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i was waiting for the moment

 

Yes (Solo Stuff)

 

So many solo albums... Can you believe this is about 1% of all the albums these nuts have released?

review index:

ABWH: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe / An Evening of Yes Music Plus
Jon Anderson: Olias of Sunhillow / Three Ships
the Buggles: The Age of Plastic
GTR: GTR
Patrick Moraz: Out in the Sun / Patrick Moraz
Trevor Rabin: Can't Look Away
Billy Sherwood: The Big Peace
Sherwood/Squire: Conspiracy
Chris Squire: Fish Out of Water
Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII / Journey to the Center of the Earth / The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table


ABWH, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe - 1989

Rating: ***
Best songs: Themes, Brother of Mine, Fist of Fire, Quartet
Worst songs: Teakbois, Order of the Universe

 

By the name you'd expect it to be a law firm advertising on your local TV stations, but it's actually Yes sans Chris Squire (omnipresent session player Tony Levin fills in the bass chair -- they couldn't have picked a better guy). And shocker of shockers, they made a good album! The production is pretty weak (courtesy of that Union bastard Jonathan Elias), and there are a couple of REALLY bad songs: "Teakbois" is a pathetic attempt at some sort of Caribbean thing, and "Order of the Universe", while posessing a neat guitar-filled intro (there's not a whole lot of discernable guitar work on this one), goes pretty much nowhere in its 10 minutes. Also, "Birthright" contains some heavy-handed political lyrics and an absolutely laughable ending, though the rest of the song ain't bad.

So, why the big three stars? Check out those other songs! "Fist of Fire" is full of fun bombastic Wakeman synthesizing, "Quartet" contains one of the most gorgeous moments to appear on an 80's-era Yes album (the ending bit "I'm Alive", that is), and "Brother of Mine" and "Themes" are convincing attempts at modernizing and condensing the Yes progressive spirit. The rest I can't say much about (there's a couple of short pieces that I can't really remember much about), but it makes me wonder how they managed to pull of such a collection of lifeless plop two years later.


ABWH, An Evening of Yes Music Plus - 1994

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: HMM HMM HMM, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!
Worst songs: LA LA LA, I'M NOT LISTENING!

 

So what? It's just a freakin' live album. Bill Bruford shows off his array of electronic percussion, Rick Wakeman does his little synth and piano stuff, guest bassist Jeff Berlin sits in the background, Steve Howe is Steve Howe, and Jon Anderson sings like he always sings. It's kind of weird hearing some other guys fill in the backing vocals missing due to Chris Squire's lack of participation, but it's not worth buying it. Just get Yesshows if you want to hear the classics live, and get ABWH if you want to hear the new stuff.

Unless you can't live without hearing Jon's stirring opening medley of "Time And a Word", "Owner of a Lonely Heart", and "Teakbois". Then buy, buy, buy.


Jon Anderson, Olias of Sunhillow - 1976

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: ehh, quite a few of them
Worst songs: Moon Ra/Chords/Song of Search

 

One of the five solo albums released by Yes members in '76, Jon decided to go totally solo on this: he played all the instruments himself.

And look, this one's a rock opera! Or concept album. Or something like that. The story's about as comprehensible as Tommy. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of goofy song titles like "Qoquac En Transic" and "Dance of the Raynart", but that's the sort of silliness we've come to expect from Jon Anderson, isn't it?

Anyway, the album starts off with the neat instrumental "Ocean Song", then goes through a bunch of sunny acoustic guitar-driven folk-pop tunes ("Sound Out the Galleon", "Flight of the Moorglade", etc) multi-tracked vocal chants ("Meeting (Garden of Geda)", "Naon"), and some synthesizer soundscaping ("Qoquac En Transic", "Dance of the Raynart", etc). Generally, Jon stays within his boundaries, though the album does contain a dull 12-minute section that just seems to go on and on ("Moon Ra/Chords/Song of Search"), and none of it is as annoying as "We Have Heaven" from Fragile was. Worth a listen, if you can tolerate Jon's voice, of course.


