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"Dawn of light lying between a silence and sold sources, chased amid fusions of wonder, in moments hardly seen forgotten"

Class C

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




APPENDIX: My Review Of Yes' Moscow Concert


Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Yes fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Yes fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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You might not have noticed it, but I gave a lower rating to Yes than to some of its not any less ambitious contemporaries on the prog-rock scene, including Genesis and King Crimson. Now before I get flamed by millions of loyal Yesheads (or just get despised by them in silence, which would be even worse), let me quickly offer an explanation for this mishappening.

Yes were a fine little prog rock band that pretty much defined the genre: they might not have been its immediate fathers (this honour still falls to King Crimson), but they really came to epithomize it par excellence, with their erratic and lengthy song structures, spacey meaningless lyrics, superprofessional instrumentation and a heavy classical influence. Albums like Fragile or Tales From Topographic Oceans, whatever else I or anybody else might say about them, are so hugely mastodontic in their appearance, so grandiose, pretentious and pompous, and, on the other hand, so well-balanced by some of the finest playing ever seen in rock music, that it's impossible to understand what prog was really about without having assimilated (or, at least, having tried to assimilate) them. Along with Led Zep and Pink Floyd, the band pretty much defined the entire sound of the Seventies. "So", you must think, "why does this freak go ahead and put down such a fine ensemble?"

For several reasons, actually. See, I don't like prog-rock just for the sake of being 'progressive', i.e., long-winded, symphonic and mystical. Moreover, I'm certain you shouldn't like it for these things alone as well. I really only care for those prog rock bands who manage to make this long-winded, symphonic and uncomprehensible music interesting: whatever that might mean. It might mean making this music rock out, at the same time giving it a charming 'nationalistic' feel (right, it's early Jethro Tull I'm pointing at); it might mean making this music sound really dark and medieval, taking us on to a fantastic trip through time (yeah, I do mean Peter Gabriel's Genesis); finally, it might mean making this music acquire a creepy, brooding feel, so that it sounds like something which actually lied for a long time in the obscurest depths of your conscience and is disturbed only now, so that the music seems to come out of your head rather than out of your earphones (yup, some, but not all, of Pink Floyd's output fits that category). Yes had none of that. Their music was always what you might call 'prog for the sake of prog'. Sometimes it feels that the band's only desire in life was to get as complicated as possible so as to blow away all competition, and, what's even worse, sometimes it feels that this complicatedness only served to mask a general lack of truly creative ideas. Like every single bit of professionally played prog music, it can really blow you away if you give in to it - but then again, anything can blow you away once you give yourself in to it. I can't really give in to it. That's the same reason I'm not a huge fan of King Crimson - a lot of verve and professionalism, but not much to say.

Another reason I feel so iffy about Yes is somewhat more personal, although I know that a lot of people share it too. Namely, I can hardly stand their lead singer Jon Anderson. The songs he wrote were mostly good, but his singing (and he's the only lead vocalist on all Yes records, except for the few pathetic efforts recorded by the band in the Eighties without him) is something that truly turns me off. He's got a good falsetto vocal, for sure: but it sounds so uniform on all the songs that you really can't help but come up with the conception of Jon being really a robot acquired by the band in desperate search for a singer. Indeed, he so rarely changes his tone and pitch that all of this output ends up sounding like robotic, emotionless and generally bored 'vocal-recording' - a far cry from Ian Anderson's flashy posing or Peter Gabriel's character inscenerations. If you really dig that tone, okay. You'll get by just fine. But me, oh no: I just think his range sucks, 's all.

That said, the band really did some good music. Sometimes they even did some very good music. They did some really ass-kickin' live shows where they played good music. Of course, quite often they came up with very bad music, as well, but nobody's perfect. Take this as an excuse for writing my reviews. And really, now that I've vented all I had to vent in the band-rating and the intro paragraph, I guess I can be more tolerant on the actual reviews - while reading them, you'll eventually understand that I don't hate Yes at all, in fact, I mostly enjoy their 1969-72 output and even selected records from the later period, not to mention that overtime I've slowly become more and more accustomed to the band's sound - I started out hating this band, which I don't do any more. Which means that even if you're a Yes fan you're still invited to read them.

Lineup: Jon Anderson (lead vocals), Chris Squire (bass), Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Bill Bruford (drums). There were enormous changes in this line-up which I just don't have the guts to list here, so I think I'll confine them to the actual album reviews. Suffice it to say that what is known as the 'classical lineup' consists of same as above minus Banks and Kaye plus Steve Howe (guitar, added 1970) and Rick Wakeman (keyboards, added 1972). Apart from that, almost every new Yes album was made by a new line-up. The bastards!!!



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

The humble beginnings, with nice melodies, good guitar and little ambition. But lots of Jon Anderson.


Track listing: 1) Beyond And Before; 2) I See You; 3) Yesterday And Today; 4) Looking Around; 5) Harold Land; 6) Every Little Thing; 7) Sweetness; 8) Survival.

As every first album of every young and crescent rock band, this one's a little shy, immature, insecure and naive. In the end, though, maybe this is just what makes it so easily accessible for me, in parts, at least (I hold the same feelings towards From Genesis To Revelation, you know). Neither Howe nor Wakeman weren't present yet, so the musicians in the band don't really feel any urgent need to display their musical ambitions: they just chop on, and do it in a rather acceptable way. There's no overall theme or concept either, if you don't count the strange need to begin almost every tune with a one or two minute instrumental 'prologue' a conceptual element. But you can't deny that from the very beginning Yes were already masters of their game, even if it was still somewhat limited.

In fact, guitarist Peter Banks is a highly competent young man, able to imitate both Hendrix, like on the opening mantra-like 'Beyond And Before', and those cool jazz dudes from times long gone by, like on the Byrds' cover 'I See You'. 'Beyond And Before', by the way, is one of the band's most convincing rockers ever; penned by Chris Squire, it is quite traditionalistic, with a relatively simple rhythm (for Yes, that is) and some astounding lines from Pete - indeed, the contrast between his hard-rocking wah-wah leads and the band's high-pitched harmonies is rather nice. And the band's interpretation of that obscure Byrds cover (a great, but strangely forgotten psycho love anthem) is completely competent, with not a chord played wrong. Anderson sounds rather nice on that one, too, and maybe even nicer on one more equally convincing rocker - the organ-dominated 'Looking Around', whose short running time, brilliant intertwine between Squire's bass and Kaye's sharp, glistening organ chords, and the remarkable contrast between the band's harmonies and Anderson's 'solo screaming' all contribute a little bit to my, and (I hope) many others' delight.

And one more good thing I've gotta say about Jon Anderson in relation to this album is that he hasn't yet developed his tantric-shmantric passions: actually, he even writes love songs - and it doesn't matter that the lyrics are, well, er, innovative for a love song, they're still love songs at that. I think I should also add that the two love songs he gets on here are the best cuts on the whole record, but that's just my opinion. I mean, isn't 'Yesterday And Today' gorgeous? The vocals are soooo McCartneyesque that it makes me wonder how on Earth did Jon manage to lose that incredible tender atmosphere about his singing in a few years - without a trace. Of course, it also has something to do with the exquisitely constructed vocal melody and the soothing, relaxing piano solo played by Tony Kaye, but I really dig that tone all by itself. And 'Sweetness' is only a very little bit behind because the melody isn't so obvious and the atmosphere doesn't involve the listener to such an extent, yet don't take this as a complaint: the song grows on you, slowly, but irresistably.

You might vehemently disagree with my opinions, of course. You might suddenly notice that you prefer the closing suite 'Survival' because it's the closest thing to Close To The Edge here (notice how I just used the word 'close' three times, each times with a different function? That's wordplay for you!) And sure it is, with multipart arrangements, bizarre evolutionist lyrics and, well, that spacey vocal tone which makes it impossible to confound a Yes record with any other record on the planet. But it's also lengthy and relatively hookless, if you don't count Squire's fat exemplary basslines in the rocking intro, and they hardly compensate for the unmemorability of the tune which just flows past you with its lyrics dedicated to evolution and presents no melody twirls that would be 'ear-piercing', if you get my drift. In other words, this is no 'Roundabout', that's for sure. So I'd better stick to the ballads.

Same goes for such a waste of vinyl as the pseudo-medieval ballad 'Harold Land' (things like that would soon be far bettered by Genesis). All the instruments seem to flow together into a non-discernible mess, and the multiple changes of key and tempo don't do anything significant with the song; I couldn't name even one element that would distinguish itself in my memory as something interesting. Pretty hit and miss with these guys - at this early stage as well as later.

In other words, if you still haven't got my drift, I'd like to point out that the band is at its best while either doing Anderson love songs, short catchy rockers or, well, doing covers. Did I mention that besides the already mentioned Byrds cover, there's also one of the Beatles' 'Every Little Thing'? With a lengthy, overtly proggy keyboards/guitar intro, too, not to mention painfully extended vocal notes, plus a riff from 'Day Tripper' making its appearance in a couple of places - and you thought Beatles For Sale was nothing but a marking-time effort!

On the other hand, they can't really manage to pull off a decent 'noble' tune without sounding derivative, clumsy or simply boring. This sounds dangerous, because, as you may have guessed, they would soon drop both love songs and covers and venture freely into the world of 'noble' tunes... For now, though, I give the album an eight because 'Yesterday And Today' is indeed so very much McCartney-like, and I respect it when a bunch of green young men can manage a truly McCartney-esque number. Also, the guitarwork is superb throughout. Truly, this may not be the Yup as you've grown to like them, but it's still a young, charming, innocent, but already professional and talented Yeah. Go get it.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

The young pretentious whiners want to convince us they're intelligent. Instead, they're just funny, but it's a charming kind of fun.

Best song: TIME AND A WORD

Track listing: 1) No Opportunity Necessary No Experience Needed; 2) Then; 3) Everydays; 4) Sweet Dreams; 5) The Prophet; 6) Clear Days; 7) Astral Traveller; 8) Time And A Word.

I know I might offend the light-hearted, but this album strongly reminds me of Genesis' From Genesis To Revelation. Yes' first album was made by a band of little kids (admitted, they were older than Genesis members when they recorded that album, but relatively speaking, they were little kids anyway) who never thought much of themselves and were so glad they finally got to record an album of their own that they were happy to put anything on it - and it worked. Time And A Word was made by the same band of little kids, but this time they already thought a lot of themselves - not that I blame them particularly, because this was the epoch of puffing and huffing, the happy time when being pretentious and 'universalist' really mattered.

So? Quite naturally, the songs on Time And A Word are puffed up, overblown, smothered in orchestration and pompous arrangements, there are no more love songs (unless you count the title track as a love song, of course), and instead Jon Anderson lets go with his famous streams of meaningless subconscious. Plus, almost every song, except for the mercifully brief 'Clear Days', is lengthy, boring and full of unnecessary instrumental wanking. As for the orchestral embellishments - the biggest 'innovation' since Yes - they're not at all pointless or banal, as in the case of the Moody Blues; rather, there are some nice ideas fluttering around, but this doesn't mean that they're able to save a bad song if it's bad.

And what can I say in favour of the album? Why, exactly the same things I said about FGTR! These kids are happy, full of life, and even if they are taking this life a bit too seriously and humourless, they do it in such an innocent, 'unspoiled', pleasant way that it really makes you feel good about the record. The title track is especially nice: were it written about two years later or so, it would have sounded totally stupid and 'not on the level', if you know what I mean. As it is, it's just another naive Love Anthem by young hippie cats, but it's catchy and charming. Therefore, bravely defying the more snub-nosed Yesfans, I'll go ahead and say: I'm glad it's on the record. And I'm also glad the band revived the tune for their 1996 tour and album: this means they are in no way refusing their past and their innocent 'primitive' days, quite unlike Peter Gabriel, for example, who never ever plays anything from his Genesis days, for "deep philosophical reasons", I believe. Or perhaps he thinks he's offending his former bandmates that way? Aw, never mind.

Fact is, nothing on the album, speaking melody-wise, even comes close to the title track. And yet on a certain level, most of the songs do work. The two covers they chose to record this time are really obscure - a Richie Havens and a Buffalo Springfield tune - and not particularly interesting; at least, they weren't particularly interesting until they fell into the hands of Yes. Havens was probably quite surprised to hear his song beginning with a loud organ blast, furious swirls of strings, and a zoom-zoom-zooming bassline from Squire that proved to all the dubious gentlemen that Chris was definitely keen on disclosing his talents more and more with every subsequent release.

Anderson is kept a wee bit below on the album, which is all right by me - but he does get to shine on 'Then', a weird 'prog-folk-rock' composition on which his brand of visionary imagery finally comes shining through ("And in a time that's closer, life will be even older then...") and the first blossoms of idiocy appear in the form of lyrics like "love is the only answer, hate is the root of cancer then...", but if you don't mind the lyrics, it's all right because the vocal melody is pretty catchy and the instrumental breaks are pretty powerful. 'Sweet Dreams' is also a gas, one of the band's most upbeat and accessible pop rockers of the epoch, with a rather straightforward beat - hell, I could easily see it re-arranged for 80125. It's songs like that which really explain Yes' success among the mainstreamish public - isn't this vintage radio-ready material?

The only tunes I really don't care for are 'The Prophet' and 'Astral Traveller'. The former is one spot where they take themselves too seriously, to the point of being sick, plus it always seems to me that the lengthy organ intro is ripped-off from Genesis' 'The Knife' which makes me angry. As for 'Astral Traveller', it always seems kinda clumsy to me: it's one of their more convincing spacey tunes, with 'cosmically encoded' vocals in the chorus, but the main melody is too twisted and inconsistent for me to ever get any real enjoyment. Oh, for that matter, 'Clear Days' is dippy beyond words, but it's only two minutes long, so it's simply inexistent by Yes' usual standards.

All these cute little details, however, can be noticed only if you pay some serious attention - I tell you, if it weren't for the title track, I'd probably be fallin' asleep towards the middle... as it is, the hope of hearing the brilliant lines 'there's a word and the word is love and it's right for me it's right for me and the word is love' for the zillionth time keeps me on my toes. Yup. And oh, there've also been complaints about excessive orchestration on this album (apparently, there's been a lot of these complaints ever since the release of the album, cause it was the last time the band ever used strings), but I'm not complaining: compared to From Genesis, the strings are used sparsely. And anyway, it's not in the strings that the peculiarity of the album lies. Not at all. Get it if you're wild about 'Siberian Khatru' or any other ditties like that. It's really much closer to 'classic Yes' than to their debut album.

