.
‘Roundabout’ is the song they sometimes do on the radio, probably because of the lead-in segment – heck, Anderson’s battle cry of ‘call it morning driving thru the sound and in and out the valleeeeeeey’ is as radio-friendly as possible. Later on, though, the song becomes far less accessible, with very complex time signatures and tricky group harmonies which still grow on you. ‘South Side Of The Sky’ is moody and winterish (with the aid of some wind howling); And ‘Long Distance Runaround’ is quirky and short, with the vocal melody somewhat clumsy, but redeemed with the happy poppy instrumentation.
In fact, vocal melodies are probably the weakest spot on the album: probably in a desperate move away from their ‘commerciality’ on The Yes Album, the band only provided a very limited amount of vocal hooks for Anderson on this album, and even on my tenth and later listen, I still can’t memorize the way that darned vocal melody on ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ goes. But what wonderful playing. In parts, the number even sounds painfully like King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, and I don’t blame them for ripping off the tune: anything that makes a Yes song rock out is welcome.
Perhaps one of the most important things that separates this album from most of its predecessors and followers is that it has some… some sort of actual sense. For me, Fragile is truly a concept album, all dedicated to the single theme. And that theme? Movement. Just look at titles like ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Long Distance Runaround’, contemplate the lyrics of ‘South Side Of The Sky’ (‘move forward was my friend’s only cry’) and ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ (‘sharp – distance… love comes to you and you follow… straight light moving…’, etc.).
And not coincidentally, Fragile is Yes’ ‘bounciest’ album ever, with most of the tunes going off at pretty fast, steady tempos; meanwhile, there’s always something happening around, the record is never passive or purely atmospheric, it always seems to drive you on – where to is another question. To the sci-fi world of Close To The Edge, probably, but you only know it when you get there.
Still, all subjective reflections aside, there is one definite objective thing that really and truly distinguishes this album from all others and provides it a secure ten: these are the band members’ solo spots. They’re all catchy, and they’re all short. And this is a thing that you won’t meet on any other Yes album. Two lesser efforts (Wakeman’s Brahms bit rearrangement and Bruford’s ‘Five Per Cent For Nothing’) are still refreshing, and the other three are groovy fun: Anderson’s ‘We Have Heaven’ sounds either like a self-parody or a musical visit card, with its multiple endless harmony overdubs, Howe’s ‘Mood For A Day’ is a beautiful classical acoustic piece (which puts fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford to shame), and Squire’s ‘The Fish’ is a bass-riff-fest – you’d never know how many clever things it is possible to make with just one base and just one recording studio.
‘Schindleria praematurus’, indeed. (By the way, ‘The Fish’ was Squire’s nickname that he earned because of his unusual fondness of splashing in a bath all the time – so the way the tune connects with its title might be taken as a [sub]conscious tribute to his great bass predecessor, John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle, who also had a bass-driven instrumental called ‘The Ox’ on the Who’s debut album).
And, besides their own merits, all of these tunes also take on the honourable function of giving you a break between the lengthy tunes: the album is a very careful and thoughtful construction. Very solid, too. Even if they called it Fragile. Ironic, isn’t it?
How do you, as an artist, follow up a classic album, or just your best work up to that point?
It is an issue that has plagued many musical performers, and when Yes released the progressive milestone Close to the Edge in 1972, they faced this very problem. Being ambitious, and familiar with writing large-scale epics, the band took the common decision: to make that next album bigger than anything before it. A 81-minute concept based on Shastric scriptures (Jon Anderson’s fancy), Tales From Topographic Oceans is, for the lack of a better word, huge.
Albums like these are prone to implode because of their own length, and Topographic Oceans is certainly getting in the danger zone. It’s a large pill to swallow, and it won’t be the first Yes album you’ll pick up for a listen. Describing all its intricacies would be a long-winded affair, so to keep it short: while this double album contains some of Yes’ most gorgeously-composed passages, it does (surprise surprise) seem a little too stretched out.
The band, ambitious composers as they are, would not likely resort to meaningless noodling, so as a whole, the album actually still pretty great. Its lengthiness however doesn’t put it anywhere on the same level as the group’s three greatest achievements, being Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Relayer.
What made Close to the Edge a classic was perhaps that it was a band effort in the end, giving everyone a chance to show their abilities, both alone and in interplay. This is where Topographic Oceans strays off the right path again. The majority of this double concept was composed by Anderson and Howe, and these two are almost constantly in the musical spotlight. On the bright side, Howe’s guitar playing here is among his brightest performances.