Jon Anderson, Three Ships - 1985

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: O Holy Night, Save All Your Love, How It Hits You, Where Were You?
Worst songs: Three Ships, Forest of Fire, Ding Dong Merrily on High, 2000 Years

 

Hey, it's a Christmas album! Too bad I couldn't have listened to it last month (Dec 2001, in case you're reading this in June 2029 or whatever). Anyway, we're talking primo cheese factor here, seeing as how it was recorded smack dab in the middle of the nineteen 80s anno domini: booming synth drums, DX7 electric piano, the occasional metally or chorusy guitar lick -- but the most annoying thing is the children's choir that shows up on a couple tracks. Why do people think children singing is in some way attractive? It's not! Besides, Mike + the Mechanics made the ultimate children's choir song with "The Living Years".

As for the material, there's surprisingly few traditional tunes on here: "Three Ships" (marred by children's choir), "Ding Dong Merrily on High" (marred by a bunch of ugly 80s synth noises), "The Holly and the Ivy" (decent enough, though the children's choir returns), and a really brief performance of "Jingle Bells" by Jon's daughter. There's also a performance of "O Holy Night" that I wish to discuss individually. This is my all-time favorite Christmas song. It warms my jaded agnostic heart. I love it. Jon does a duet with some other person, and they do a pretty good version of it.

Anyway, as far as Jon's originals, "Save All Your Love" is a pretty tune, and "How It Hits You" is a fun synth-rocker. "Forest of Fire" (jungle noises?!) and "2000 Years" (more children's choir!!!!) suck. The other couple songs are decent. Don't pay $200 for this on eBay, okay?

Actually, "Where Were You?" is pretty good. But still, don't pay a lot.


the Buggles, The Age of Plastic - 1980

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Video Killed the Radio Star, Living in the Plastic Age, Johnny on the Monorail, Elstree
Worst songs: Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade)

 

Possibly one of the greatest synth-pop albums ever made, The Age of Plastic is also notable as one of the first albums to use the Fairlight synthesizer/sampler. Luckily, the keyboards, while cheesy (which one expects from Geoff Downes), don't turn into that generic mid-80's muck that pervaded the mid...80's... Um, anyway, the album contains the notorious single "Video Killed the Radio Star", which was, as if you didn't already know, the first video played on MTV. But that's not all -- there are driving synth-rockers, mini-synth-epics, a silly vocoder-driven love song, and some sort of BBC tribute. There's really only one weak track, "Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade)". The melody on that one's rather repetative, and what is with the pronunciation of "American" as "ah-mare-ee-kin"?! Silly Trevor. If you don't mind cheesy synthesizers, then by all means get this one!

Historical note: After this, the Buggles released a second and final album titled Adventures in Modern Recording, which featured plenty of Trevor Horn, but not much of Geoff Downes. I've heard it, and it's not as good, though it does have a few really good tracks.


GTR, GTR - 1986

Rating: 1/2
Best songs: When the Heart Rules the Mind
Worst songs: the rest

 

One of the more inexplicable products of the prog fragmentation of the 80s, GTR is a collaboration between the two Steves of prog-rock: Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. Two respected prog guitarists. What do you think they could make?

Yep, it's vapid 80s pop. The cheeseball metal guitars are balanced by producer Geoff Downes's oh-so-80s keyboards, and some generic high-voiced singer named Max Bacon (no, seriously) provides vocalization "skills". There's also a generic rhythm section -- at least they used booming real drums rather than a booming drum machine. To their credit, they manage a decent start to the record with "When the Heart Rules the Mind", which would be quite good if it was shorter. Then we descend into 80s pointlessness starting with the pseudo-epic "The Hunter" followed by the Jefferson Starship-quality "Here I Wait". Here I wait... for this shitty song to be over. Then Steve (Howe) pulls his pud briefly with his solo highlight "Sketches in the Sun", which would be decent if he didn't feel the need to pretentiously declare "A Solo Guitar Performance" on the lyrics sheet. And it keeps getting worse. Actual lyrics:

is the mirror lying?
I must decide
if I'm Doctor Jekyll
or Mr. Hyde

Can someone PLEASE tell me who the hell allowed this to be written, let alone released? And that's not even the worst of this thing, but I'm not going to subject you to any of the horrors that lurk in...SIDE TWO. Steve Howe, I can't believe you have the audacity to criticize Rabin-era Yes when you took part in such awful, awful, music yourself. And Steve Hackett, you must've really been hurting for cash. Yeesh. And as for me, I never want to see this album again, to say nothing of listening to it.