Oh! It's also the last record to feature Peter Banks on guitar. Did it make any difference? Read on to find out!



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Harmless and tight prog-space rock. But what the hell are these guys trying to give me?


Track listing: 1) Yours Is No Disgrace; 2) The Clap; 3) Starship Trooper; 4) I've Seen All Good People; 5) A Venture; 6) Perpetual Change.

Well, er, not really. I may be diminishing his role, but the only major new thing Steve Howe brought into the band were some tasty countryish acoustic licks that Peter Banks simply couldn't master - as on the short, cheerful live recording of Howe's solo spot, the three-minute instrumental 'The Clap'. It's exceptionally good, fresh and moody, and should not at all be taken as just a flashy demonstration of chops because it has a certain musical sense of its own. It's also a possibly enlivening break from the prog formula that had by now fallen firmly into place. This is the first really successful Yes album, nowadays treated as their first absolute classic record. And it's easy to see why: Anderson's lyrics have gone totally nuts, jumping from one baseless image to another, absorbing all kinds of high-style cliches and non-cliches. Yeah, I know they're supposed to be 'poetry', but true poetry is supposed to work, filling your head with images and impressions, while Anderson's broodings are nothing but a nasty cosmic put-on, whether it be the love allusions on 'Yours Is No Disgrace', visionary gallucinations of 'Starship Trooper', or pseudo-epic puff-ups of 'A Venture'. Moreover, most of them are presented with the kind of emotionless, intonationless, hell, humanless voice I've been lamenting over in the intro paragraph. On the first two records Jon at least tried to freshen this voice on his love songs ('Sweetness') or teenage utopian fantasies ('Time And A Word'); here there's no such things. Maybe that's why everybody loves this album (and the following ones), I dunno - because this kind of singing elevates their childish ditties to the rank of 'serious' musical output. Dunno. I liked their childish ditties.

Anyway, I could even cope with Jon's voice if it weren't for another factor that ruins an almost immaculate album. Once again, I know that lengthy instrumental passages are a sine qua non of prog rock, but I also believe they must entertain. These ones, for the most part, don't. Strange as it may seem, only Chris Squire's base playing manages to impress me, especially on the opening 'Yours In Disgrace', as well as on selected places throughout the rest of the record. Bruford is Bruford, and he hasn't changed much; and as for Howe, his guitar playing isn't really superior to Banks - at least, not on this record. This leaves Tony Kaye, and he doesn't seize the chance. Maybe that's why he was fired right after this record.

Thank God, at least the melodies are good. Well - mostly good: the short 'A Venture' is just a toss-off (whoever thought it was a good idea to pair complex mantraic vocal harmonies with simplistic music hall piano rhythms gets smacked from me instantaneously), and Anderson really tries his best to reduce every one of them to the same cosmic schlock. However, once you've coped with him, you're bound to like most of these tunes. A major highlight, in particular, is the opening 'Yours Is No Disgrace', a classic Yes anthem in its own rights. As soon as you learn to cope with the 'shiny purple wolfhound' lyrics (a very widely quoted excerpt from Anderson supposed to indicate his nuttiness, second only to the infamous 'rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace' bit off 'Close To The Edge'), it's impossible not to get caught in the bounciness and catchiness of the melody, highlighted by fluent bass and Howe's rapid tasty licks. Should it have been shorter? It should - I would easily cut out most of the instrumental breaks, except for those parts where Howe has some fun with the speakers, playing these great angry wah-wah licks from channel to channel. Guitar playing is also a major attraction on 'Perpetual Change' - Howe's 'hammering' riff on that one is among his best. Even if, again, the song's main driving point are the vocal harmonies (nice, catchy and singalongish), and its weakest spot are the instrumental breaks.

Another instant classic is 'Starship Trooper' - a song about God only knows what, but I suppose it's just the good old hip thing going on with Mr Anderson (deep down inside, I do feel that all of his songs are just ultra-ciphered takes on 'All You Need Is Love', even if this can hardly be proved). The first three minutes of it don't do anything much for me, although the atmosphere is pleasant, and the middle countryish part is just okay, but its coda, entitled 'Wurm' for no particular reason, is as amazing as Yes codas go: Steve Howe plays a cool phased riff and the band builds up a tremendous climax around him, giving the song a real sci-fi feel and making you dizzy - don't you get visions of starship troopers in battle order, slowly advancing on the enemy or something? Well, I nearly do. Oh, by the way, Howe actually overdubbed several guitar parts on here, including some acoustic 'support' and another blazing solo in the background, but they did play the song live, and it was almost just as good.

But as flabbergasting as 'Wurm' is, I don't give the record a nine for instrumental codas. I give it a nine for the uttermost fun, grace and beauty of the classic anthem 'I've Seen All Good People'. Sure, it sounds just like a repetitive mantra, but this also gives Anderson's voice an excuse, for once: mantras are supposed to be chanted without emotion, not sung. And chant he does, repeating the senseless, but memorable line 'I've seen all good people turn their heads so satisfied I'm on my way' for what seems like a hundred times, while Howe plays some daring and invigorating licks all around him (hey, of course that's far from the only thing that's going on in the song - the opening acoustic section is quite beautiful, for one). One might disagree with the fact that it's the best song, but nobody can disagree it's the most memorable and immediately striking one. Yup.

In fact, while it's somewhat strange to me, I do have to confess that in terms of catchiness, The Yes Album is almost more accessible than any of the band's first two albums. It's definitely more good-timey, too: when Wilson & Alroy accused it of being extremely 'commercial', they were right in that a good deal of these songs, in slightly edited form, would qualify as hit singles and appeal to the general public quite easily. Well, actually, 'I've Seen All Good People' is supposed to be a radio standard, and 'Starship Trooper' is also a song not too uncommon on the air.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Here's ample proof that prog rock can really rock when pressed hard.


Track listing: 1) Roundabout; 2) Cans And Brahms; 3) We Have Heaven; 4) South Side Of The Sky; 5) Five Per Cent For Nothing; 6) Long Distance Runaround; 7) The Fish (Shindleria Praematurus); 8) Mood For A Day; 9) Heart Of The Sunrise.

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?

Oh! If you haven't yet understood it, this is the best Yes album ever. I used to hate it, of course. But bear with me: I'm just a Yes-bashing moron, and Jon Anderson is such a bastard... Do you think Yes would have sounded better with Greg Lake on vocals?



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

If you've heard The Yes Album, you've heard it all and you've heard more of it; yet this is epic enough to deserve a high rating.

Best song: CLOSE TO THE EDGE, but only a part of it, really.

Track listing: 1) Close To The Edge; 2) And You And I; 3) Siberian Khatru.

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.

And here comes the hatemail now - remember, I gave this an overall rating of 8/15 one day...



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The triumph of progressive rock ideas? Sprawl and audacity!


Track listing: 1) Opening; 2) Siberian Khatru; 3) Heart Of The Sunrise; 4) Perpetual Change; 5) And You And I; 6) Mood For A Day; 7) Excerpts From "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII"; 8) Roundabout; 9) I've Seen All Good People; 10) Long Distance Runaround/The Fish; 11) Close To The Edge; 12) Yours Is No Disgrace; 13) Starship Trooper.

I don't know if Yessongs was the first triple album ever, but most probably so: at least, only Yes could have dared to put out a triple live album at the time, and Yessongs was such a powerful and impressive statement that even the critics were trembling in their undergarments, and up to this day, if somebody directs you to a live prog rock album, it will most probably be Yessongs. (Actually, as some of the commentators pointed out below, George Harrison's All Thigs Must Pass was the first triple album; it just skipped my mind at the time of writing because I'm so used to dismissing the Apple Jam part of it that it's always considered a double album by my subconscious. Apologies). Three records, filled to the brim with performances of every single 'epic' composition from the band's last three albums (bar 'South Side Of The Sky', for some reason), and padded out with an excerpt from Rick Wakeman's Six Wives Of Henry VIII and a couple shorter numbers. A gorgeous album cover and lots of inlay pictures painting a whole fantasy world of their own. An incredible, mind-blowing level of live performance previously unheard of. Perhaps the only overall complaint that can be hurled towards the album is the sound quality: it is, indeed, not of the highest order, and probably has to be explained by the fact that this was the first case of a live recording of THIS order. Still, there are worse live albums out when it comes to sound quality, and the roughness of the sound and the sloppiness of the mix will wear off after just a couple of listens.

The natural question, then, is: what the hell do we need this album for, apart from its obvious use as a great document of its epoch? In what way does it substitute or complement the studio albums? Err... if I had to give one general answer, it would probably be - it doesn't, and moreover, it couldn't. For the most part, Yes faithfully reproduced the originals on stage, and like most progressive bands at the time, their main aim was to impress the audience and plunge them into a more 'realistic' landscape of sound than could be achieved through the usual turntable or tape deck. In accordance with this principle, a video version of Yessongs was also released at the same time, with a slightly different track listing and order (see the video review below). This all worked very well, of course; however, no live album can actually capture a certain 'live experience' perfectly, and prog rock bands suffer the most when their concerts are transferred onto record - without the grandiose sound system and the visual appeal, these massive shows lose most of their charm.

What's up with this particular performance, then? (Or, rather, performances: while most of the tracks feature new drummer Alan White, a couple of them are taken from earlier shows that still featured Bill Bruford - namely, the 'Long Distance Runaround/The Fish' medley and 'Perpetual Change'; the latter actually has a Bruford drum solo). Well, it's actually better than just a faithful reproduction. Graced with such a unique combination of ace players, Yes take their time carefully and widely displaying the individual band members' prominence, i. e. employ a principle that's close to the one used on Fragile, where every member was given a short 'solo spot'. However, the Fragile solo spots did not so much demonstrate the actual 'chops' as they demonstrated the individual members' wit and personality - the heavenly harmonies of Anderson, the classical inclinations of Howe and Wakeman, the inventive weirdness of Squire, the jazzy tricks of Bruford. Here, the 'solo spots' are taken in the more traditional sense - the given band member just picks up the vibe and gets on with it. Like I said, Bruford's moment of 'royalty' is on 'Perpetual Change'. Wakeman takes what's his on the Six Wives excerpts, stunning the audience with everything from Bach-inspired piano runs to thunderous "astral noise" fugues. Squire gets to perform 'The Fish', although, to be frank with you, this can hardly be called 'The Fish' because it's no longer based on multiple bass overdubs, but rather just features Squire noodling away on his four-string like crazy. And Howe has his day on 'Yours Is No Disgrace', amply demonstrating why he has to be deemed the most technically gifted prog rock guitarist of all time. Only Mr Anderson kinda just stands there and does nothing but sing the regular lines. Poor guy. Maybe that's why I like the album so much?

All of these 'solo showcases' are good - I don't have any problems with 'completely justified self-indulgence', not to mention that most of them don't go over five or six minutes. (It's no 'Moby Dick', I tell you!). However, that's not the only difference. Some of the numbers are slightly rearranged so as to fit the live atmosphere better - for instance, 'And You And I' is introduced by the same 'climactic' section that we find in the middle and at the end of that number on Close To The Edge, with the obvious intent of stunning the audience by this Olympic sonic onslaught from the very beginning. And Howe actually hardens up some of his guitar tones and pumps up the energy level throughout - even the introductory riff to 'Yours Is No Disgrace' is at least twice as massive and energetic as the studio version. Real guitar thunderstorms are also evidenced on 'Heart On The Sunrise' (damn is that speedy guitar riff awesome) and 'Close To The Edge'. Plus, is there a cooler way to end the show than with 'Starship Trooper'? The 'Wurm' coda just rocks the house down... err, wrong page, but still, I just haven't yet found a suitable equivalent for a powerful prog rock show stopper.

This can indeed be a good introduction to the band's sound, although it sure wears down on you on first listen - after all, eleven progressive epics in a row is a bit too much even for the seasoned prog fan. But don't listen to it all at once unless you're already dying of devotion to the regular studio records. Imbibe it bit for bit. Me? I'm content. I can just program out the worst offenders ('Siberian Khatru', for instance - although I do like to listen to it for the first three or four minutes, just to catch up with that cool funky riff) and enjoy the band working off their asses. Guess I'm just a sucker for live albums. Oh, and, by the way, don't believe the anti-hype: ELP's Welcome Back My Friends, which came out next year and was obviously modelled after this monster, was just as good. Don't you just LOVE a nice triple album stuffed with pretentious renditions of pompous twelve-minute long epics?

I hate to say it, but the answer is: "YES".



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Have you been told lately that complexity need not compromise beauty? Well, throw that crap out of your head. It does exactly that.


Track listing: 1) The Revealing Science Of God; 2) The Remembering; 3) The Ancient; 4) Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil).

I originally planned giving this album a 1 (indeed) as the biggest mistake in rock history. But then I've changed my mind. And why, do you ask? Simply because I felt that I was put under pressure by Anderson and Howe, it was like they were persuading me - come on, give it a 1 and make your review and the album object of endless battles and controversions and everything! Nope. A 1 is too good a rating for an album like Tales. A 1 would mean that it is outstandingly bad - if we consider my general rating of Yes, that would have given an overall rating of THREE which is a unique case up till now. Everybody would rush to the stores to buy the worst album in rock history, and there would be heaps of discussions about what makes it so bad or about what makes this idiot of a reviewer consider it so bad, and how in the world could such talented musicians... etc... etc... etc...

Nope. None of that. Instead of crucifying this Herostrates of an album, I mildly give it a 5 and say: it's not a very bad album. It's just okayish, background music. Now THAT's what I call revenge on 80 minutes of mind-numbing torture!