He was, after all, often enough overshadowed by Squire and Wakeman, and this might have been payback. Wakeman however didn’t take the clear division so well, and left the band to pursue his solo career. Another classic Yes member took his leave, although he was to return later.
Even the biggest Yes followers will have to conclude that the band blew up Tales From Topographic Oceans a bit, but at the end of the day, we still have an essential Yes record with constantly great musicianship here. Being stretched out over 80 minutes, this also is a lot more relaxed to listen to than their classics, so if you’re in the right mood and take your time, it really does pay off. Not the best to start with, but most definitely an important piece in Yes’ career.
As I have been an avid fan of Yes since the 1970’s, and seen them in concert at least 20 times I’m now reviewing the Yes double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. This was recorded during August to October 1973 and released in the U.S on January 9th 1974. The band members appearing on this album are the classic line up of; Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White.
This concept album consists of 4 songs; The Revealing Science Of God, The Remembering, The Ancient and Ritual. All songs are approx 20 minutes long and deep in texture and sound that make YES.
The Revealing Science Of God; Starting with a chant that swirls in a rich mix of Steve’s guitar and Rick’s keyboards The Revealing brings you to that mellow spot in Yes music that doesn’t bring you to your feet but allows you to ponder. The next day after you’ve heard this song you’ll think about the lyric “I must have waited all my life for this moment !” The song itself moves about very leisurely but delivers with Steve’s guitar riffs and brief moments of Wakeman’s superbly textured keyboards.
The Remembering; With the sounds that made early progressive rock great, this song’s starting place leads you on a musical journey into a common YES hook. The song ends back where it started. As Jon Anderson sings; “And I do feel very well…” the entire band can be heard, Steve’s subtle guitar, Chris’s thundering base as quiet as can be and Alan’s drums helping to texture and move the song forward, while Rick’s keyboards add the finishing touches. “The strength of the moment lies with you !”, and the song is back where it started.
The Ancient; Starting off with such a mystical sound and venturing into a keyboard / guitar mix that stays with you, The Ancient shows true depth within its segments. With its starting and stopping technique and a well timed use of silence, and then increasing tempo the song is leading into some true YES greatness. The Leaves Of Green segment of the song is reason enough to have this song in your collection. Steve’s acoustic guitar playing and Jon’s singing “And I heard a million voices singing” show true musical greatness and this segment of music will endure. The last few moments of this song are taken to musical heights rarely seen, touching the outskirts.
Ritual; Of the 4 songs on this album, Ritual has the most commercial sound. Its starting hook is easy to find and listen to. Somewhat of a tour-de-force sound, Yes has unleashed itself in this song. As Steve’s guitar weaves thru the opening minutes, what impress the most is the depth of Chris’s bass, less of the typical thundering sound and more of almost a bit of a violent sound played with gusto. What Ritual does is tell a story of hope as Jon sings “open doors we find our way.” However not returning to from where it started, Ritual rolls on with almost African or Caribbean drum beat leading and building into the spot a YES fan wants to hear. With the songs journey nearly over, Jon’s sings “and course our way back home, flying home, going home !” If you want to listen to Tales, I’d recommend listening to Ritual first, it will leaving you wanting more.
Yes had “progressed” since Close To The Edge and Rick Wakeman wouldn’t return again until Going For The One. Any Yes fan or music fan should own Tales in their collection. It will go down in history as an album of original progressive rock recordings that will sound great for years to come.Tales From Topographic Oceans was certified as a Gold record in the USA and England in 1974.
Okay, I can’t stand it any longer, I just have to go out and say it. Jon Anderson is a graphomaniac whose only purpose in life seems to be penning pretentious, cosmic, universalist, but totally absurd, senseless and bland lyrics and singing them with his voice which I’ve already complained about a dozen times. I don’t even hate the guy – I’d rather pity him. It’s more of a medical problem than of anything else. If the stuff he’s singing is supposed to have some real meaning, I’ll just have to suppose that in his previous incarnation he was a master cryptographer; I’m not even trying to decipher any “messages” in these lines…
That said, Close To The Edge is definitely a good album – while an older state of this here review hardly did anything but bash it up, which explains all the further disagreements and hatemail below, I think I’ve grown mature enough to tolerate it and even teach myself to like parts of it. Thus, in the new review I will try to concentrate on both the good and the bad sides of the story, as it is indeed a very complicated one.