Patrick Moraz, Out in the Sun - 1977

Rating: **
Best songs: 404 file not found
Worst songs: this program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down

 

Cheesy pop? From Mr. Fusion Jazz Classical Maestro Patrick Moraz? Strange but true. Unfortunately (unsurprisingly?), it's not that great. The pop songs are distressingly generic -- basic proto-synth-pop-funk, or something like that. And they're sung by a guy with a voice as generic as Bobby Kimball's, but he thinks he's great, so he over-emotes every friggin' syllable! Pat throws in some cool synth solos (title track!), and there are a couple neat instrumentals ("Rana Batucada", though it rambles on a couple minutes too much) but blahhhh, this ain't nothin' particularly interesting.


Patrick Moraz, Patrick Moraz - 1978

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: not tellin'
Worst songs: ^^^

 

MUCH better. Dispensing with the awful attempts at pop, and the annoying singer, Pat does a concept album: it's a sort of man vs. machine thing. Whatever. The album only has two songs with any singing on it, so you don't have to think about it that much. Pat also dispenses with additional musicians here -- it's just keyboards and percussion, which is a good thing, since the keyboards were the most interesting part of the previous album.

You know what? Screw this! Nobody's gonna buy this album anyway. I doubt it's even in print anymore. So what does anyone care that "Jungles of the World" is a neat latin-jazzy marimba/piano-driven song, or that "The Conflict" contains synthesizer noises reminiscent of Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee era), or that "Intentions" is a lovely solo piano piece? Buy this. Don't buy this. See if I care.


Trevor Rabin, Can't Look Away - 1989

Rating: **
Best songs: I Can't Look Away, Something to Hold On to, Sorrow (Your Heart), I Didn't Think It Would Last
Worst songs: Eyes of Love, Promises, Hold On to Me, the instrumentals

 

While Jon Anderson was dicking around with his old pals Rick Howe, Bill Wakeman, and Steve Bruford, Trevor Rabin decided to record a solo album. And boy, is it a solo album! He plays everything but the drums on this one (which really just amounts to guitar, synthesizer, and a little hammond organ), gives everything a super-shiny, soulless production, and comes up with a minor AOR hit.

That's "Something to Hold On to", despite the bad grammar. There was even a cheesy video, a clip of which you can see on the Yesyears videocassette. And hey, that's a good song! Simple, catchy, effective. As is the near-epic "I Can't Look Away", the album's high point. And oh my, that's about all the high points of this album. Well, there's a couple of other tunes that strike my fancy, but you can read all about that in the little list up at the top of the review. I wanna get to the crap now!

So Trev thinks he has to be seen as a Joe Satriani-Steve Vai type character. He sticks in some dull guitar instrumentals to try to convince us of that, and fails. Also he throws in a bunch of schlocky love songs, which tend to suck. Ah well, we'll always have Paris.


Billy Sherwood, The Big Peace - 1999

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Lesson to be Learned, Walking in the Rain
Worst songs: Call, The Big Peace

 

Yes, Billy Sherwood, second most hated former Yes member (behind Trevor Rabin), makes a solo album. Half of it is his attempt at prog epic songwriting, and the other half is more conventional in its style. Well, the prog stuff is hit or miss. "Lesson To Be Learned" is a nice opener, and manages to keep the listener's interest for ten minutes (but it's not the most efficient use of time), but "The Big Peace" (get it? 'big piece'?) dully shifts between the three or four musical ideas it contains for fifteen minutes. Pretty ending, though.