Okay, cut these remarks out. Here starts the serious part. By now, Anderson and company have seemingly decided that Close To The Edge wasn't really as complex as they'd like it to be. Consequently, they came up with an even more mastodontic project, maybe the most mastodontic project in the history of rock & pop music; while the music presented herein might not be exactly the most complex ever written in rock (for that, I suppose one should turn to stuff like Gentle Giant), it is certainly the most ambitious and the most complex on a large scale. Tales From Topographic Oceans is a double album with four tracks, each of them sidelong and the smallest one 'measuring' almost nineteen minutes. (Note that, recordsmen as they were, they still didn't beat Jethro Tull's 'Thick As A Brick' as the longest song of all). The album seems to be a concept one: apparently, it's based on Anderson's interpretations of some Yogi tract, but you really couldn't tell, 'cause the lyrics are typical Anderson meaningless ravings. True, this time there is a certain religious flavour to them, because all four sound like hymns, but hymns to whom? hymns to what? Don't even bother to guess. If lyrics like 'What happened to this song we once knew so well/Signed promise for moments caught within the spell/I must have waited all my life for this moment' really mean a thing to you, my reader, and to you, and to you, you may be sure your interpretations will all be different and none of them will reflect Anderson's ideas he actually put into this (if he did, that is). Once again I tell you that graphomania is a disease - not a virtue. And mind you, the example quoted above is only the most innocent of the lines in 'Revealing Science Of God'. If you're a Yes fan, you'll love it, of course, but please don't tell me I'm a stupid dumbass jerk just because I don't share the game with you, okay?

Needless to say, all of the lyrics are delivered in the same humanless, robotic tone we've all grown to love so well. This, taken together with the fact that they don't even bother to entertain you at least by inserting clever, melodical chantings of the 'I Get Up I Get Down' type, renders the sung parts of the tunes as boring as possible. And the music? More of the same stuff that we met on their 1972 albums, but worse, because Steve Howe isn't so prominent on the album. When he is, it's good (the short guitar solo on 'Ritual'); when he isn't, it's Wakeman who does the job, and he doesn't sound particularly inspired, either. Some of his synth solos are quite breathtaking, to be sure, but mostly he just sticks in the background and often ends up sounding like Tony Banks (God forgive me). Even Chris Squire's base isn't that good because it's usually quite low in the mix (did they think the guy was taking too much place in the band?) Bill Bruford quit before this album, on the ground that the band gave out everything it could give out (oh man, did he have a point), and new drummer Alan White (ex-Plastic Ono Band, by the way) is weaker: I mean, he keeps the beat up nicely, but he doesn't really do anything else.

So the actual songs are, for the most part, reduced to pleasant, highly professional and technically flawless, but also lengthy, cumbersome and secondary lullabies (the 'introduction' to 'Revealing Science Of God' is a perfect example). I can hardly stand disc one at all, with the worst moment being the first ten minutes of 'The Remembering': a slow, preachy, dragging countryish shuffle which doesn't go anywhere in particular (except out of the window, of course). It does pick up a little steam near the middle, but not too much. The second disk is notably better, though: 'The Ancient' is the only tune that seems to have a little energy, with a good, ravin' and chuggin' drums/base/guitar intro (although the lyrics are arguably the worst on the album, with Anderson reciting meaningless, cabbalistic words he apparently doesn't have the slightest idea of), while 'Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)' is the closest they ever came to a generic hippie song since 'Time And A Word'. Its main melody is catchy and happy, and Wakeman's synths do strengthen that 'shining', 'resplendent' idea of the song, but of course twenty-one minutes and a half do not a good hippie anthem make.

Please note that the album is, in fact, vastly different from most of Yes' previous output; Rick Wakeman didn't hate it for nothing. Close To The Edge might not have featured a potload of ideas, but all of its songs were based on actual melodies - solid guitar riffs, cool repeating keyboard phrases, harmonious sequences that actually had a beginning and an end. Tales, in comparison, often end up sounding like random sonic collages, with the band carefully avoiding hooks and trying to reach the maximum level of deconstruction. Not that the actual tunes are atonal or highly dissonant; they do have some kind of flow to them, but it's a forced, mechanical, artificial flow that hasn't got any real life to it. No matter how much I listen to this stuff, NOTHING agrees to stick in my head - except for 'Ritual', that is, where they have made the fatal mistake of letting some real hooks flow through their hands, hah hah. Basically, if Close To The Edge finally grew on me after a while and made me at least respect the effort, if not necessarily love it, this album simply refuses to follow suit. There's just nothing intriguing about this kind of music. The only intriguing thing, in fact, is the album cover (Roger Dean's zenith, probably: his surrealistic panorama is simply wonderful. Is this a snapshot from 'topographic oceans'? Could be, with all the cute little fishes).

Final judgement: okay. You shouldn't spit on this album (after all, give the guys some credit: it was really hard to do a thing like that), but you shouldn't love it, either (don't fall into this trap they have set for you - trust me, it's nothing but a put-on). Unfortunately, most of the people whose opinions I know prefer either this or that. Why can't you clear your head and take a good look (and listen, for that matter) at the actual musical quality? I mildly squeeze out a six here, out of love for 'Ritual' and respect for the boldness of the move and the hardships of actually recording it, but that's as far as I can go. Here's my final bequest:

To the sceptics: could you come up with such a complicated piece of music that does manage to thrill thousands of people?

To the adepts: go read some Shakespeare and listen to some Stravinsky, if you really want high art.

To the unspoiled ones: beware of extremism!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Not exactly 'art metal', but sometimes 'close to the edge'. A weird album for a Yes one; unfortunately, 'weird' and 'good' are different things.


Track listing: 1) The Gates Of Delirium; 2) Sound Chaser; 3) To Be Over.

Apparently, the fact that the musical press hated Tales and that Rick Wakeman's sudden departure from the band owed much to the album's pointlessness and 'padding' hadn't cured the band of their, by now usual, approach to rock music. So, having grabbed sideman Patrick Moraz instead, they flipped out yet another three-track album. Don't panic, it's a single one, and in that respect kinda emulates Close To The Edge rather than Tales; namely, it is fortunate enough to more or less (not completely, though) forsake the mind-blowing deconstructionism of Topographic Oceans and return to the "limited", but existent, melodicity of old. But there are serious differences just as well. Which I'm going to tell you about right now.

I don't know - have you ever heard 'The Gates Of Delirium'? If you haven't, you'll hardly understand my following blabber, but there's a great distance between it and, say, 'Close To The Edge', or, in fact, anything Yes ever did before. It's a sidelong, spacey raving, as usual, but this time they give it a much more hard edge. Not to say that this is really hard rock or metal (although in a couple of places Steve Howe does end up sounding like some metal dude). But bear in mind that the band previously relied on the 'cosmic conscience' groove, with slow, mind-boggling, hallucinogenous passages, all drenched in church organs, acoustic guitars and string-imitating synths. That's why Tales were ultimately so boring: if your conscience can't adjust to the groove, you're bound to fall asleep. This ain't the case with 'Gates Of Delirium'. For once, Anderson has written lyrics that do make sense: if I get it right, the effect is supposed to be apocalyptic, with both the name of the track and the album cover (a huge snake coiled before some fearsome rock structures - the gates of delirium, p'raps?) contributing to the mix, and the lyrics, with their war and confusion imagery, are completely in place. As for the music - well, this is probably the most texture-rich Yes album this far. I ain't saying that the melodies are more complicated than anywhere else, but the arrangements, with rows on rows of instruments and sound effects, certainly are. The lengthy central part, totally instrumental, probably represents the Final Judgement or something of the kind. (Well, actually, I think the whole track is dedicated to describing a global battle - together with all the preparations, the fight itself, and the ensuing peace and quiet). Yup. It's totally crazy, crazy like nothing before. I'm no musician, so I won't indulge myself in discussions over who's the greatest - Wakeman or Moraz; all I'm gonna say is that these keyboard parts are so nuts that they are really entertaining. Taken together with White's steadily improving drumming, Squire's immaculate bass and Howe's angry licks, they form a truly rockin' musical sequence; and at least in one respect I think it superates all the previous efforts - the level of overdubbing and "wall-of-sound" effects is truly overwhelming. Then, just as your eardrums are ready to burst, it all reverts to the 'calm after the storm' and Anderson's soothing final lines. My final word is that, even if there's no 'I Get Up I Get Down'-type hidden beauty to be found here (well, some find the final part "soon-oh-soon..." to be even more emotionally resonant, but I guess that's a matter of personal preference - of course, it is very pretty), this is still the most impressive of Yes' overlong pieces. The main thing is, it is the most rational of Yes overlong pieces: the sections aren't really drawn out more than they're supposed to. After all, it's a battle, and a battle doesn't just last three minutes zero seconds, now does it? So count me, and the worldwide population, happy. BUT...

...unfortunately, side two is the usual hell of a mess. Well, it's not the worst side of Yes material ever recorded, but it's not even close in effectiveness to the first one. The supposedly rockin' 'Sound Chaser' and the slightly Indian-flavoured, soft and moody 'To Be Over' do absolutely nothing for me (rather like side two of Close To The Edge, but even worse). 'Gates' were a curious elusion from Yes' standard formula; these two songs aren't, and not even Moraz can do anything with that. Good background music, but nothing more. They go for a kind of "compromise" between the more concentrated melodies of CTTE and the rambling un-structures of TFTO, but that doesn't actually work. 'Sound Chaser' doesn't make sense, and no sooner do we get to hang on a snippet of catchy melody than it goes away. Steve Howe gets in with some really angry guitar licks, though, and Anderson and company furiously chanting 'cha cha cha' is highly unpredictable for a Yes song; but that's it. 'To Be Over' is just solid atmosphere, nowhere near the heavenly effect of, say, 'And You And I'. Well, anyway, like I said, 'Gates' is the only song on a 'classic' Yes album that does make some sense and stands up to rational criticism. The others don't. They're way too pointless, fractured, and hey - dare I say it? - self-indulgent. That said, they aren't particularly nasty or anything - and anyway, since I consider 'Gates Of Delirium' to be one of the band's most impressive progressive peaks, I see no problem in giving Relayer an 8 on the whole. This way, the music really seems to work, and this leaves me with a pondering question: what would a Yes with no Jon Anderson look like?

Damn it, maybe I shouldn't have asked. It would be Drama Yes, for sure.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Progressive music seriously distilled with Rock And Roll and Pop and Soul. It worked for them - it almost works for me.


Track listing: 1) Going For The One; 2) Turn Of The Century; 3) Parallels; 4) Wonderous Stories; 5) Awaken.

Imagine yourself coming home with a brand new record by one of your favourite alternative bands, putting it on with a smile and... flying out of the room with a distorted composure on your face, crying 'What the f...?' as you are pursued with a pseudo-classical suite heavily influenced by P. I. Tchaikowsky. Of course, sooner or later, as you regain your tranquility, you'll come to understand that your favourite alternative band has decided to make a risky change of image, and if it is a really talented band, chances are that in some time you'll even come to enjoy the album. But the initial reaction, the reaction of uttermost horror and stupefaction, will never be forgotten.

Why am I saying this? Well, because it's just the kind of feeling you get when the first notes of 'Going For The One' echo through your living room. Unlike the magical 'ting' of Fragile or the mystical whispers of Tales or the morpheic crescendo of Close To The Edge, what you hear first is some ferocious notes from Howe's guitar... played boogie-woogie style! Wow, you must admit that's something for Yes. Of course, they were too smartass for allowing themselves to play some pure boogie-woogie: as soon as Anderson steps in with the vocals, it becomes quite a complex tune, with a 'wall-of-sound' kind of production similar to the one used on 'Gates Of Delirium', but more 'booming' and less menacing. The song is excellent indeed, and even Jon's impersonation of a heavy metal singer doesn't annoy me. The coda is extended a little longer than I'd like it to be, but the chorus is memorable, and the lyrics are good - thank God, the Relayer experience turns out to be the beginning of Anderson's 'normalization' as a textwriter rather than a singular moment of temporary convalescence.

Besides that, the album heralds a whole series of 'firsts'. The first first is that Rick Wakeman is back as a band member, and it shows - the keyboards are maybe even more prominent on the album than on the 1972-74 releases. The second first is that this is the first album in a long time whose cover is not painted by Roger Dean. That's a bad first, though, because it forces me to spend some time contemplating an incognito's butts whose artistic value I seriously doubt. The third first, the most important one, is that there are five tracks on the album - and that's more than on the whole double Topographic Oceans, you gotta admit that. Finally, the fourth first is the only 'subjective' one, because this is the first album since Fragile that has more than one good song on it. Talkin' bout a revolution indeed!

Indeed. Indeed, 'Parallels' is a most curious rocker, because its main attraction lies in the main instrument being church organ. A rockin' church organ song, that's really something you must hear. 'Turn Of The Century' distinguishes itself in my memory primarily by not being very complicated - an anthem that goes on for eight minutes without giving the impression of a musical labyrinth. At times it seems suspiciously close to Seventies' pop garbage, but that's only at times, and only from a specific angle of view. You shouldn't use that naughty angle while listening to it. Just enjoy the instrumental techniques, that's what I say, and try not to pay attention to Anderson very much (a thing I usually do with every Yes album after the first listen). Finally, the short, obviously pop-oriented 'Wonderous Stories' has a nice melody and, again, Anderson is doing a fine work. Now I know I just put him down, but that's the trouble with Jon: he really could be a good singer, when he tried to (remember 'Sweetness'?) The problem is, he wanted to be a bad singer more often than a good one. As for 'Wonderous Stories', some people twitch their noses at it because it's too poppy for them (Yes even got to play it on Top of the Pops!), but I don't care. I only care for a good melody. I think Rumours is one of the greatest albums of the Seventies. Now that all the pure art lovers have gone away, let me stay with the eclecticists and share the idea that 'Wonderous Stories' is the second or third best tune on the album. It's pretty.

Unfortunately, the period of regeneration is not over completely. This means that we still have to endure a mega-pompous tune at the end, the fifteen-minute 'Awaken' (fortunately, that would be their last song that goes over fifteen minutes for twenty years). Its lyrics are more or less understandable (although they don't really say anything that hadn't been said before), and it starts out quite pretty; unfortunately, most of the time that it plays is spent on a horrible, dissonant jam with multiple overdubbed vocals and the wall-of-sound impaling my ears. Sorely. Steve Howe plays some great solos, but wouldn't it be better if he saved them for a better song? Why not move them to the title track, for instance?

So I'm terribly sorry, but the inclusion of 'Awaken' leads to my lowering the rating by a couple of points. Otherwise, though, the record's just fine, and the thing I like most about it is a general 'simplification' of the process. I mean, the tunes are still complex and often innovative, but it doesn't all sound totally artificial or esoteric like on Close To The Edge. In a certain way, it's more like a return to the idealism of Time And A Word, only on a more serious and mature level. And that's a good thing that didn't last for very long, unfortunately...