The main problem of the album as I see it now is that there are only three songs on it. Three, you get it? And one of them takes up an entire side. Now that could be small tragedy, since there’d already been a few precedents (Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick the most important of those), and the length of a tune, be it fifty minutes or even more, isn’t necessarily a fault by itself. But the main fault of the title track, as well as the two lesser ones, is that it uncompromisingly refuses to present us with a sufficient quality of original ideas. Basically, what you get is what you already know by heart if you ever bought Fragile a few months before: rapid, flawless riffing a la Howe, fluid synth parts a la Wakeman, immaculate drumming a la Bruford, fantastic bass lines a la Squire and the well-known tenor robotic singing a la Anderson.
The same old story. Technical perfection, this time around complemented by far more moody synth and organ effects than before; Close To The Edge tries to recreate the atmosphere of Yes’ “metaphysical fantasy world”, and so the pure musical parts alternate with ‘beautiful noise’ and environment sounds like birds chirping, etcetera. However, when it comes around to the actual playing, I always tend to get bored rather quickly because there are not enough themes. Yep. The title track, for instance, has (a) the intro part, (b) the main melody, (c) the ‘middle’ part of ‘I Get Up I Get Down’. Everything else is just minor variations or ‘noise breaks’. All of these three themes are decent (even if we manage to overlook the fact that the main theme is nothing but a recycling of the old standards, borrowing extensively from both ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ and ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’), but taken together, they could have easily made a five or six minute long tune. Sure, it would not have the epic swirl it has on this record, but it also would not cause me yawning in distraction as they sing the same verse melody for the quadrillionth time. For comparison, the first side of Thick As A Brick alone had at least six or seven different musical themes going on, not counting the breaks in between; same goes for Genesis’ ‘Supper’s Ready’ and even – shudder – Van Der Graaf Generator’s ‘Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers’.
More or less the same accusation can be hurled against the two songs on the other side: both the mellow ‘And You And I’ and the more rocking ‘Siberian Khatru’ do not at all justify their running length by the number of musical ideas contained therein. When they play a melody, they mostly repeat one or two main themes that are, once again, quite good (the main riff of ‘Khatru’ in particular), but there’s just about too much of them; when they don’t play a melody, they just sit around and make noise that’s kinda inessential.
One might make a good counterpoint: ‘Yeah, but that’s not their point. They don’t go for diversity, they go for atmosphere’. So maybe they do, but that brings up another problem – what atmosphere? When it comes down to atmosphere, objective criteria cease to exist altogether and it all comes down to whether the noise you’re listening to touches some of your particular nerves or whether it doesn’t. In my case, it doesn’t – well, not particularly. I definitely feel there are moments of beauty on the album; definitely so. In particular, the ‘I Get Up I Get Down’ section of the title track is gorgeous beyond words, and one of the few cases when I don’t feel like complaining about Anderson’s singing at all. And when Anderson sings ‘not right away, not right away’, there is something utterly pretty there too, although hell if I know what. And there is a stately synth/guitar-led climax in ‘And You And I’ (also reprised twice, by the way) that can easily qualify as the most defining moment of pure heavenly majesty in the entire Yes catalog. But when we have to deal with all the other musical sections that are not self-consciously beautiful, it’s another story. I, for one, really cannot force myself to think of a reason why more or less the same musical piece should be given three different subtitles – ‘The Solid Time Of Change’, ‘Total Mass Retain’ and ‘Seasons Of Man’ – and played thrice on a nineteen-minute long track. Not to mention that it is not atmospheric at all: it rocks pretty hard, but with no special effects or diversifying gimmicks, and it even sounds kinda reggaeish to me, at times. What a strange bunch of dudes.
These two problems – not enough musical ideas and “atmosphere = acquired taste” – are a serious blow indeed, and I don’t see how rabid Yes fans can actually overlook them, especially since next to this album in their collection sits Fragile which successfully resolves both of them. On the other hand, after a long battle with myself, I decided that the album is still a big achievement for Yes. Actually, I think that if only the huge songs were ‘cut down’ and reduced to a short fifteen- or twenty-minute EP, it would possibly be the best Yes EP ever. Because, like I said, most of the actual musical themes range from decent to gorgeous; and when it comes down to musicianship, the band shows itself on such a tight level as never before or after. They play as a well-oiled, powerful unit, in which the members never overshadow one another and never disappear from sight. Perhaps the best moment to demonstrate it is the intro theme to ‘Close To The Edge’ that can be taken as a kind of ‘band anthem’: Bruford displays his polyrhythms, Squire is quietly blazing out his speedy zoops ‘in the corner’, Howe is playing an energetic solo, and Wakeman gets in with finger-flashing ‘rainy’ synthesizer patterns which actually sound like a tape loop to me but probably aren’t – after all, wasn’t the man supposed to be reproducing them live? And there are many more moments like that on the record.
