CHA CHA CHA, CHA CHA! CHA CHA CHA, CHA CHA!

 

Yes

 

Yes is a band that's had more members than the Osmond family. Was that supposed to be a joke? I'm not sure.

The amount of solo albums that the Yes members have released is obscene. The small sampling I have is here.

Special feature: the rare/previously-unreleased/whatever tracks of the Yesyears box set.

lineup: a heck of a lot of people; currently Jon Anderson (vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion & fruitcake); Steve Howe (guitar, vocals); Chris Squire (bass, vocals); Alan White (drums, percussion & pianist extraordinaire). past members include keyboardists Geoff Downes (Drama only), Tony Kaye (first three and the Rabin albums), Igor Khoroshev (The Ladder), Pat Moraz (Relayer), and Rick Wakeman (Fragile through Tales, GftO, Tormato, Union, the Keys to Ascension albums), guitarists Peter Banks (first two), Trevor Rabin (90125 through Talk), and Billy Sherwood (OYE and The Ladder), drum god Bill Bruford (everything up to CttE), and singer Trevor Horn (Drama only).

review index: Yes / Time and a Word / The Yes Album / Fragile / Close to the Edge / Yessongs / Tales from Topographic Oceans / Relayer / Yesterdays / Going for the One / Tormato / Drama / Yesshows / 90125 / 9012Live: The Solos / Big Generator / Union / Symphonic Music of Yes / Talk / Keys to Ascension 2 / Open Your Eyes / The Ladder / Magnification

missing albums: just some live stuff

apex: Close to the Edge
nadir: 9012Live: The Solos
overlooked: Talk


Yes - 1969

Rating: ***
Best songs: Survival, Looking Around, Beyond and Before
Worst songs: Harold Land

 

Look, psych-folk-jazz-rock! This would be more aptly titled Yeah, or something like that.

Er, anyway, this certainly is different from the "classic Yes" period. No Steve Howe diddling away on his Gibson, instead some guy named Banks playing a bunch of fuzzed-out and/or wah-wah'd jazzy solos (he would later gain fame as the keyboard player for the obscure prog-rock band Genesis). Jon Anderson is warbling away in his castr--err, contralto, but he doesn't quite have the "mystical elf" quality that he'd attain on later albums. He's also drowned out by the harmony vocals in quite a few places. So, who does that leave us with? Chris Squire doesn't play his bass quite as aggressively as he will in a few albums' time, but he's still out front playing a bunch of notes, and Bill Bruford pitta-pats away in that jazzy way of his. And Tony Kaye plays his signature blaring Hammond organ bits, and adds some clumsy piano to a couple songs.

And what of the songs? Well, you've got your boring story-song, your acid-washed rockers, your sappy ballads, and your radically-altered covers. Also, there's "Survival", the one song that points in their future prog doodling. Not bad, but nothing I'm going to praise. I mean, this is no Point of Know Return.


Time and a Word - 1970

Rating: ***
Best songs: No Opportunity Necessary No Experience Required, Time and a Word, Sweet Dreams, Then
Worst songs: Clear Days, The Prophet

 

Better songs, but the production sucks. A bunch of blaring, badly-edited orchestra bits tend to drown out the actual, er, band. Luckily, this doesn't detract from the standout "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Required", a Richie Havens cover, and some other great tracks, including the incredibly-upbeat "Then" and the concert staple (they played it in 1976! that's more than you can say for 3/4 of this album!) "Sweet Dreams". They also cover Buffalo Springfield's "Everydays", which has a neat double-time middle part, and there's another acid freakout, this time named "Astral Traveler".

Les points mauvaises? An awful "Eleanor Rigby"-style piece called "Clear Days", and a go-nowhere tune named "The Prophet". Well, nobody's perfect. Say it loud, say it clear. All I need is a miracle.


The Yes Album - 1971

Rating: ****
Best songs: Starship Trooper, Yours Is No Disgrace, I've Seen All Good People
Worst songs: Perpetual Change

 

Bing Cherries! This is more like it. They dump that Banks fella and pick up the always-stern-looking Steve Howe, a true wizard/a true star of the guitar. So now they've figured out that eight-minute wankfests are their forte, and they come up with three great ones: "Yours Is No Disgrace" opens the record, and features the full talents of Mr. Howe. "Starship Trooper" switches between electric and acoustic sections perfectly and ends up with a wonderful coda that would be even better in concert, and "I've Seen All Good People" includes a great folky section ("Your Move") and a boogie rockin' jam with a little "Hey Jude" thrown in ("All Good People"). Unfortunately, the album-closing "Perpetual Change" is a Perpetual BORE. Hey, can I hear that riff again, guys? I CAN? Thank you!!!

There's also a short yet groovy minor-key song entitled "A Venture", and Steve's acoustic showpiece "Chlamydia". No, wait, that's "The Clap". Sorry, Steve.