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

A dull pop record disguised as progressive rock or a dull prog record disguised as contemporary pop? Works either way.

Best song: ONWARD

Track listing: 1) Future Times/Rejoice; 2) Don't Kill The Whale; 3) Madrigal; 4) Release Release; 5) Arriving UFO; 6) Circus Of Heaven; 7) Onward; 8) On The Silent Wings Of Freedom.

Now this is bad. I mean, really really really truly bad. I don't mind giving a relatively low rating to a record like TFTO or Close To The Edge, because their main flaw lies in overlong songs heavily watered down with boring 'jams' and mindless chord progressions: the very fact that you're making a twenty-minute long song usually predicts its unsubstantial moments. (There are some rare exceptions like 'Thick As A Brick', but they're so rare they're not even worth mentioning). But look, this one isn't a three-song record. There are eight tracks on here, and even the longest doesn't go over eight minutes, while most of them are in the four - five minute format, and 'Madrigal' is less than three minutes long, the first attempt of the kind since early 1972. And yet, this record is about as welcome as a stale hamburger that you're forced to eat after a delicious meal. You know, just to remind you that life ain't all milk and honey.

Seriously now, I had a lot of hopes for this record after Going For The One turned to be about the only Yes record that I didn't force myself to like (and eventually - the key to my liking most of its predecessors). However, even after a dozen listens Tormato still stinks, just like the splashed tomato on the front cover. I didn't believe my ears - after all, these guys did know how to write short songs some years ago. 'Sweetness'? 'Yesterday And Today'? 'Roundabout'? 'I've Seen All Good People'? 'Time And A Word'? 'Going For The One'? Here's ample proof that side-long symphonies were not the only forte of Yes in their prime. Aaarggh. There's one good song on Tormato, and even that one good song is not something special that one might get particularly excited about, yup, it's the beautiful piano ballad 'Onward' that echoes back to 'Time And A Word' again with its idealistic mood (it's inferior, though). Jon Anderson really shines on that one, and Wakeman does a magnificent job (although I often wonder if it was really necessary to add those quirky 'scraping' synth loops in the background). The other songs are crappy, not one of them excluded. Crappy to the brink.

Where is the energy? Steve Howe still cracks out a few good riffs now and then, but there ain't a single guitar solo to draw my attention on the record. What has happened to the sonic landscapes of yore? Rick Wakeman's new hi-tech synths sound lifeless and plastic. What's with the catchiness? Gone it is; not a single song on here is memorable in any particular way. Heck, if this were their first album, it could at least get a couple points for novelty factors; as is, it gets none.

I still give it a 6 (which amounts to a 8 'bad, with some redeeming factors' on the general rating scale) because I'm pleased with quite a few specific moments on some of the songs. Moments - none of the numbers, short or long, manage to hold my attention for all of their length. For starters, there's the cool guitar playing on the tricky rocker 'Release Release', fast 'n' rawkin' but somewhat dumb; then there's the weird electronic noises imitating the migration of aliens on 'Arriving UFO'; the driving riff and the cool funky bassline of 'On The Silent Wings Of Freedom'; the gorgeous singing on 'Circus Of Heaven'; and let's not forget that Alan White shows himself the master of weird time signatures - sometimes it seems he just can't keep time, but it's really an illusion ('Wings Of Freedom' again). I guess he actually plays better on here than on the preceding three records - maturation?

On the down side... well, there are just too many down sides. Anderson and company continue the mainstreamisation of their ideas and concepts, but somehow it doesn't work second time around. These songs either fall in the category of pop songs ruined by unnecessary complication or prog songs made silly by the insertion of customer-attracting gimmicks. I'm particularly speaking of the synth sound on this record: for the first time Wakeman really abuses these things, polymoogs and all, so that sometimes they end up sounding like contemporary Genesis. Now I'm not saying that they were willing to re-model themselves after Genesis (seeing that Genesis themselves had earlier modelled themselves after Yes), but the domination of corny synths on the record certainly has a lot to do with popular trends around the time. Synths open the starting number, a dull rehashment of old successes ('Future Times/Rejoice'), and infiltrate our minds for thirty five minutes more.

Lyrically Anderson is playing with topics that could render the album more commercial: poorly disguised eco rock ('Don't Kill The Whale'), trite alien subjects ('Arriving UFO') and banal celestial imagery ('Circus Of Heaven'), while the less commercial numbers display a new fit of graphomania ('Release Release' and 'Silent Wings Of Freedom' are particularly trashy). Even the short ballad 'Madrigal' that's supposed to be pretty, has always escaped my ears. If I have some idea about this song soon, I'll add a postscriptum; for the time being let's call it quits. Shabash, as we Russians say.

Postscriptum. Actually, kudos to 'Madrigal' for featuring that cool harpsichord playing. At least it's not a polymoog. And at least it's not the worst record in the Yes catalog. Or in prog rock. It's still light years better than Genesis' Wind And Wuthering, as it has some dang diversity and energy to it. Yeah, I know I said above it had no energy, but that's relative. It does have some. Sometimes. Count that a pretty HIGH overall eight, if you wish. Maybe very low nine.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

The 'new look' Yes, a transitive phase, but not without its little keyboard/bass fun. Maybe even its BIG keyboard/bass fun.


Track listing: 1) Machine Messiah; 2) White Car; 3) Does It Really Happen; 4) Into The Lens; 5) Run Through The Light; 6) Tempus Fugit.

A most strange thing had happened. Soon after the poor sales of Tormato, Rick Wakeman quit the band again, this time accompanied by Jon Anderson in person. For quite a lot of fans it should have been the rightful end of Yes, since who could imagine an Anderson-less Yes? And yet, both Steve and Chris could. Having hired former Buggles (I've never heard the Buggles, so I can't say anything about their New Wave-style music apart from its undoubtful influence on the style of this album) Geoff Downes on keyboards and Trevor Horn as occasional vocalist and bassist, and supplying a large part of the vocals themselves, they bravely plodded on, making Yes step into the Eighties without some of its primary trademarks. That's alright by me, anyway.

In fact, I first thought I would love this album, since my main pretensions were always directed at Jon and nobody else. Unfortunately, no such chance: the guys make their best to end up all sounding like Jon Anderson, using the same high pitch and intonationless intonations (only 'Does It Really Happen?' doesn't sound this way, but this doesn't mean it sounds better). And the lyrics are, well, rather trashy. As usual.

BUT: the songs themselves are pretty interesting, though. They certainly approach the plank separating 'art' from 'mass production banality' far too closely, indeed, much more closely than on Tormato. But, paradox or not, the melodies are actually far more entertaining this time around. The production is much more slick; there are less guitars here - practically no acoustic at all, and the electric one sounds a bit generic to my ears; the synth playing mostly relies on discoish and purely dancing rhythms that certainly "profanate" Wakeman's classical-influenced techniques; and in all, this sounds suspiciously close to the Eighties' Genesis, only with a little more emphasis on the bass functions, since Chris Squire wasn't yet willing to be shoved into the background. The album certainly changed Yes' image radically, and was the first step in helping them survive the hard times - losing old fans and acquiring new ones. But what about the songs, you say?

Well, the melodies mostly display a New Wave influence (which is hardly surprising with all those flukey New Wave rockers in the band). The Buggles themselves are obviously the primary influence, but not the only one: the guys obviously spent some time listening to the Police and the Talking Heads, and extracting certain elements from therein that they thought they could adapt to their 'classic' sound. 'Run Through The Light' is the best of these 'adaptations', where Trevor Horn almost sounds like Sting (at least the echoey effect on his voice certainly reminds me of Sting), and it's kinda pretty. It also features the best Steve Howe riffing on the record, in that part where he goes with his rapid, machine-gun playing. Same goes for the lengthy 'Into The Lens' ('I am a camera camera...') which sounds like almost a discoified clone from some classic Police number. It ain't emotional or anything, but it's just pleasant enough to listen to.

There's also the controversial 'Machine Messiah' which so many fans usually detest because it's opening with a couple minutes of braindead heavy metal riffing a la stupid heavy cockrock of, I don't know, well, just about any heavy metal band you happen to dislike. But they forget that later on it develops into a cool pop song with not a hint at heavy metal; again, not tremendouslyy memorable (but what Yes song is memorable?), but a great choice for you to dance to if you feel ashamed about putting on Donna Summer. 'Progressive dance music' - how about that one? Music to satisfy both your body and your soul! (Actually, it doesn't satisfy either, but at least it tries). And the song's plaintive ending is one hundred percent classic Yes. Groovy lyrics, too, and what a song title!

The only 'genuine Yes' number on the whole record, though, is the album closer 'Tempus Fugit', and even that one shows a strong New Wave influence, with its simplistic riffs and modern keyboard sound. But listen to those opening verses - don't they remind you of 'Close To The Edge' or anything like that? And the refrain is pure, pure Jon Anderson: could the song be an earlier outtake or were they just modeling the classic style with a little more care than elsewhere? It's also funny how many times the word 'Yes' gets repeated throughout the song, as if it was their way of saying 'We're still the Yes! Really! Yes! YES!'

In fact, just in order to prove that dubious assumption they even turned back to Roger Dean for the album cover, one of his most beautiful ever (probably second best after TFTO). These white rocks, the white bird and the black panther are gorgeous. Of course, hardcore fans couldn't stand the offense - what? how? why? how'd they dare profanate the sacred Roger Dean artwork for an album of toothless New Wave Anderson-less pastiches? Cool it, buddy, whenever you are. Apart from a few overextended instrumental sections, there ain't a single bad song on the album - all of them took effort and time to write, all of them are catchy in some way or other, and I've been a dumbass for giving this an overall eight in the past.

Yes, it's true, at times I wonder at the very reasons of the record's existence: it ain't too serious, ain't too funny, ain't too memorable, ain't too forgettable... ain't anything special. It kinda just sits there and plays and spews out its immaculate hooks at you and you scratch your head and think - 'what am I supposed to do with all these immaculate hooks spewn out at me?' But hey buddy, that's what New Wave is for. Why don't we all ask ourselves the same question about Remain In Light (which actually has far more in common with Drama than you could expect). It's cleverly-constructed bizarreness subject to your own personal interpretation - contrary to, say, Tales From Topographic Oceans, which was murkily-constructed bizarreness subject to your own insane fantasies.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Live wankfests, but at least the material is mostly good.

Best song: TIME AND A WORD

Track listing: 1) Parallels; 2) Time And A Word; 3) Going For The One; 4) The Gates Of Delirium; 5) Don't Kill The Whale; 6) Ritual (part 1); 7) Ritual (part 2); 8) Wonderous Stories.

This is a live album, but, like Yessongs before it, it's slightly messy, some of the material being really old and featuring Moraz on keyboards. The newer material, from Going For The One and Tormato, features Wakeman once again. Plus, if you pay attention to 'Time And A Word', you'll notice that there are at least three 'epochs' of the band represented here and, dang it, are they different... But let's deal with them chronologically, why not?

'Time And A Word' is such a cool tune! You'd never have guessed listening to it crammed among all the filler on the 1970 disc that it would sound so fresh and strong here, in among all the sprawl. Yet it does: believe it or not, Yes were a better band in 1970 than they were in any other epoch, at least song-wise. Naive and innocent, but charming and catchy. Kudos to the band once again for not entirely dismissing that epoch.

Out of the 'cosmic-schmosmic' era come 'Ritual' and 'The Gates Of Delirium', both done in their twenty-minute entirety ('Ritual' was even cut in two parts to fit on the second LP, and is still divided in these same two parts on my CD tracklist). These I'm not too fond of. I mean, both were good on record (strange enough, they pleased me by picking up exactly the two lengthy tunes that I can stand, unlike all the others), the former with its nostalgia for Flower Power and the latter for its apocalyptic visionary subjects. However, 'Ritual' loses part of its charm by not sounding polished enough, and 'Gates Of Delirium' somehow manages to pass me by as well. Dunno why, but I bet it has something to do with Moraz unable to reproduce his funky keyboard parts live. Or maybe he was able, but it's the mix that is crappy. The final part ('calm after the storm') is just as good as its studio predecessor, though. In any case, I'm not enough of an attentive and diligent Yes listener to really provide anybody with a long analysis on the differences between the studio and live versions of Yes epics. Shorter songs, maybe, but twenty-minute long monsters? No thanks. Well-performed, for sure, but... but... good thing that Yessongs were actually recorded before Yes ventured into all-out megalomaniac mode of existence.

Finally, out of the recent tunes we have 'Parallels', 'Wonderous Stories' (which is suitably chosen as the album closing track) and the title track from Going For The One. All good. Seriously now, these three 'short', ehn, 'ditties' are enough to push the rating up seriously. The performances are tight and compact, the grooves are set, 'Parallels' rocks out mightily, much more mightily than anything from Tales could ever hope to, and 'Going For The One' has such a weird time signature and is at the same time so cool that I really really have nothing against it. I don't know if it was such a good idea to segue into the song directly from 'Time And A Word', though - the two have so little in common, apart from the length, that I really dunno... What would you think if such a powerful, bombastic ending suddenly led into the distorted boogie chords of 'Going For The One'? Strange idea. 'Wonderous Stories' is just gentle and nice, and it's four minutes long - and Lord knows I like it when Yes write a four-minute long song. The only passable tune is 'Don't Kill The Whale' from Tormato, but it's also short; at least, they don't do 'Silent Wings Of Freedom'. Whew. Actually, I might even say that 'Whale' sounds better in the live version than in the original one, with a cool strings-imitating synth background and Steve Howe at his very, very best.

So what else can be said? What can be said about live albums, in general? If you've already discussed the studio ones? Nope, nothin'. The only thing that strikes me about the album is the sudden change in Jon Anderson's pitch. Instead of becoming lower with age, much to my surprise it becomes higher and higher, and it's especially evident on the newer tunes. Say what you will, but so much for the better. At least it somehow becomes distinctive: quite too often Anderson, with his 'zero-tone', just got totally lost among the wild instrumentation. Here he's totally clear, energetic and sometimes even emotional (I'm serious) - check out the 'Soon Oh Soon' section of 'Gates Of Delirium' for just about the closest Yes ever got to pure catharsis. That's another good point.