Thus, in the end the immaculate musicianship and the goodness of the themes makes me overlook most of the album’s flaws. No, I will never totally get into Yes’ fantasy world, as inviting as it is, because these guys don’t even give a hint at what kind of world it really is, bar the ‘And You And I’ climax, of course, but out of pure respect for the guys’ blending together really well, I give it an 11… with no chances of growing further, but it’s already grown as high as it could grow. After all, like I said, atmosphere is subjective. Any listener can fill this thirty-seven minute long “form” with any spiritual content his heart desires; isn’t music in the mind of the listener? If I can’t fill it with spiritual content today, it’s my current problem and nobody else’s. It would be a different thing if there were no form at all – just lengthy noodlings made on the spur of the moment. “Hey Jon, heard that these Tull fellows just released a 45-minute song?” “No kidding!” “Yeah, they did just that, here’s the album…” “Hey Chris, Rick, Bill, whatcha waiting for? Get down to business, we need to scramble enough bits to make at least a sidelong piece! How come we hadn’t thought of that ourselves?” “Well, I did suggest we join ‘Starship Trooper’ and ‘Perpetual Change’ in one, but you didn’t listen…” “Yeah, yeah, I know, I was a jerk. All right, we need to toss off something real quick right now, but we’ll still beat these guys in a year or so. How ’bout a double album underway?”
I sincerely hope nothing like the conversation above actually took place – Close To The Edge sounds a fairly normal and expected sequel to Fragile. It’s a well thought-out, excellently produced record with a lot of care and philosophy put into it. And, after all, the lack of diversity speaks at least for one important thing: it’s an extremely coherent album. ‘Supper’s Ready’ and ‘Thick As A Brick’ are both classics, and they are both linked with several musical and lyrical ideas, but they still sound very much like just a bunch of short numbers strung together; you could easily insert some pauses in between their parts and nobody would pay a lot of attention. You cannot do the same to any of the CTTE numbers – they all form an unbreaking continuity. And maybe this is Yes’ greatest merit about this record – it is the first (and last) Rock Symphony in the truest sense of the word.
Finally, not a moment too soon, the ‘prog come back’ movement seems to have reached Yes as well. Quite suddenly, we find out that the Eighties Yes are gone! It’s almost as if 1983 and its weaker follow-ups never existed, along with Rabin, Kaye and Horn. Instead, what we have on this record is the ‘classic’ Yes line-up minus Bruford plus Alan White (and indeed the record could have featured Bruford if he were not busy touring with the ‘double trio’ of King Crimson).
More importantly, they throw away all the unnecessary garbage they’d collected all the way – like electronic drums, heavy metal riffage and cheesy hi-tech synths. Those who threw away all hope that Yes would eventually go back to its roots again, rejoice! This is a three-quarters live album plus two new studio tracks that run for the good old standard Yes running time – respectively, one for nine and the other for nineteen minutes. To be honest with you, though, I’m not as overtly pleased with the album as everybody else is, for my own specific reasons. First of all, whatever you might object, its release was totally predictable.
Everybody with at least a decent sense of the laws of the genre should know that, if Yes were ever to continue (and they were to continue – all the famous bands that work according to the ‘revolving door’ principle are close to immortal), they were bound to return to their roots. Nostalgia sucks people in, you know. Show me a band that exists for more than twenty years and still hasn’t gone back to the source, at least once. So I really wouldn’t run around crying, ‘Hey! Isn’t it a wonder they’re back?’.
Second and worse, the live tracks are utterly dispensable. Oh no, they’re not bad at all, on the contrary, they’re fantastic. Not all are my favourites, of course: I still don’t like some of the bombastic numbers like I didn’t like the originals. ‘Siberian Khatru’ and ‘Awaken’, for one, still don’t do anything for me. And ‘The Revealing Science Of God’ is just as mind-numbing as it was in 1974. But ‘Onward’ never ceased being pretty (and here, in its tasty acoustic rendition, it’s even more pleasant than in the studio version), ‘Roundabout’ never ceased being catchy and rockin’, and ‘Starship Trooper’ never ceased being impressive, especially the ‘Wurm’ coda, of course.