Fragile - 1972

Rating: ****
Best songs: South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise, Roundabout
Worst songs: We Have Heaven

 

Most peg this as Yes's apex, but I beg to differ. There's only three really good songs on here! The rest is filled up with little solo spots. These solo spots eventually ended up having the band pulling a KISS and releasing FIVE solo albums in 1975. I'm sure that was a rousing commercial success.

Everyone talks about the songs. Shall I speak about the solo spots instead? Okay, here you go: Chris Squire shows off the wonders of the bass guitar on "The Fish", which is kinda groovy but seems like a. just a long ending to "Long Distance Runaround", or b. the sort of thing you'd hear on a cheesy 60's demo record. Just add a BBC announcer saying, "and now, here's Chris Squire, demonstrating the groovy sounds of the Rickenbacker 4001 bass!" Jon Anderson annoys the heck out of me with his little vocal spotlight "We Have Heaven", Rick Wakeman does a pseudo-Switched-On Bach version of some classical thing, and Bill Bruford does a silly 35-second piece that sounds almost like a fortelling of what Yes would be doing in about two years. And Steve Howe goes from "The Clap"'s country pickin' to pseudo-classical grandeur on "Mood for a Day".

But anyway, the real reason everyone listens to this album is "South Side of the Sky" (man, that piano/vocal part is just wonderous!) and "Heart of the Sunrise" (just about the whole ten minutes kicks ass!). Buy it now!

If you just tried to click on that last sentence, I pity you.


Close to the Edge - 1972

Rating: *****
Best songs: all
Worst songs: none

 

Hmm. Well. That's a switch. What must one say of this album, 37:44 of the best progressive music to spring from the collective heads of Yes? That the first side of the album is an 19 minute-long pop song? That Yes would still be playing the entire album live 27 years later? That "And You And I" is a wonderful ballad that was actually a minor hit single (it reached #49 on the charts, I think)? That "Siberian Khatru" is about the best song ever used to open a concert, even if nobody can get that harpsichord solo right?

Ah, forget what I say -- you'll either love it or hate it, and I can't change that.


Yessongs - 1973

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Starship Trooper, Close to the Edge, Yours Is No Disgrace, etc.
Worst songs: The Fish, Perpetual Change

 

Your typical 70's triple-live album. Much less boring than ELP's Welcome Back My Friends... (they manage to keep the solo spots under control, aside from the 13 minutes of torture that "The Fish" has become), but still a chore to sit through. They basically run through all of Close to the Edge as well as 3/4 of Roundabout and all of The Yes Album, minus "A Venture". No Banks-era stuff here, miladdo. If you're a Yes freak, you'll want to have this, but don't pay too much for it. Otherwise, just get the studio albums.


Tales from Topographic Oceans - 1974

Rating: ***
Best songs: The Revealing Science of God, Ritual
Worst songs: The Remembering, the first half of The Ancient

 

Well, they can't all be gems. It's the Tommy curse, you see: because of the limitations of vinyl, they had to include a bunch of playing that could have been edited out had the magic of compact disc been available to them. Had they had the ability to dump "The Remembering" and the dull vibraphone clinking that dominates half of "The Ancient", this would've been much higher on the ol' scale there. As it stands, they just take up space. And the rest is more quality progressive music, though I advise only listening to one side at a time.


Relayer - 1974

Rating: **
Best songs: To Be Over, the 'Soon' part of The Gates of Delirium
Worst songs: Sound Chaser, the rest of The Gates of Delirium

 

Aaaaaargh. What the hell is this? They pick up jazz boy Pat Moraz to do the keyboards, and suddenly think they're a fusion band. "The Gates of Delirium" shifts between hokey attempts at being 'threatening' and noisy jamming for fifteen minutes, before finally threatening to coalesce into an actual song. Which it does, the pretty "Soon" part. "Sound Chaser" is what Bill Bruford predicted two years ago -- the band goes through so many ridiculous tempo and meter changes, it sounds like they're having a collective seizure. Moraz even goes as far to throw in a Jan Hammer-type synth solo. Luckily, the ending "To Be Over" manages to produce something interesting, and that alone accounts for 90% of the album's grade!

Of course, you'll probably love this anyway, because I'm the only one that gives this a low grade. That's because you're wrong about this album, and I'm right! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Postscript (02.21.02): Okay, whiners, listen up: my opinion has softened a little on this one. I still hate the middle of "Gates", and "Sound Chaser" is only good for a laugh. But I can almost admit to liking the rest. I'm upping the rating a half point.


Yesterdays - 1975

Rating: *
Best songs: America
Worst songs: Dear Father

 

Ripoff warning! You only need this for "America", unless you're a completist, in which case you need this for "Dear Father" too (a b-side that stinks). They shoulda stuck the two songs on the end of Fragile and Time and a Word, respectively. Damn money-grubbing record execs. Stupid, too -- they completely forgot the fact that this thing has probably only sold about five thousand copies.


Going for the One - 1977

Rating: ****
Best songs: Turn of the Century, Going for the One, Awaken
Worst songs: ehh..