Steve Howe is also quite good, ripping out all kinda ferocious licks on his trusty electric. Can't hear a lot of Rick or Chris or Patrick (Moraz), though, but I think I already said 'Gates Of Delirium' might sound thus insipid because of the awful mix. Well... not that I care about Rick, but that bass, man, that bass cannot be beat. Best bass in the prog rock world, and I can't hear it, apart from a few exceptions. Well, you can't always get what you want. At least we get a cool Roger Dean cover with a beautiful bird flying over snowy mountains. The guy sure could paint. Wonder what the cover has to do with the contents, though?

Overall, the album is certainly redundant in a huge way, but I suppose there exists a special brand of prog fans who need their idols' studio releases to be thoroughly and consistently 'accompanied' by live albums of contemporary material every three or four years or so, and Yesshows does just that. I don't necessarily agree with that ideology (particularly since it makes me fork out extra money for an album whose existence is NOT all that justified), but at least I'm not offended by the record or by the songs, and so let it be.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

The end of the transitive phase. Prog lovers, get out of the way - the Eighties production values are in.

Best song: CHANGES

Track listing: 1) Owner Of A Lonely Heart; 2) Hold On; 3) It Can Happen; 4) Changes; 5) Cinema; 6) Leave It; 7) Our Song; 8) City Of Love; 9) Hearts.

Oh, so they finally did make the decision to carry on after all. And look here! Downes and Horn are out (although the latter is still credited for producing the record); Anderson is back! What's even more amusing, Tony Kaye is back - the same Tony Kaye that was kicked out of the band to make place for Wakeman twelve years ago. Unfortunately, Steve Howe is out (gee, doesn't the situation remind you of some famous puzzle game?) To replace him, they've picked out unknown South African (!!!) guitarist Trevor Rabin who pretty much defines the Eighties Yes sound. Yes, it's a totally new sound, and, while one can certainly trace its roots to Drama, this is hardly a true 'prog rock' album. Someone in the Yes camp had probably spent quite a lot of time listening to and digesting the recent Genesis releases, because it's obvious they were desperately searching for a contemporary update of their sound. The difference is that, while Genesis have opted for a lighter, synth-happy sound, almost completely abandoning the guitar, the new Yes sound is much more guitar-based. But these guitars ain't nothing like Steve Howe's guitars: heavy, screeching and ultimately quite bland and derivative.

Yup, a contemporary update it was: heavy booming electronic drums, hi-tech synthesizers, dancing rhythms, heavy metal guitars and suchlike. Quite a lot of Yes fans leave the band at this point, but we'll stick to it until the very end, okay? Let's just see what happens. These nine tracks are certainly different from the classic Yes style, but they're not necessarily worse, and some are even better than quite a bit of their overblown symphonies. They don't sound distinctive any more: without the phenomenal solo work of Howe and Wakeman, most of the instrumental passages sound either deadly boring (synth solos) or horrendous (metallic solos a la... well, just about any heavy metal band at that time was doing these guitar attacks). But at least they did worry about the hooks and interesting, attractive melodies - there's enough serious composing going on to redeem the general sound.

The hit here, and the track that almost defined Yes for a whole new generation of radio listeners, was the pretty 'n' catchy harmony-based 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' (unfortunately, partially ruined by murky drum machines and that dirty axe tone), although there were other radio standards as well. My favourite is 'Changes', maybe because the lyrics fit in so well with the general flash of energy on the song ('one word can bring you round... boom... CHANGES!!'), but it's really hard to pick a favourite, because the song quality is rather even.

If you ask for any other particular standouts, I'd probably have to mention the harmony-drenched 'It Can Happen' because it features a sitar, and you don't often get to hearing a sitar on a modern-production, high-tech record. Maybe this makes the sound dated for somebody (for a lot of people the sitar is associated with 'pothead crap'), but I like the way it 'interplays' with electronic keyboards and stuff, not to mention the upraising optimistic chorus that's one hundred percent Yes and it's also the kind of Yes that I really like - the 'universal love' kind of Yes. Another stand-out, this time in the bad sense of the word, is the one number I can hardly stand at all: the ultra-heavy, dorky sounding 'City Of Love' where Rabin really abuses those distorted chords while John plays it up to him with his stupid screams. And the line 'we'll be waiting for the night, we'll be waiting for the night' has always irritated me as sounding incredibly silly. Like something, you know, like something a band like Europe could possibly appreciate. Remember that one? Cheesy synths plus dance pop plus waves of long black curly hair? Yyyyuck.

Luckily, after the nadir comes the zenith: 'Hearts', the album closer, is probably the closest to 'traditional Yes' here than anything else, for quite a number of reasons. First, it's relatively long (seven and a half minutes - the average length of a short Yes filler). Second, it has some great organ from Kaye, and thus has at least a little retro-ish sound. Third and most important, it gives us the nostalgic opportunity to get to hear the 'Time And A Word'-style Jon Anderson once again: the refrain has some gorgeous falsetto vocals that recreate the innocent hippie optimism that helped redeem Jon's early compositions. It might be rather 'simplistic' for Yes standards, but it's certainly more complex than your average pop love ballad. In fact, I could have easily dubbed it my favourite song on the album if it weren't for the atrocious guitar solo that Trevor Rabin probably picked off a conveyer transporting 'heaven and hellish' guitar solos to all the bland 'progressive' bands of the Eighties. As it is, 'Changes' sounds more compact.

Still, if you're painfully searching for a pretext to buy this purportedly 'pop' album, 'Hearts' is just the motive for ya. 'It Can Happen' will probably please the serious fan as well, but the other stuff, well, you just gotta be eclectic enough to love it. Overall, good album anyway - and while it's easy as hell to predict that this style would eventually result in Big Generator and Union, the first time is always the best anyway. Basically, if you're not a hardcore Yesser, you need to stop here and not resume your Yes experience until Keys To Ascension.



Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

More formulaic. Anderson is good throughout, but God you don't know how I am sick of these heavy metal tones.


Track listing: 1) Rhythm Of Love; 2) Big Generator; 3) Shoot High Aim Low; 4) Almost Like Love; 5) Love Will Find A Way; 6) Final Eyes; 7) I'm Running; 8) Holy Lamb.

Aw Lord, if you ever wondered about 'generic', just take a listen to this. The bright yellow and red colouring might detract you a bit, because as far as essence goes, this album is grey, lifeless, unmemorable and just plain ridiculous. Boy, what's the reason to make a record if you yourself are well aware that it will go nowhere? (Because it did - I'd be hard pressed to find a diehard Big Generator lover among the fanatically devoted Yes crowds just as well as among casual listeners). It's... well, okay, I just have to wonder why the hell did this stuff come out in 1987, as it's essentially such an obvious "1986-style" record.

Anyway, this is the second studio release of the Rabin-dominated Yes, and it can't help but be worse. They still demonstrate enough care for the songs and do not drown the musical skeletons in seas of hi-tech synths or anything, but that's not necessarily a compliment, as these skeletons are often murky beyond imagination. 'Almost Like Love' and the title track, in particular, are the kind of high-noise level mid-Eighties garbage that sounds particularly overbloated and pretentious, mostly due to the fat guitar tones and booming drums that substitute inspiration and instrumental technique. Yeah, you can't help tapping your feet to these sounds, but I equal 'em to evil enchantments of some wicked witch. In this case, the wicked witch seems to be symbolized by Trevor Rabin, on one hand, and mid-Eighties fashion, on the other.

There are some good things that can be said about the record, that's why I don't let it down entirely. Anderson is mostly good throughout - surprisingly, his vocals almost seem more effective to me when we deal with generic Eighties production, not with Seventies' art rock values. As the music becomes more sterile and robotic, I guess it reaches a certain adequacy level with Jon's sterile and robotic vocals. This is pretty evident on such minor standouts as the cute pulsating 'Rhythm Of Love', one of the few really 'rhythmic' tracks on here that can be qualified as decently written. 'Shoot High Aim Low' has an interesting atmospheric chorus to it that's preceded by a steady vocal/instrumental crescendo, but, of course, at seven minutes the song is tremendously drawn out. And I guess 'Love Will Find A Way' is very pretty, and even dares to begin with a short string quartet bit (although the word 'love' is reprised in too many tracks for me - was Jon really trying to revive the hippie ideals? In 1987? What a fanatic!) There's also some cute pseudo-acoustic plucking all over some of the songs, which gives you some periods of relief from the generic metal guitar. And the second part of 'I'm Running' develops into a groovy, fast-paced song with some thrilling ascending vocal lines. Also, what's that they play in parts of it? Balalaika? Anyway, a good pop number with some retro connotations.

I can't say I remember the other tunes too well, though. And don't you argue with me over the highlights to this album - when you got such hideous stylistic and instrumental monotonousness, all you can do to salvage at least some of the material is go all over the place spotting the tiniest of potentially interesting details; and naturally, the details you spot and like can be different from the details I spot and like. All I can say is that Big Generator isn't really as much offensive as it is often made out to be unless you're simply willing to condemn Yes for moving further away from their Seventies style. The only true offender on the entire album, I guess, is the title track, whose hair-metal guitar riffs and a certain Europe-like (Europe the band, I mean) flavour nearly makes me vomit on the spot - particularly when I have to fight back inescapable images of Jon Anderson fucking his microphone stand in a tight leather jacket surrounded by clouds of ice and Trevor Rabin displaying his Terminator muscles as he kicks the shit out of a triangular guitar, while Alan White plays out the simplistic drum pattern as if he were totally overcome and possessed by an ecstatic Lord of the Drums. [DISCLAIMER: That was but a fantasy description. But a really fun one!].

Apart from that, though, I can't say the band had completely betrayed its spirit. Rather, they were just making a gaffe - trying to keep up with the times when it would be soon evident that it was the times themselves who were lagging behind Yes. Anderson is still perfecting his shiny optimistic lyrics, and the music is still somewhat too complex to be simply qualified as contemporary dance-pop. It's simply boring. Guess Howe and Wakeman were really responsible for a lot of music making in the 'classic' days. One thing I don't get, of course, is that Chris Squire would want to have anything to do with this mould. And am I going crazy, or is 'Holy Lamb' borrowing lots of musical ideas (not to mention the mood) from 'I've Seen All Good People', only to sterilize all of them and push them within the format of a track with next to no instrumental melody?




Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

A projection of the classic Yes sound onto the Eighties, it just goes to show how much the Eighties suck.

Best song: LET'S PRETEND

Track listing: 1) Themes; 2) Fist Of Fire; 3) Brother Of Mine; 4) Birthright; 5) The Meeting; 6) Quartet; 7) Teakbois; 8) Order Of The Universe; 9) Let's Pretend.

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 RHYTHMS FOR YES? GET ME THE VALIUM RIGHT NOOOOW!

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 aborigenes. '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.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

MORE formulaic. Geez, wouldn't these guys have anything like a new idea by this time? This is getting monotonous!


Track listing: 1) I Would Have Faited Forever; 2) Shock To The System; 3) Masquerade; 4) Lift Me Up; 5) Without Hope You Cannot Start The Day; 6) Saving My Heart; 7) Miracle Of Life; 8) Silent Talking; 9) The More We Live - Let Go; 10) Angkor Wat; 11) Dangerous (Look In The Light Of What You're Searching For); 12) Holding On; 13) Evensong; 14) Take The Water To The Mountain.

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?




Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Yes Music Plus? More like Yes Music Minus (Mr Squire, of course).

Best song: all those "solo sections", I guess...

Track listing: 1) Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra; 2) Time And A Word/Owner Of A Lonely Heart/Teakbois; 3) The Clap/Mood For A Day; 4) Gone But Not Forgotten/Catherine Parr/Merlin The Magician; 5) Long Distance Runaround; 6) Birthright; 7) And You And I; 8) Starship Trooper; 9) Close To The Edge; 10) Themes; 11) Brother Of Mine; 12) Heart Of The Sunrise; 13) Order Of The Universe; 14) Roundabout.

Once again, the creative caucus of Mr Anderson, Mr Bruford, Mr Wakeman, and Mr Howe gather around to offer us another perspective on the golden-era Yes material. In live form, that is. In case you were already missing the next obligatory live performance of 'Close To The Edge', rejoice! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome your favourite progressive band, minus its creative bass anchor, back on stage!

Actually, take all that irony on my part as very mild: I am quite fond of certain parts of this double album. Only certain parts, though. Try as I might, and even considering my general love towards live albums, I can't give this one more than a seven, because there's just too much, well, not exactly 'filler', but just material that doesn't add an iota to what I have already heard. In particular, the entire second CD just totally blows in that respect. I really don't need another 'Close To The Edge' after the studio version and the one on Yessongs (and before the one on Keys To Ascension II). I'm really not too sure about all that stuff off the four guys' unit's studio album - neither 'Themes' nor 'Brother Of Mine' nor 'Order Of The Universe' were among the most offensive tracks on it, and I could even say that the live rendition is slightly more energetic, but... eh... well, I probably don't need to finish the sentence. I could also expect something more unusual than the standard rendition of 'Roundabout' for the final number. In fact, the only surprise on the second CD is that at some point Anderson announces that the band is going to take some requests, and some guy with a voice louder than everybody else's requests 'Heart Of The Sunrise', so they play it (damn solid version, but hardly more solid than the one on Yessongs, again). Then again, isn't this entire 'requests' business just a false crowd-pleasing trick? Surely there musta been at least a couple of guys in the audience screaming for 'Gates Of Delirium' or - who knows? - 'I See You', but the band preferred to hear what suited them.

But never mind. It's the first CD that I almost totally admire. The greatest surprise of the concert is that at the beginning Anderson, Howe, and Wakeman one by one occupy center stage with 'solo spots', all of which are marvelous. First, Jon gives us a mild acoustic medley of 'Time And A Word' and 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart'... yeah, you'd think the two songs would be incompatible, right? Well, when they're given a soft acoustic treatment, they're not as incompatible any more. In fact, the medley is quite lovely and touching... and hey, 'Time And A Word', much as everyone bashes it, just might be my favourite Yes song of all time. Thank you, oh thank you, Mr Anderson, for not forgetting your past.