Plus, they do a ten-minute version of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ (previously only available on the Yesterdays compilation that otherwise featured excerpts of the band’s first two studio albums) that sounds totally great: Steve Howe plays some of the most polished, sharp, crystal clear guitar lines in his career, once again showing us that at heart he’s just an exuberant lightning-speed jazz/boogie ‘shredder’; and the re-interpretation of the song as a whole, from a romantic, sad ballad into a soaring hymn is at the least amusing. Isn’t it? It actually reminds me of the way Yes used to reinterpret all those Beatles and Byrds songs at the beginning of their career… Nostalgia again.
What I really meant to say when I mentioned the word ‘dispensable’ was that most of the songs sound not a bit different from the studio versions. Okay, I don’t claim full responsibility to this phrase: I’m not in the mood to pick up the originals again and to spend a whole day comparing the versions. But even if there are differencies, they’re minimal. There is none of that brilliant spontaneity and improvisation that made Yessongs sound so involving.
My major complaint lies with Steve again: he seemingly hasn’t lost anything, but he just refuses to liven up the atmosphere. Instead, everything is screwed and tightened up to the utmost level, so that at times it’s damn impossible to tell the original from the copy. So who needs this copy? And why? No, I’m not telling you not to buy this – there is a guilty pleasure in collecting such undistinguishable live versions, and the game ‘Find Ten Differences’ is also fun to play. But you know, one could expect more creativity from these guys than the live material actually suggests.
So you understand, of course, that I was really curious about the two new tracks (not that I expected something which I’d fall in love with: if I don’t even like ‘Close To The Edge’, how could I expect to love ‘That That Is’?) Sure enough – they do sound like classic Yes more than anything else since Tales From Topographic Oceans, at least if we judge by the instruments and the atmosphere. The generic Rabin Riffs and the robotic hi-tech synths are gone, replaced by more acoustic guitars and more keyboard diversity from Wakeman (who actually overdubbed his parts after the recording, never playing with the band at all). But there’s just nothing exciting about these tracks – ‘Be The One’ gets duller and duller on every new listen, and ‘That That Is’, even if it does have a beautiful Howe acoustic intro and lots of twists and turns typical for the usual Yes complexity level, is little better.
The instrumental work isn’t stunning – nothing like a ferocious guitar solo or keyboard workout is presented; the riffs are almost non-existent; and the lyrics are in the best tradition of ‘Close To The Edge’ (as in, ‘raving nonsense’). Perhaps, well, I don’t want to be mean, but perhaps they should have started their ‘studio revival’ with a bunch of shorter tracks, don’t you think? Or is it now a general presupposition that the first desire of any Yes fan is a new ten-minute Yes composition? Do five-minute compositions qualify at all?
What this actually means is that the guts are still there but the flame is gone. Get me? They are still able to get together and make up a complex, multi-part composition, but they’re unable to make it come alive, to get it lighted up with the same youthful flame that they shared long ago. Nobody really wants to play this stuff – they seem to think that writing it is enough. Let me just tell you that if their material from the early Seventies had been played with the same level of ‘energy’ and the same carelessness as on the original tracks on Keys To Ascension, no way they’d become the leading stars of progressive rock. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to give the album anything less than an 7 because if this doesn’t get a 7 then what does? A fine effort, lads.
And maybe I forget the ‘psychological’ effect – how does it feel to listen to this after listening to Union? Let us appraise the album for the psychological effect! Okay?
Finally! The good balance between the pop and the prog has been found… or has it?
I’m in a good mood today, so that is probably why this album does not offend me in the least.
Actually, at some point I almost ended up giving it an eight, but that would probably cause too much friction between me and ‘classic Yes’ fans, so no way. Anyway, the songs may be good, but really few of them are memorable, so I guess a seven will do for it quite fine.
The Yessers didn’t really like the final results of Open Your Eyes (neither did I, so we’re pals), so they re-worked their sounds once again, adding Igor Khoroshev on keyboards as a regular member and moving Billy Sherwood on to second guitar, and came out with an album that’s loads more fun and enjoyable than its predecessor. Now I may be on my own here, as I haven’t yet seen even a vaguely positive review of Ladder; and it’s more or less explainable.