That leaves us with the shorter stuff. Well, "Walking in the Rain" has some awesome guitar work (courtesy Jimi Haun, of Union fame), and "No One Really Knows" and "Self Made World" are okay tunes, but "Call" is a silly anti-telephone psychic tirade (I can't stand Miss Cleo either, but I don't write songs about it!). And there are a couple other short things which just kinda pass on by. Okay, but not great.


Sherwood/Squire, Conspiracy - 2000

Rating: ***
Best songs: Violet Purple Rose, Lonesome Trail, Days of Wonder, The More We Live
Worst songs: Red Light Ahead, You're the Reason

 

That's more Sherwood than Squire, you see. Chris just sings and plays some unspectacular bass work (well, there are a couple good lines, such as the one on "Violet Purple Rose". Billy plays damn near everything else. But hey, Chris at least collaborates on the songwriting! And they stay away from trying to do prog-style stuff. Yep, it's the pop album, but good luck hearing any of this on the radio. The only real misses on this are "You're the Reason", a cheesy love song, and "Red Light Ahead", which has a rather annoying melody. The rest is listenable to good. The album also includes re-recordings (or the original versions, for all I know) of the Union highlight "The More We Live - Let Go" and the Yesyears nugget "Love Conquers All", as well as three hidden tracks, "Open Your Eyes", "Man in the Moon", and "Say Goodbye". Whee!


Chris Squire, Fish Out of Water - 1976

Rating: ****
Best songs: Hold Out Your Hand, Silently Falling, Lucky Seven, You By My Side
Worst songs: Safe (Canon Song)

 

Not a Yes album, but a damn good album anyway. Despite the flirtation with prog-rock, particularly on the last song, this is pretty much a pop-oriented album featuring prog musicians -- in particular, Patrick Moraz on organ, Bill Bruford on drums, and King Crimson alumni Mel Collins on sax. Chris himself plays bass (natch) and 12-string guitar, but that's just for some rhythm tracks, so don't expect any Roger McGuinn chiming on here. There's also an orchestra, which helps to fill out the sound nicely.

So, what of them toons? [insert "Punk Polka" reference here] Well, there's a nice ballad called "You By My Side", in which Chris sounds a heck of a lot like Ozzy Osbourne, a couple boppy numbers in "Hold Out Your Hand" and "Lucky Seven", both featuring great basswork, and two longish pieces that fall towards the 'prog' side of Chris: "Silently Falling" features a wonderful piano break, but "Safe (Canon Song)" just keeps going on and on for too long. Here's a tip, folks: just because you've got an orchestra doesn't mean it'll automatically make your song more interesting. That's why classical music sucks so badly.

Except for Tchaikovsky. Man, could that guy play guitar.


Rick Wakeman, The Six Wives of Henry VIII - 1973

Rating: ***
Best songs: the first one, the organ-ey one, and that other one
Worst songs: dunno

 

I have this and I find it interesting, but Six Wives is not a spectacular record. Melodies are not the point of this album - it's arrangments and the way Rick attacks his keyboards. Six Wives gave Wakeman his chance to break away from the other instrumental complexities that made up Yes; here you get it: Grand Master of the Keys in all his splendour. Wakeman's masterful use of his synthesizers introduced the unbridled energy and overall effectiveness of the synthesizer as a bona fide instrument, but I don't regard this as the masterpiece that so many make it out to be. The album, while impressive when on, almost totally eludes me, and the mood set by most of the tracks is practically identic, apart from the eerie 'Jane Seymour'. In small stretches, though, this stuff can be friggin' awesome. Good record.


Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Center of the Earth - 1974

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: ummm.. I'm really sick of this part
Worst songs: and this one, too

 

This be diff. What up, Rick-o? Rock opera time! Orchestra, choir, rawk band, silly-sounding narrator, and Jonny Anderson soundalike. Long songs, neat keyboard passages interspersed with more song-ey stuff and band and/or orchestra playing. Less monotonous than Six Wives, but only has four long tracks! Can't seem to find another thing to comment on. Ah well, at least we have Paris. TEXAS!!!


Rick Wakeman, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - 1975

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: ($*%^&*$&%(^&***NO CARRIER
Worst songs:

 

Like the last record, but more boring. And a really friggin' long title.


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