Then Howe comes to the foreground and in a quick succession does both 'The Clap' and 'Mood For A Day' - no more need to choose between an audio and a video version, as it was in the case of Yessongs. If I am not mistaken, Steve does sound a wee bit tired, because I don't hear him playing all those ecstatic speedy acoustic runs on 'The Clap' as he used to do twenty years earlier; but even so, his technique is still impeccable, and I don't get bored at all, even if the medley, with all the "intermissions" and "introductions", lasts for a whoopin' nine minutes.

Rick is last, playing something called 'Gone But Not Forgotten' (I don't know the origin of that piece), and following it with short extracts from Six Wives Of Henry VIII ('Catherine Parr') and Arthur ('Merlin The Magician'). The first one is a lovely barocco piano piece; the second one is a medieval stylistics-drenched passage with some of the speediest synth passages I've ever witnessed... can the guy really play that fast or is it just some kind of tricky looping gadget? Ah well, don't tell me, I'm not sure I wanna know. Finally, 'Merlin' returns us back to some Mozartian piano crossed with ragtime... you know Rick, that old hoot, always ready to hybridize two entirely different genres.

Apart from that, the first CD gives us expendable versions of 'Long Distance Runaround' and 'Birthright', but it also gives us an extremely lovely and tight version of 'And You And I' that ditches the "introductory climactic part" which I've never really liked - I've always thought that the heavenly middle part of the song, with the keyboards and guitars soaring up into the sky, should come in the middle and get reprised near the end, according to the general laws of gradual song development. And finally, there's an excellent 'Starship Trooper', tight, joyful, with Jon Anderson having a little hooliganry in the middle (enticing us by singing 'Soon, oh soon...' and 'Nous sommes du soleil...' but never advancing beyond these enticements) and a totally restructured rendition of the 'Wurm' coda - they actually speed up that rhythm and almost turn it into a boogie tempo at the end, without losing the main riff nor the epic character of Steve Howe's soloing.

I suppose I should also add that the sound is excellent throughout. Perhaps Howe isn't in top form (I miss some of his usual pyrotechnics), and there's no Squire (although Jeff Berlin holds the bass duties pretty well), and the sound is actually diluted by an extra keyboardist and guitarist for whatever reason, but Anderson and Wakeman are still ace performers, and, well, after all, you can't really go wrong with Howe. The only major change in sound is Bruford: apparently, after his work in King Crimson, the man has seriously fallen in love with electronic drums, which he uses all over the place. Some people find this a pretext for serious complaining, but I really don't care, because Bill uses his electronic kit extremely creatively - far more so, in fact, than the soulless robotic drumming of Rabin-era Alan White. Perhaps it would help disappointed Yes fans to soak in some King Crimson before proceeding to this album, eh?



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

They try to make it accessible AND progressive all at once - a daring try, and not one of their worst.

Best song: I AM WAITING

Track listing: 1) The Calling; 2) I Am Waiting; 3) Real Love; 4) State Of Play; 5) Walls; 6) Where Will You Be; 7) Endless Dream.

The Union lineup did not last too long - after all, how could it have lasted long? The whole project was so dang artificial and commercially oriented that it was evident we wouldn't get the chance to see a second album of the 'mega-lineup'. Instead, the ABWH combo simply parted ways - with Anderson rejoining the Rabin-led Yes for, well, the third time, while the BWH guys simply went their own ways (Bruford actually returned to the freshly reformed King Crimson, where he formally stayed for a few more years before going totally solo or in yet another direction I'm not aware of). The lineup is thus the same as on 90125, and I expected the record to be horrendous like everybody said it was... well, it is horrendous to a certain extent as far as production values go, but you know the deal with production values? If a song's good, production values only put you off as long as you're not willing to part with a nasty little bias. I'd easily buy a 70's-produced version of Talk had it been made available; as it is, I'll just have to relax and stick with the original. Actually, I think it's their best effort since the pie chart record, and yup, that might not be saying much, but it sure is saying a lot. If this doesn't make sense to you, please read on.

The main trademarks of the Eighties' Yes are still here, of course: boomy modernistic production, generic metal guitar lines, hi-tech synths and electronic drums abound. But this time, the dudes have made a definite attempt at recapturing at least some of their former progressive audiences. Even better, they made a definite attempt at 'cleaning up' their fucked-up melodies and throwing out the ridiculously overblown overproduction of Union, preferring to put in your face what little there is of actual melodic strength instead of what a lot there is of brain-pounding conscience-muddling sonic noise. There are but seven songs, one of them multipart and most of the others with running times much longer than your standard radio-played singles. There are no immediately obvious hooks and very few melodies that could be rated as 'simplistic': these are, indeed, songs that consist of several distinct themes and feature Complicated Musical Ideas. Titles like 'Endless Dream', 'The Calling' and 'State Of Play' will bring you memories of the good old Yes o' yestreday, too, and I'm pretty sure that if you're a fan of Jon Anderson's lyrics, you'll find plenty o' stuff that equals, maybe even surpasses his 'classic' lyrics to 'Close To The Edge' or 'Starship Trooper' or any of his other cr... sorry, 'poetry'. Personally, I just didn't bother to listen to this with the lyrics sheet in my hands, as I had more important things to do. But they seem pompous enough.

The big problem, of course, arises when you discover that it's a pretty hard task indeed to make a Yes record that has no Howe and no Wakeman on it. Rabin is a good guitarist, and sometimes he can even be convinced to make the best of his abilities: thus, the guitar part on 'I Am Waiting' is absolutely gorgeous, perhaps Trevor's best, 'shiniest' moment with the band - I am amazed myself that he was able to produce such incredible guitarwork. I haven't witnessed such a climactic, truly heavenly guitar approach since at least Howe's inspired work on 'And You And I'. But that only happens at certain specified moments, which are rather few. Elsewhere, he just comes up with the same exhausted riffage that we heard a million times before and would never like to hear again. Even worse, most of the synth playing on record is his and not Kaye's, with the endless tape loops, robotic samplings, and other dreadful stuff. The drumming is rudimentary as well, and any good basswork? You can only dream about it. Chris Squire probably had his hands caught up in a straightjacket during the sessions.

Which brings me to the point that most of these songs could be classics - were they written in another era. As such, almost none of the songs suck, but quite a few are boring, and absolute chef-d'oeuvres you will find not. Yeah, it is my opinion that the album is generally underrated - surprisingly, I found it an easier listen than Union; but for every underrated album there is a reason of its underratedness, and yes, the reason is right before your eyes: garbage-style production and terribly underdeveloped ideas.

That said, I do like many of the songs here - in fact, I enjoy this album, if you prefer to speak in black-and-white categories. 'The Calling' is perhaps the closest they got to 'classic Yes' on this album: a bit too four-fourish, perhaps, but still, a perfectly harmonized, soaring, powerful anthem in its own rights. Then there's 'I Am Waiting' which I already mentioned as a great guitar showcase, but it's just kinda nice as a mellow ballad. And Rabin sings lead on 'Walls', a super duper, almost annoyingly catchy pop number, whose refrain alone has an obvious Top Of The Pops potential. Which in the context of this exact review means that it's great.

That's about it with the highlights (I mean, three songs out of seven for a late period Yes album ain't that little, eh?), however, apparently, there are several moments in other songs here where they approach being not just passable or decent, but real good - some harmonies on the endless 'Endless Dream', the riff on 'Real Love', etc., I mean, sometimes it really works, yeah. And when I get to that murky 'synth vomit' section on 'Endless Dream', I like to imagine these sounds as representing Trevor Rabin's death agony, a little trick that lets me tolerate the section with total ease and even some kind of self-satisfaction. (Hope I'm not breaking any of the PC rules here). I guess they actually do experiment with modernistic hip-hop beats in a couple of places, but I also guess that's kinda welcome. Stagnation? Never in Yeslife!

Anyway, kudos to Rabin for... oh well, you know, there's bad production and bad production, and Rabin's style on this album is certainly minimalistic and musically comfortable when compared to Jonathan Elias' style on Union. It's, you know, that kind of record which I call 'half-assed comeback': not a glorious self-salvation in the blink of an eye, but rather the start of the gradual 'ascension from the pit'. Which, for a band as convoluted as Yes, naturally took about half a decade.



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A return to form or a nostalgic trip backwards? You know, both variants are probably true.

Best song: AMERICA

Track listing: 1) Siberian Khatru; 2) The Revealing Science Of God; 3) America; 4) Onward; 5) Awaken; 6) Roundabout; 7) Starship Trooper; 8) Be The One; 9) That That Is.

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 Differencies' 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?



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

More of the same, this time with a little more accent on new studio tunes. Unfortunately, that's the bad point.

Best song: TIME AND A WORD

Track listing: 1) I've Seen All Good People; 2) Going For The One; 3) Time And A Word; 4) Close To The Edge; 5) Turn Of The Century; 6) And You And I; 7) Mind Drive; 8) Foot Prints; 9) Bring Me To The Power; 10) Children Of Light; 11) Sign Language.

Apparently, everybody loved the first Keys album so much, they decided to go ahead and release a follow-up within less than a year. The resemblance is, err, 'awesome', and even the two album covers are practically undistinguishable. However, this time they decided to cut it half-to-half: the first CD presents us yet another set of live recordings of all-time classics, while the second is fully devoted to new compositions. Unfortunately, no huge surprises in either direction.

The selections on the first CD turn out to be more well-known and even banal: obviously, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel of their new concert program. So you get 'I've Seen All Good People' again (great song, though, and look how fine it has aged), and you get both 'Close To The Edge' and 'And You And I'! Taken together with 'Siberian Khatru' on the previous album and the versions of these songs on Yessongs, you receive the whole Close To The Edge three times full! Now that's what I call pride for your own native product! Yup, but that doesn't mean I have to love these versions better than the originals which I hardly liked at all. The 'I Get Up I Get Down' section is still beautiful, and the climactic sections to 'And You And I' are still the very definition of 'breathtaking', and the rest is still sprawl.

Furthermore, there are two numbers recycled from Yesshows, although this is where you don't see me complaining: both 'Going For The One' and 'Time And A Word' are among my all-time Yes favourites. 'Time And A Word', in fact, is the only tune that gets a radical reworkment, and the reworkment works: it gets a brilliant tinkling piano intro, and all over the song Wakeman tries very hard to make it sound more important than just your average hippie crap stuff. Ooh, how soothing... but still, that does not detract me from the obvious and objective fact that this live album can't help being inferior to its immediate predecessor. Sequels are like that, you know? Unless your sequel is a Sierra adventure game in the late Eighties, but here I go digressing again... Actually, I guess that when they were selecting the tracks for the first volume, they carefully picked out all the 'advanced' stuff like 'Onward' and 'Awaken' and 'Revealing Science Of God' to satisfy the seasoned fan, then after a moment of deliberation decided to fling out all the 'mass' stuff on the follow-up. Which certainly means that, me being a more 'mass' fan of Yes and all, this second volume is by default the more pleasant for me, but why should I listen to it anyway? Just to hear Mr Howe flash his boogie chops on 'Going For The One' in a way that the average production of Yesshows was hiding from view? That's a good reason, of course, but hardly sufficient.

Now the studio album is just another disappointment. Again, they try to emulate the ancient Yes sound, and again it doesn't work. There are some sparkling moments of beauty which you have to dig for, like the beautiful and simple instrumental piece 'Sign Language' or certain lines in 'Children Of Light', but they are really few. For the most part, this music reminds me of a half-professional, inspiration-less rock band trying to cover the above-mentioned 'And You And I' and failing. The reason is that I just don't feel the energy. Both Wakeman and Howe, once the pride of the band, seem to be playing their instruments with one hand while squabbling in a chair and holding a cigar in the other. I wouldn't call their work primitive, and I know they can do it if they want to, but they hardly seem to want! In fact, the only thing that moves this lazy, reluctant music forward seems to be Squire's bass - the man was obviously glad to turn up in the light again, after ten years of being relegated to secondary work, and he revels in his newly-found freedom, churning off ferocious riffs and dazzling speed lines in 'Foot Prints' and some other tracks.

Anderson seems to be going through the motions, though - his main showcase (the usual twenty-minute long 'Mind Drive') is feeble, with lyrics recycled from his former imagery, and, to tell you the truth, this is where I finally become so sick of his vocals that my attention gets drawn away from the song all of the time. Oh yeah, I know that nobody forced me to take the steep path of a record reviewer, so the only person responsible for this torture is me and nobody else, but I still have to shout it out loud: I Can't Stand These Vocals And These Lyrics! Now crucify me. And plus, by this time the 'obligatory epic number' stuff really gets on my nerves. Why make a twenty-minute long song if it barely contains enough interesting musical ideas for two minutes? Just so that the fans could look at the time listings and say, 'thank God, my favourite band still has it going! It didn't sell out one bit!'. Ridiculous.

In all, I would give the album a five or six because most of the studio stuff sucks and the live album is much more predictable. Still, I get so happy when I hear 'Time And A Word' that I can't help but raise the rating! Just a little! Just a teeny-weeny bit! You should know better, of course - you probably like 'Close To The Edge' and don't mind to hear it again in a ninety-five percent equal version. Feel free to raise the rating if you like. Who am I - Adolph Hitler?



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

A painful attempt to return to the Yes of old, but there's a little too little substance...


Track listing: 1) New State Of Mind; 2) Open Your Eyes; 3) Universal Garden; 4) No Way We Can Lose; 5) Fortune Seller; 6) Man In The Moon; 7) Wonderlove; 8) From The Balcony; 9) Love Shine; 10) Somehow Someday; 11) The Solution.

Okay. I do acknowledge that this album is made of the kind of material that is quite unlike anything the band did since 90125. Notice how they got the band name in huge letters on the cover and the album title in minimal letters? That's because the original intent was to entitle the album simply Yes, like as if they were beginning from the start again. This, indeed, is an honest attempt to return to the sound of the Yes of yore, and it is as close an approximation as they could achieve at that moment. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the album is really comparable to that old stuff in quality. Moreover, this doesn't even sound like the Yes of Close To The Edge to me. And this isn't even the Yes of Relayer. This looks closer to the Yes of Tormato, ladies and gentlemen - complicated, often pseudo-melodic noodlings with no special purpose and no true sense of direction. They are going back to shorter songs (not a single ten minute epic at last! Now that's soothing), but the hooks are still, well, lacking. At least the kind of glossy well-worked-out hooks of 'Yours Is No Disgrace' type.