The sound is much more simple and straightforward than on OYE or any ‘classic’ releases; while it’s still quite far away from your average modern pop ditty, most of the melodies aren’t convoluted or cunningly twisted at all. If anything, Yes sound pretty normal – do not be fooled by the pretentious Roger Dean cover, this sure ain’t no Tales From Topographic Ocean.
But you know, I have always loved Yes when they were pretty normal. To me, it always seemed like they were the kind of a band that was always intentionally moving away from what they deemed as ‘conventional’ songwriting, but their few attempts at ‘conventional’ songwriting, amazingly enough, always worked – ‘Time And A Word’, ‘Going For The One’, ‘Wonderous Stories’, all that crap, I actually loved it. It’s only when they added the Eighties’ cheesiness to the ‘conventional’ sound, resulting in Rabin-style garbage, that I began, sorta, you know, waxing nostalgic about eighteen minute long tracks… But Ladder certainly has none of the Eighties’ cheesiness.
It isn’t, in fact, even particularly keyboard-oriented: the sound is dominated by the guitars (although Howe still is nowhere near his best). Jon shows that his voice is still ‘great’, having lost none of its range or power; and, since the lyrics are more or less decent, I can certainly tolerate his singing more on this one than on Close To The Edge. But the biggest surprise, yeah, the biggest and by far the most pleasant one, is the return of Chris Squire.
Yes, you heard right: Chris is back! The bass work on this album is awesome, his best in at least twenty years and maybe more. Check any randomly selected track and you’ll see it for yourself; I would primarily suggest the mad pulsation of ‘Face To Face’ and the awesome funky riff of ‘The Messenger’. The bass alone pumps up the rating of this album a couple of points, I say.
Of course, if the aim was, once again, to emulate the Yes of old, it’s another failure. But somehow it seems to me that the guys really tried to go for something different. And do not forget, that, after all, it is Ladder, not OYE or the studio tracks off Keys To Ascension, that marks the radical departure from the Eighties – early Nineties style. If you’re looking for booming electronic drums, hi-tech synths or metallized generic guitar riffs (although why in the world you should ever look for these just baffles me), go somewhere else, please.
This one’s a surprisingly mellow album, and not at all rooted in the Nineties. Well, perhaps it is; the pathetic, echoey balladeering of ‘If Only You Knew’ or the slickly produced Latin rhythms of ‘Lightning Strikes’ do reek of the Nineties, indeed. But not in a bad way. And most of these songs cook – they’re quite enjoyable while they’re on. I still can’t remember even a single melody, of course (apparently, three times is not quite enough for such an album), but while they’re on, I remember really getting my kicks out of ’em. There’s also a couple of longish, nine-minute tracks, and the second one of them, ‘New Language’, ain’t that attractive, but ‘Homeworld’ is a great tune – built on a solid, stable dance-style melody and leading us through several complex, not uninteresting instrumental passages before dissolving in a charming little piano coda.
Truthfully, there’s little to complain about here. Even the ridiculous little ‘Fragile tribute’, ‘Can I?’, which recreates the innocent fun of ‘We Have Heaven’, has its merits. Apart from a general, not to say generic, feel of Yes-induced boredom that can’t help but grab me towards the end, I have no complaints. The songs jump, bounce, pulsate, vibrate, they’re quite lively and energetic and the band members don’t sound washed up at all. I feel a bit sad about Steve Howe, though: his presence is indeed marked by several stupendous guitar passages on some of the tracks, but overall, he still does not show up for the guitar god he is (or was? I’m starting to doubt his talents already).
Maybe this, in fact, is why people are sometimes so disappointed about latter days Yes releases: it’s not the dance beats or the straightforward melodies, it’s the lack of fascinating guitarwork. But I guess we’ll just have to take it as it is. In the meantime, just buy this album; this might well be a stable formula to which Yes will stick for a few more years now, if, of course, they don’t shift their line-ups once more. Which wouldn’t be at all surprising. And where the hell is Wakeman, by the way
This is actually two bands – the much hyped Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe, and the latter days Rabin-led ‘Yes’ (yeah, really) including Rabin himself, Kaye, Squire and White.
For several years these two organizations had been trying to push each other out of the market but finally, seeing as how the market wasn’t really that much impressed with any of them, decided to join forces in desperate hope that this would be (a) successful artistically and (b) successful commercially. Well, it wasn’t. Instead, what they managed to do was to churn out an ultra-long album (well, what can be expected when you have two bands recording at the same time?) chock-full of self-rip-offs.
Approximately half of this stuff is ripped off from 90125/Big Generator, and the other half is ripped off from their mid-Seventies stuff (Going For The One or, well, Tormato type). The actual quality of the songs depends on the degree of accuracy in ripping off and nothing else.
To be honest, I must admit that they do succeed in that respect: few of the songs sound really horrendous (except maybe for the generic people-loving anthem ‘Saving My Heart’ that sounds fit for something Phil Collins might have written for a beer-loving society and the ridiculous heavy-metal-riff-meets-multitracked-screeching mockery of ‘Dangerous’). It’s not a case of an album which makes you draw back in disgust on first listen; rather, it’s just an album that strikes you as having A LOT of things going on in it and yet, amazingly, never achieving anything.
Of course, keep in mind that these bileful words come from a person who was never truly overwhelmed by Close To The Edge either – if that was the case, how can I NOT slam this record, when even most Yes fans tend to treat it sceptically? See, these songs are worked over, that’s for sure. Need some proof? Take a listen to the vocal harmonies – the way Anderson and company overdub these layers of chorale chants and triple, quadruple contrastive layers in each speaker.
See the song structures: they mostly evade lengthy epics, but even so, the melodies switch around pretty often and draw on all sources, from metal to New Wave to classic prog to gospel. But that doesn’t help the matters not a single bit – the songs just aren’t catchy enough, and it goes without saying they virtually add nothing to the Yes legacy and do indeed sound like a Yes parody in many cases.
Let’s see: the opening track, ‘I Would Have Faited Forever’, again sung by Jon in his cherished ‘Time And A Word’ style, almost manages to deceive you into thinking this might be a good one. It has all the formal traces of a classic Yes composition, such as the length (circa 6:30), optimistic robotic vocals, multiple sections and instrumental passages, etc., etc. The only thing it does not have is sparring guitarwork, blistering keyboard work or impressive drumming, but I guess that goes without saying.
Somehow I just don’t get to feel the presence of either Wakeman, Howe or Bruford on this album. On the other hand, the modernistic synths of Kaye, metallic riffs of Rabin and booming simplified drums of White are all over the tracks. Yup, there is a pretty little solo acoustic Howe spot (‘Masquerade’), but that’s about it.
The rest of the tracks can be separated into the Heavy Metal part and the Progressive Gospel part. The first one is totally worthless: apart from the already mentioned ‘Dangerous’ (the truly low point), its representatives are not really appalling but it’s certainly not the kind of music you’d be impressed with if you happen to know at least a couple of things about earlier Yes. Of course, if you’ve already heard Big Generator, you shouldn’t even bother. ‘Shock To The System’, eh? Hardly. Spare me generic Eighties hair-metal riffs, please.
The Progressive Gospel part does have its moments (personally I don’t have anything against the cute ‘Take The Water To The Mountain’ and ‘Lift Me Up’), but in the long run it just looks dull. Anyway, what the hell am I supposed to do with a Yes number that is neither emotional nor professional nor original? Of course, I don’t count the Kambodian text declamation in ‘Angkor Wat’ as ‘original’: it’s stupid and gimmicky. Nah. Funny, I can almost see them struggle and wriggle all over this record, trying in desperation to emulate their formula – in vain.
What’s even more pitiful is that none of them were really washed up – every now and then there’s a momentary blink of past glories going through our ears, but they never even try to solidify that moment. The main reason, of course, is that this is not really a return to the old formula – it’s a lame attempt at inserting selected elements of the old formula into the new Eighties/Nineties style of 90125-Yes. Without blistering guitar solos. Without inspired instrumentation. Without true inspiration. I mean, if they didn’t fire Rabin and Kaye that meant they weren’t really inspired.
And to think that this album has the best cover since Drama! Is this some kind of hand of fate or what?
Gee. Turns out that legally, Yes was Chris Squire’s band after all. So when Anderson and Howe finally had enough of Trevor Rabin and his tendency to metallize Yes, on one hand, and move it into the mainstream, on the other hand, and they decided to part company, it became obvious that they just couldn’t keep the name, no matter how they wanted it, and ol’ butthead Squire was much too picky at them, not to mention he just probably wanted to keep the cash flowing. (Or maybe he really thought that Yes = Chris Squire? No, but seriously, did he really think THAT?).