Reason? First of all, try as they might, they still can't do anything without a first-rate pianist. And Wakeman is out of the band - again!! (The guy has probably set a personal record - he left a single band three times in its history, and who knows? This history is far from over yet!) Instead, they recruited American novice (or maybe veteran? Who cares!!) Billy Sherwood who struggles effectively to render his presence on the album as inobservable as possible. What's even worse is Steve Howe: either he was in a state of paranoia or he just didn't believe in the miracle of recreation of the classic Yes sound. Hear him playing on this album and you'll never understand what made the guy special in the first place: his solos are generic and uninteresting, and the riffage is one hundred percent derivative. Add to this that it's been a while since Chris Squire pleased us with any truly interesting basswork, and you get an album that does imitate the 'classic sound', but without even a tenth part of the technical proficiency of the former.

An interesting thing is that, from what I've heard, most Yes fans either love or hate this album, holding practically no middle ground. This is perfectly understandable, but totally unforgettable. There's no need for a Yes fan to hate this, because none of the songs should be offensive to a Yes lover's ears. Maybe they do get a bit 'simplistic', but there's no Trevor Rabin on this one, and the sound, although it does borrow some elements from the Nineties, is still independent of the fashion. On the other hand, I can see no reason for holding a true love towards this album other than desperate nostalgia, in which case people are welcome to turn to Fragile.

You know, maybe one of the problems oldies acts share is that someday they all want to 'get back to the roots', only to find out that they can't do that effectively enough. Now I agree that it's real difficult to cover any new musical ground in rock at the end of the Nineties, when basically everything was explored and everything discovered. And still - I'd much rather love to see Yes or anybody else try and assume an experimental approach than try to rehash the old standard formula after forgetting its basic elements. The experiment might fail, but at least its very existence would speak of the band as a creative, rather than stagnated force in rock. Why don't they try something new, instead of letting Jon Anderson rave and rave on on the well-known and thoroughly explored topics of love, love and... love?

Okay, back to the album. Contrary to all the hateful statements that have just unsettled you, Open Your Eyes is not really bad, just somewhat useless. After repeated listenings, the 'prog-pop' formula of the album finally falls in its place, and the individual songs shake off the shackles of monotonousness and stand out on their own. A couple of tunes are actually very good, and I'd eagerly let them be included into the Golden Fund. The title track, for instance, is a brilliant pop song, slightly reminiscent of 'Time And A Word', with mind-blowing group harmony arrangements and a beautiful optimistic feel, and 'No Way We Can Lose', with its strange harmonica (not a very frequent instrument in the Yes inventory), almost has a bluesy feel to it, which is funny. Anderson is cute and gentle on the nice acoustic interlude 'From The Balcony'. The chorus to 'Universal Garden' is perfectly constructed. The oddball in the can, of course, is Squire/Sherwood's 'Man In The Moon' - a reject from a supposed solo album of theirs, it's more of a "synth-blues" popster that's strangely normal for a Yes tune. That said, I think it would not have sounded out of place on a Rabin-Yes record, although it would sure require additional synth 'n' metal guitar treatment instead of Howe's restrained licks.

And, speaking of experiments, the album closes with a sixteen-minute long sound collage consisting of various synthesized nature sounds over which Anderson and company sing certain accapella lines, mostly taken from various songs on the album (reprise section! How cute!), for quite a long period of time. If it were not so long, I'd call it amusing; as it is, it's kinda tedious, but that doesn't mean you have necessarily to sit through it. However, I really don't have anything to say about the other tunes because they tend to escape me. Suffice it to say they're, err, cute. But you heard better ones before, and nobody but the most diehard fan should really want to engage in a Howeless, Wakemanless record that promises to represent the beginning of a new era but instead represents, to me at least, the breaking of an illusion: that the ancient Yes sound is possible to recapture in our times. Maybe they should have released Keys To Ascension 3 instead?



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Finally! The good balance between the pop and the prog has been found... or has it?

Best song: FACE TO FACE

Track listing: 1) Homeworld (The Ladder); 2) It Will Be A Good Day (The River); 3) Lightning Strikes; 4) Can I?; 5) Face To Face; 6) If Only You Knew; 7) To Be Alive (Hep Yadda); 8) Finally; 9) The Messenger; 10) New Language; 11) Nine Voices (Longwalker).

[Update as of 11.04.2000: Okay, so I finally reached the state of mind where I can easily give the album an overall rating of eleven. I mean, what the hell, almost every single song on here is good, and it still gets a mediocre rating? Whatever. Now read the actual review, written at a stage where I instinctively felt I loved the album but was afraid to voice my sentiments about it in the form of a little figure. One must be honest, after all - I can't help it if the songwriting on here far succeeds that on Close To The Edge.]

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 somewher 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?



Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Any kind of summary for this album is completely senseless. The review below will be senseless, too. You've been warned!

Best song: ... ... ... ...

Track listing: 1) Yours Is No Disgrace; 2) Time And A Word; 3) Homeworld (The Ladder); 4) Perpetual Change; 5) Lightning Strikes; 6) The Messenger; 7) Ritual - Nous Sommes Du Soleil; 8) And You And I; 9) It Will Be A Good Day (The River); 10) Face To Face; 11) Awaken; 12) Your Move/I've Seen All Good People; 13) Cinema; 14) Owner Of A Lonely Heart; 15) Roundabout.

What? Oh yes. Believe it or not, Yes have graced us with another live album. Now I have enough versions of 'And You And I' to fill up an entire side of C-90 and revel in the glory of the song for a peaceful, calm, uninterrupted forty-five minutes. I'm the luckiest man on Earth!

Seriously now, this is the band's third live album in less than five years, and it's all the more amazing that, at least within that five-year limit, it ain't really all that superfluous. When Yes decided to go on tour, dragging Billy Sherwood and Igor Khoroshev with them, they decided to a) seriously concentrate on material from The Ladder and b) reincarnate some older tunes that they really haven't played for a long time. Thus, when I looked at the track listing and saw 'Yours Is No Disgrace' and 'Perpetual Change', I initially thought 'oh, not again' and then I thought 'wait a minute! I actually really haven't heard these two since Yessongs! They're nice guys, after all!'.

And yes indeed they are. No, I do think that House Of Yes is somewhat redundant. As you already understand, nice and fine as this version of 'And You And I' is, it adds nothing to the previous three live versions. Same goes for the crowd-pleasing 'I've Seen All Good People' and 'Roundabout'. And I could definitely do without the excruciating seventeen (sic!) minutes of 'Awaken', which is still one of my least favourite 'epic' Yes tracks to have ever polluted the acoustics of my room. Oh well, at least they haven't included 'Close To The Edge', which they also did on the tour - although, to be fair, I'd prefer another 'Close To The Edge' over 'Awaken', and 'Starship Trooper' over 'Good People'. But to each his own.

In any case, abstracting ourselves from the tracklist, the performances are spectacular as usual. I don't notice Mr Sherwood all that much, but Igor Khoroshev treats the old classics fine (even if in a bit too straightforward manner - maybe it's because his array of synthesizers is more limited and less creative than that of Wakeman) and never lets down the new songs. Howe and Squire still haven't lost a single trick of theirs, and as much as I'm not a fan of Anderson's voice, we gotta give the man his due - he sounds as fresh, radiant and optimistic as he did thirty years ago. Gotta love that high pitch - never gets stagnant.

As usual, in order to make a Yes live album review a little longer, I gotta bring out all the neat little tricks and surprises. Well, not that there's many of them - for instance, I didn't notice too many differences in their treating the Ladder material. They do five songs from that album, all of which rule, but none of which are worth discussing within the limits of this review. As for the older material, 'Yours Is No Disgrace' is the standout: it is extended with a lengthy, prominent Howe solo where he displays his finger-flashing technique like never before, sending out these rapid-fire showers of notes so appropriate for Yes' world of blistening fantasy. Also, 'Homeworld (The Ladder)' has a nice short near-accappella 'Time And A Word' introduction, and 'And You And I' has a similar 'Nous Sommes Du Soleil' introduction. There's also a fine, inspired rendition of 'Owner Of The Lonely Heart' for those who have known their Yes since 1983, prefaced by a mighty rockin' rendition of the instrumental 'Cinema'. And the funniest of all, 'Roundabout' ends in a blues jam! Yeah, apparently Mr Anderson was so thrilled by the fact that the place where they had their gig was called 'House Of Blues' that not only did he make a special mention of it in the stage banter ('welcome to the House of Blues, these clubs are just the best clubs, they're so beautiful... but tonight, it's the House of Yes'), he even improvised something along the lines of 'have you heard the news? Yes is at the House of Blues!' Mark Prindle ridiculed it - I find it really cool. After all, it's the only place in the world you can find Yes playing something bluesy, so why miss your only chance?

All in all, there is no such thing as a bad Yes live album, and since I have nothing in particular against progressive live albums (actually, I think I should say that sometimes I like progressive live albums even more than progressive studio albums - they make the material sound less artificial and make it in some ways far more easy to digest), I rate this one pretty high as well. But that's not to say I welcome Yes to follow in the steps of King Crimson, of course. Too many live albums would be a serious blow for my budget! (Heck, I almost prayed I wouldn't find this one cheap... unluckily for me, I did. Damn those serviceable pirates!). That said, I'm happy to have ascertained that, just as so many other 'dinosaur' rock bands, having passed the midlife crisis, Yes as a band only grow more and more mature and self-assured with age. I'm not speaking about the visual aspects, of course - for my money, Steve Howe always looked like a cross between a hopeless junkie and Satan's aide-de-champ, not only after he'd turned fifty - but the musica' presentation simply can't be beat. Yes fans can't go wrong with this one.



Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A conscious step back to the more ambitiously progressive Yes of old. Or to the more boringly untolerable Yes of the KTA period?


Track listing: 1) Magnification; 2) Spirit Of Survival; 3) Don't Go; 4) Give Love Each Day; 5) Can You Imagine; 6) We Agree; 7) Soft As A Dove; 8) Dreamtime; 9) In The Presence Of; 10) Time To Time.

I'm not particularly sure who is the main driving creative force behind the Yes of the XXIst century, but whoever it was, the Yes of the XXIst century definitely don't give a damn about expanding their musical vocabulary. The Ladder had me thinking that the band finally emerged on a brave, if somewhat risky, voyage to modify their image; and if the overall message of The Ladder was the same as usual (best expressed through the title of what I consider to be the best song of this here new album), at least the means to obtain it were different. Some world music, some reggae, some curious flirting with pop... this was certainly a rejuvenation of sorts, with a real wallop of energy to cover the final product and nice hooks to boot.

Not really so with Magnification, a sore disappointment when I heard it. Now, after an innumerable quantity of repeated listens, the album emerges for what it really is, namely, I no longer consider it a toss-off or a true failure. But the initial sour feeling still remains - and that's a truly naggin' feeling. It's almost as if Jon and the boys were almost afraid to look back on The Ladder, what with all of its fun and 'lightweight' character affecting the band's reputation among the most hardcore fans. So... Magnification was intended to be a conscious 'return to the essence', kind of a 'revisiting the values of Topographic Oceans' product. No, of course, the songs are nowhere near as twisted, lengthy, or convoluted as the ones on the 1974 four-headed monster. But they have intentionally purged the music, gotten it rid of every kinds of influence they actually captured in the Nineties; it's as if The Ladder never happened.

Of course, a concise and complete return to 'the mid-Seventies form' is impossible for the band; simply put, there have been too many changes in styles, lineups and overall musical approaches since then for them to be truly able to recapture the 'creative vibe' of the epoch. The music on the album is strongly rhythmic, far more straightforward and also far less reliant on guitar/keyboards pyrotechnics than before (speaking of which, the band does not even have a regular keyboards player at this point - the core lineup of Squire/Howe/White does all the keyboard work by themselves this time. Damn piano slot, not good enough for anybody). Another big change, the much lauded 'great musical innovation' of the album is orchestration, permeating all the tracks, with conductor Larry Groupe actually working with the band on most of the arrangements. It actually works, but I wouldn't really want to scream wildly about it. Nice orchestration, really emphasizing the mood in certain places, and definitely a suitable substitute for a notable lack of keyboards. But 'innovation'... innumerable art/prog bands have worked with orchestras before, and even Yes themselves had this kind of experience thirty years ago on Time And A Word, in case anybody has actually forgotten it.

So what does this stuff really sound like? Well... essentially, this sounds closer to the studio KTA tracks and Open Your Eyes than anything, except that overall the sound is a bit lighter, maybe because there are fewer tempo changes and the orchestra background doesn't really make up for ugly overproduction as the frequent overabusement of synthesizers did earlier. This isn't truly exciting, but in the end it all comes down to things - a) how many moments on the album can be counted as 'truly climactic' in the grand Yes sense and b) how many solid hooks do they manage to implant in the material.

Well, in those respects, particularly in the second one, they still come up with nice solutions. There ain't a single track which passes one by entirely, although the infamous ten-minute epic 'In The Presence Of' comes dangerously close. Its basic melody was penned by none other than Alan White, and it shows: seven minutes of pure, boring atmospherics, with chords actually going 'up' and 'down' but never resolving into anything worthy of your attention; not a single change of melody or tempo, not a single interesting instrumental passage. Just seven minutes of a typically bad Yes noodle-noodle. Then it goes into a three-minute 'menacing' coda that's much more memorable because it's much more repetitive, but essentially the idea of this coda was taken directly off 'Wurm', and an inferior recreation of a grand idea is still essentially just an inferior recreation.

I could name other kinds of 'inferior recreations' on the album, but I'll just limit myself to one instance - 'Spirit Of Survival' almost pathetically sounds similar to the robotic hi-tech sound of Big Generator, to such an extent that when the band chants 'Spirit Of Survival!', I wanna shout 'BIG GENERATOR!' in response and yearn for a generic crunchy riff from Trevor Rabin. Too good that the generic crunchy riffs have been replaced by an even more energetic and more interesting orchestral backing, while Howe's guitar work is surprisingly restrained for such an obvious Eighties stylization.

Elsewhere, the tracks are quite satisfying. The title track definitely approaches the status of a Yes classic, with a powerful, optimistic drive to it that's multiplied and augmented by the orchestral punch; even better is my personal favourite, 'Give Love Each Day', which is the true epic of this album, instead of the much-hyped but toothless 'In The Presence Of' - I love the way Yes manage to combine the moody minor part of the song, with its threatening four-chord rumbling riff, with the near-celestial chorus ('our heaven will be now...') that borrows something from the Ladder vibes to good effect. The pure orchestral introduction is a nice bonus too, and although the lyrics might seem simplistic to those who have already become hopelessly addicted to purple wolfhounds, at least I cannot complain about them because it would look pretty scummy if after complaining for review after review about Jon Anderson being a graphomaniac I would now start complaining about him writing simpler lyrics, even if they are hopelessly cliched.

Minor highlights would include Squire's vocal spotlight 'Can You Imagine', with its very pretty poppy piano melody - there's something kinda early Supertrampish about the quieter parts of that song, and for me, that's a plus; Anderson's personal spotlight on the acoustic ballad 'Soft As A Dove', which once again goes to show how much better Jon's singing is when it is actually arranged as singing, not as goofy elvish chorale chanting; and the closing Harrison-esque 'Time To Time' (I call it Harrisonesque because the most attractive part of the song is Howe's beautiful slide work). Oh yeah, there's another lengthy epic, 'Dreamtime', which has some strong rhythmic drive as well, and a couple other songs which I won't be mentioning because it's bad taste to mention every single song on an album. You might think I wrote this review just to let you know I can say some stupid things about every single song on the album, turning this into a pathetic show-off of how much of a failed wannabe rock star I am. Well, I'm NOT. I just love to blurt out stupid things, just like everybody else who ever tried publishing something on the Web. The Internet is, after all, nothing more than a tool to make stupid people look even more stupid than they do in everyday life, so I'm happily following the pattern.

And I leave you with this - if you're a diehard Yes fan, Magnification is all about you! Contrary to rumours, it's not about the enlargement of the membrum virile, if you know what I mean, of course! Go get it!



Year Of Release: 1973

This video more or less roughly corresponds to the album version, except for a couple performances. As you already know, the live tracks do really differ from the studio ones, sometimes to good effect. The bad side is that the band members aren't very good showmen: mute the sound and you couldn't distinguish Steve Howe from an ordinary heavy metal player, while Anderson is mostly standing on the spot and doing nothing (the poor guy, he must feel terribly uncomfortable during all those lengthy instrumental passages). Chris Squire, in fact, is the only person who really tries to get the things going a little, with his groovy cloak and almost Townshend-like movements. But this isn't enough, so the video is fairly dull. Sometimes they try to variegate it with some surrealistic scenery (Roger Dean goes again), but it's also dull. For a good prog live show, go see ELP or Genesis. For impressive surrealistic art, go see Pink Floyd. This is boring. Recommended for huge fans only - even though you do have to see the band face to face a couple of times in your lives. Not the modern Yes, of course, but the Yes in their prime. Also, as far as I know, the video has Steve performing 'The Clap' (and a fairly impressive performance it is), while the album has 'Mood For A Day' on it, so completists are also welcome.



October 31st, 2001 - the Yessymphonic tour with the European Festival Orchestra in support of the Magnification album, at the Kremlin State Palace. As I'm definitely not a hardcore Yes fan, I wasn't really sure about going initially - but I'd already missed Procol Harum this year, so I thought it'd be stupid to miss the chance - besides, I got the tickets (for me and my wife whom I actually managed to lure onto the show as well) for $30, which was a real marvel as compared to the $100 tickets for Clapton earlier this year which really made a serious rent in the budget. Ah well, that's the price of ART for ye.

Anyway, me not being a Yeshead, I confess I wasn't really blown away by the show - I guess, though, that my lacking of a reaction as strong as I experienced at the Stones and Clapton shows was also due to the fact that in those two cases, I kept wondering if they'll actually make it, if they can live up to my expectations - and they did; in the case of Yes, I was absolutely innerly sure that the show will be immaculate, and well it was. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it greatly: all in all, it was a marvelous experience.

The place wasn't exactly sold out - I had seats in the 28th row, somewhat far from the stage (although with the perfect planning of the place and with a little help from binocs I could pretty much see everything that was going on), but there were lots of empty seats left, at least in my section of the venue. Also, during the show, sad as it is to say, lots of people began leaving their places, I'm pretty sure at least 50 people passed us by before the encore. Right in front of me, two young guys left the show right in the middle of 'Gates Of Delirium' grumbling something like 'can't stand this any more'. Aw well, it's their own money and their own right to do that, but seriously I sometimes have to question reasons people actually go to shows like these if they don't have the least idea of what to expect. Then again, deep inside I have the suspicion that most of these were only familiar with Yes' Eighties' output - all through the pauses between songs, there were cries of 'I Am A Camera', 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' and 'Changes' from the audience! Funny, I never realized that - I'm a-guessin' some of the band's poppy 'inoffensive' stuff must have actually made it in limited quotas on Soviet TV or radio in the early Eighties. Ah, too bad I can't even remember that... Well, never mind, even with all the empty seats, there were still enough people to give the band a good cheer: the KSP is a huge place, after all.

So here are some general observations, first of all. The orchestra was the weak link, I think. The band-less intros and occasional outros were nice-sounding and all that, but hardly exceptional; and when the orchestra accompanied the band, it couldn't be heard at all. I mean, sometimes, straining my ear to the most, I could distinguish a cello part or something like that, but in general, for me the orchestra probably had a Phil Spector-ish role: miriads of additional instruments which 'should be felt but not heard'. I'm not exactly a supporter of that logic, but MAYBE if I had to compare this with an orchestra-less live performance, I'd feel the actual difference. Even so, I think only a true Yes fan who had accompanied the band around the world for the last twenty years can really feel it in his bones. I cannot. What is MUCH worse is that in order to accommodate the orchestra, the band actually had to tone down the volume - so in the end, I was sorely missing the crushing sonic wave. I could whisper something to my wife during the heaviest part of 'Gates Of Delirium' and hear her whispering in response - now how cool is that? Nah, I don't believe in that orchestra thing after all.

The band itself, now that's a different matter. ENTIRELY different. And props here mostly go to Jon Anderson. He felt himself TOTALLY at ease on stage, at least twenty times less constipated and shy than I've seen him on the early years Yessongs video. Of course he's not ideal. His prancing around does look a little stupid (my wife said he reminded her of the typical Soviet dancer of the synth-poppy Eighties' epoch - moving around and dancing around just a bit, as long as it doesn't violate the basic Soviet morals of 'no sexuality allowed'), and he's not a great joker or anything. But he talked a lot and made the most friendly impression possible. Naturally, he made all kinds of Russia-directed compliments, asked how 'new song' is in Russian, then he started complaining that they brought all their hats and coats they could find and WHERE'S THE SNOW???, etc., etc. 'A guy backstage came up to us and said, 'please, please, do Starship Trooper!'. And we said, oh no, we haven't done the song in years, we've forgotten how it goes, but tonight, tonight we'll try'. Of course he's lying, the janitor scum that he is, but who besides me is supposed to know that??? Heh heh.

The most important thing, of course, is this really casual, nonchalant and absolutely non-pretentious way of introducing the songs - maybe the greatest thing about the show. 'Gates Of Delirium'? It's 'about all those crazy times we had in the Seventies'. 'Ritual'? It's 'about all of us being together, gathered in this one place'. 'And You And I'? 'Dedicated to my wife Jane, and to all the other wives here, and to all you people who had a birthday today, happy birthday to you'. Simple as that. Complex metaphysical gibberish-filled songs that actually aren't made a fuss about. It's like, yeah, well, they're a bit longer, and a bit more complex than usual, but they're really no different from what everyone else is doing. That was really nice. And, of course, Jon was in perfect vocal form.

The others were fine too. Chris Squire looked totally ridiculous - in those tight pants and weird boots that made him look like a circus performer, a bit less vivacious than he used to in the old days, and really somewhat clownish, but still playing a mean and maybe even meaner bass than before. BTW, the acoustics were wonderful (except for the orchestra thing), and every single bass note was perfectly audible. The highlight, of course, was the bass solo on 'Ritual', but he did some really crazyass things on 'Starship Trooper' as well.

Steve Howe was Steve Howe. I've spent most of the show trying to determine whether he was wearing glasses or that was just a peculiar blink in his eye, but when I got closer to the stage in the encore he definitely was wearing glasses. For some reason, some people describe the guy as visually hideous these days - he never seemed hideous to me, just really really lean. God's ways are unpredictable - Chris actually got rather overweight with age, and Steve just lost the few ounces of meat he ever had. He hasn't lost his talent, though; I do believe he actually got better with age. Don't believe me? Compare 'The Clap' as he does it now with how he used to do it in the early Seventies. The same speed and precision, but now he does it much more fluently and cleanly, without all those pauses and ugly 'scrapings' of yore. Three cheers for Steve.

The new keyboard guy, Tom Brislin, learned all the keyboard parts just fine, that's all I can say - he made sure that all the keyboard parts were there, even if he did not add much personality-wise. And finally, Alan White drums real good, like he really should.

Specific observations. The setlist was pretty standard for the tour in general, concentrating mainly on the huge Seventies' epics, all of which are pretty much to my liking (no 'Awaken', thank God!). Out of these, 'The Gates Of Delirium' was definitely the highlight, with an amazing battle section and crystal clear steel pedal and vocal work on the 'soon oh soon' section. But 'Ritual' came close, with all of the band but Steve happily joining in the 'tribal' drum battle (funny enough, 'Ritual' turned out to be the most impressive performance for my wife!). 'Starship Trooper', as I already mentioned, had Squire overamplifying his bass at one point and doing some really weird sequences in the coda. 'And You And I' was given the regular treatment (none of the earlier-used climactic introduction, just starting off right into the acoustic section), with Steve's amazing pedal steel notes in the climax ringing out loud 'n' clear.

The new material, as usual, was limited to but two songs - 'Don't Go' (wonderful choice indeed) and 'In The Presence Of', parts of which I actually - believe it or not - enjoyed when done live, especially the opening vocal melody. Hmm, maybe I should revise my opinion on the song? Anyway, it was introduced by Jon as something that was really done in a 'spontaneous' manner, and he started asking the Russian equivalent for 'spontaneous'... Spontaneous my ass. Still a really resonant performance.

The BIG surprise, of course, came with the encore. My guess is that all the cries from the audience for Eighties' material actually got to Jon, and while off stage he managed to convince the band - particularly Steve, of course, the only one not involved in the Trevor Rabin period - to play 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart', which they DID. Not that it's a big achievement for Steve, I guess he can play that simple Eighties' guitar riff in his sleep without rehearsing it once. But it's a weird precedent anyway, and nice to see a precedent in Moscow! I even forgive the fact that they dropped 'Perpetual Change' from the setlist that night. And yes, the show closed with an abridged version of 'Roundabout', by which time the audience were finally moving around and actually shaking their asses, something that Jon tried in vain to get them to do for 'I've Seen All Good People' but ultimately failed. Well, Kremlin State Palace audiences aren't much of a dancing outfit anyway.

So that was it. Excellent show, and I hope that Moscow prog fans got all they wanted from it. But for me, as I already said, maybe the greatest pleasure of the show was in really seeing how light these guys take everything they're doing. If somebody ever had a "everybody shut up and sit down and gape in awe thunderstruck by the mighty mind-opening otherworldly sounds of the most profound and deep-reaching band in the world" complex about these guys, a show like that one would have easily sufficed to dissipate that prejudice forever. So God bless you guys and come back as often as possible.

Sergey Zhilkin's additions:

[I won't be talking about the music much here since you said the whole thing for me but I just feel obliged to write a comment on this topic] Believe it or not but I've won my tickets on radio program by answering a simple question - 'What album was released after Big Generator and who recorded it?'. He-he-he.... It was my luck that I saved your Yes' page on disc, George! So free tickets (although, I've already had one) were in my pocket and what tickets they were! 5-th row!!! The price, written on each ticket was more than $100. Wow! I couldn't even imagine that these things could happen to me... My uplifted mood was spoiled a bit when I saw people sitting near me and my friend - on the left side there was a rather young, but already fat, man who had a very short haircut - a bad sign to me. He has taken his family with him as well - his little son and daughter were sleeping with spew coming from the edge of their lips after half an hour, though. Yuck! I mean, hell, some people went there to just to tell their friends that they were on concert. This sucks....Ah, well, forget it... I was rather surprised to see Yes with orchestra. I mean, yes, they are art and prog rock band but, say, Procol Harum didn't need orchestra at all and they still sounded great. In fact, Yes could get along with 5 members okay, too. Anyway, orchestra was there and we all clapped hands when Jon announced them (btw, if my memory doesn't fail me, he did it twice during concert which is at least strange). And to end up with bad features I'll have to mention that I couldn't stand drum solo (mostly because I was sitting right under the speakers) and 'In the presence of' (I could even hear your yell, George, when Jon introduced the song) What really surprised me was the thing that Jon had still good vocal (although, he failed to reach the highest note on 'Close to the edge', but that nevertheless sounded not bad) and Steve could still turn people on with his guitar playing skills - I stood with my mouth open widely when while Steve was doing a solo I looked back and saw a man with white hair (he was somewhere around 60) moving his body like he was in a trance....But there were some really corny moments (when Jon asked audience to translate 'new songs' and 'spontaneously' into Russian, when Jon bent to kiss his wife and everybody thought he was going to take her on stage, when same Jon pulled out an idea that Russia is a country of never ending winter and when Jon goddamned Anderson started singing little song about Moscow with lines something like this :'Isn't it wonderful to walk in the streets of Moscow?'). I, myself, think that the best part of the show was when 'I've seen all good people started'. I and my friend jumped up from our seats and started dancing but then a security guy walked to us and coldly ordered to stop 'acting like animals'. Stupid. Fortunately, after we encored the band (and they came out without an orchestra!!!) noone controlled us and we fell free to shake our asses.

PS: This was a really good concert, which was good not only because band was tight but mostly because it all of them were willing to play. That's cool.

PPS: I hope Yes won't call Russian audience 'assholes' as David Bowie did when all who came to see him just mechanically clapped hands after every song. Kremlin State Palace isn't really a suitable thing for insane concerts.

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