As a delicate move of revenge, the guys re-teamed up with Rick Wakeman, who’s probably had enough of his blubby solo career as well (not to mention that Rick had a nasty tendency of putting out new solo albums faster than anybody could buy them), and were even lucky to have a go at Bill Bruford, and formed their own, ‘local’ version of Yes – even if they somehow totally lacked imagination to come up with a new name for the band.
Come to think of it, though, the guys badly needed marketing, and what’s a poor boy (hell, four poor boys) gotta do if they want their public to take their output as a standard Yes album in its own rights but lack the rights to put the word ‘Yes’ on the cover? Well, here’s a good recipe, then: 1) you put the words ‘Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe’ in large letters on the cover; 2) you make sure Roger Dean painted it, so that nobody will confuse it with the Big Generator stuff; 3) finally, if that wasn’t enough, you put up a sticker that says ‘From The Men That Brought You Close To The Edge’. And voilà! The nearest thing to a Yes album! And how cleverly masked, too! The old time fans must have been jumping on the spot…
Oh, sorry. I forgot Important Element Number Four. Which is: make the music sound much, much more close to ‘classic Yes’ than it ever sounded since 1977. As you might easily guess, this is the hardest task to accomplish. The problem is that none of the band really wanted, or needed to make an exact replica of Close To The Edge, so as not to seem too repetitive, derivative, whatever, and they updated their sound with ultra-modern technologies. That’s not to say that this particular album sounds just as fake or sterile as Big Generator. Actually, it sounds a lot better! The crappy metallic riffs are simply not there, to make your ears bleed, and there are no stupid dance rhythms meshed in – apart from the real disaster which is the seven-minute ‘Teakbois’ that incorporates… er… African rhythms… African rhythms??… … … … !!!!! …. !!!! ….. African rhithms for Yes? Get me the valium right now!
Oh, the other stuff is not that bad. Steve Howe plays some nice acoustic runs from time to time, and Wakeman just sits around and dabbles in his synths that are modernized, for sure, but they still sound moody and all. A bit worse than on the ‘real good stuff’, of course, but sure a little better than on Tormato. The bass duties are handled by Bruford’s old ex-King Crimson colleague Tony Levin, but I never really caught these basslines, and he never gets a serious chance to shine.
The big problem concerns the drumming: I’m perfectly sure that some of the stuff that’s bashing on here is not drum machines – as far as I know, Bruford is a real pro on electronically enhanced drums, but I’m also perfectly sure that my musical knowledge simply does not permit me to tell drum machines from real drumming here, and anyway, Bruford’s drumming on Eighties’ King Crimson records was tons more impressive. There, he sounded like a real innovative guy who could easily lock the public’s attention onto himself; here, he just bashes around until at times he becomes almost annoying.
The biggest problem, however, concerns the songwriting. Like I said, the band decided to sound more like the Yes of old, and in order to do that, they return to the ‘huge format’: four of the songs presented are multi-part suites, and only three of nine tracks end under five minutes. Out of these, the closing ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a gentle, melodic ballad that almost smells of the young and innocent hippie days of ‘Time And A Word’ (more probably, of the witty recreation of the hippie vibe on ‘Wond’rous Stories’); ‘Fist Of Fire’ rocks more in the vein of the Rabin-dominated Yes, but is still passable, maybe due to some particularly impressive synth bursts from Wakeman; and ‘The Meeting’ is passable, even if pretty and gentle.
Finally, repeated listenings have brought out the concealed charms of ‘Birthright’, in which Anderson states his case against the evil British Empire making nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean and failing to contact all the aborigines. ‘This place ain’t big enough for the stars ands stripes’, in particular, strikes me as an excellently placed line.
But most of the ‘suites’ are simply boring. Oh, I mean, they serve you well as mood music, but melodies? Where are they? No strong melodies to speak of at all, if you ask me. Do I like something about them? Well, I like the way ‘Themes’ start, with those pretty little tinglings, and ‘I Wanna Learn’ from ‘Quartet’ is quite nice, with a magnificent Steve Howe acoustic part. However, ‘Order Of The Universe’ is pompous, tedious and banal, and anyway, please be on your guard when you have to deal with Yes song titles with the word ‘universe’ in them, especially if they date from the Eighties.
Sounds more like late Genesis, if you really need my opinion (which I doubt). And even the ‘good’ beginnings lead nowhere in the end. Anyway, I’m not really complaining; it’s just that I had my doubts about the actual meaningfulness and enjoyability of overblown Yes epics from the very beginning, and it would be strange if I changed it towards the end, right? It’s a pretty decent album in all, much better than one could have expected.