 

Well, that's more like it! A staggeringly large amount of songs (5), with as little filler as possible. "Turn of the Century" is an absolutely majestic sometimes-acoustic, sometimes-not piece, "Going for the One" manages to rock out effectively (with Jon Anderson making fun of himself in the lyrics), and "Awaken", while not exactly the orgasmic piece de resistance of Yes's career, has an absolutely stunning first half.

That said, the other two songs aren't anything to whistle dixie to. "Parallels" ain't bad, but just seems overlong, and "Wonderous Stories" ain't bad, but just seems slight. Still, it's better than Re...well, never mind.


Tormato - 1978

Rating: **
Best songs: Future Times, Madrigal, On the Silent Wings of Freedom
Worst songs: Circus of Heaven, Arriving UFO, Onward

 

This is *not* more like it. Yes dumped longtime producer Eddie Offord and self-produced this. The result? Incredibly shrill keyboards, tinny guitars, and that stupid "funk" bass. It doesn't help that the songs are incredibly stupid: "Arriving UFO" has a bunch of cheesy 'alien' synthesizer noises in the middle, "Circus of Heaven" is simply vomit-inducing, and "Onward" is a sappy little orchestrated ballad. There's also an overwrought attempt at a straightforward rock song (complete with 'live' drum solo) and a silly synth-disco piece that I actually ENJOY (check out Wakeman's Black Sabbath-esque synth solo!).

So, that leaves us with three songs to give positive comments about: the brief "Madrigal" is a pretty little ballad which manages to avoid the cheesiness of "Onward", "Future Times" is a joyous opener (though the "Rejoice" part is pretty anti-climatic), and "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" manages to squeeze out a tiny bit of that magic that Yes used to have. Pretty disappointing, if y'ask me.


Drama - 1980

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Does It Really Happen?, Run Through the Light, Machine Messiah
Worst songs: n/a

 

Yes and the Buggles are on a collision course for wackiness, on Drama, next!

It seems as if Jon and Rick leaving was the best thing that could happen to them. Now Steve Howe is free to churn out crunching power chords and heavy metal-ish leads on "Machine Messiah". Chris is no longer emulating Bootsy Collins. And Alan White is...er...Alan White. Geoff Downes comes aboard to spread some synth cheese across the album, and Trevor Horn is forced to sing like Jon Anderson. So basically it all comes down to: are you fiercely loyal to that lovable little gnome named Anderson? If so, you'll hate this, and will probably love ABWH. If not, you'll probably like this. Me, I like this. Even "Into the Lens", which most people hate (why? because of the 'I am a camera' line? is that really any worse than 'shining flying purple wolfhound, show me where you are'?). The highlights are a pretty Buggles ballad "Run Through the Light", the opening rocker "Machine Messiah", and the groovy "Does It Really Happen?". Try it. You'll like it. Or not. If you don't, don't come crying to me.


Yesshows - 1980

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Ritual, Time and a Word, Going for the One
Worst songs: Gates of Delirium

 

Yay, another live album! Unfortunately, the song selection isn't that great: "Don't Kill the Whale" representing Tormato? That annoying "Gates of Delirium"? "Wonderous Stories" and "Parallels" instead of, say, "Turn of the Century" and something from one of the first two albums? Oh well, at least there's a 28 1/2 minute rendition of "Ritual" (though the first three or four minutes is Jon Anderson thanking the road crew).


90125 - 1983

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Hearts, Hold On, Changes
Worst songs: City of Love, It Can Happen

 

Hold on to your orchestra hits, folks, they're back, with Trevor Horn taking a back seat to just produce, a metal-shredder also named Trevor on the six-string, and Tony Kaye back in the keyboard seat (though I suspect Rabin and Horn played the majority of the synth parts). The album spawned the band's only #1 single (you know what it is), as well as another Top 20 single ("Leave It"), and their most commercially successful album (second is Fragile) ever.

So, by now, you're probably screaming "sellouts!" and "commercial pap!". If so, leave now, you heartless bastard! Go listen to your ABWH tape. Er... Where was I? Oh yeah, 90125 Or 6 To 4. Some vestiges of the 70's art rock spirit peek through in the longish songs "Hearts" and "Changes", and "Hold On" is a groovy little number. The main mistakes are the dull Squire song "It Can Happen" (it sure didn't then!) and Rabin's metal-thumper cheesefest "City of Love". The rest ain't bad -- there's a brief bit of jamming ("Cinema") and your typical Jon Anderson nonsense ("Our Song"). Apparently, he really likes Toledo. Who'd've known?

Why doesn't anyone ever play "Leave It" on the radio? It'd be a nice change from "Owner of a Lonely Heart" for the six billionth time.


9012Live: The Solos - 1985

Rating: *
Best songs: Hold On, Changes
Worst songs: Solly's Beard

 

This -- this is just pathetic. Who wants to hear a live album with only two actual SONGS on it? I don't want to hear Rabin trying to sound coherent on an acoustic guitar for four minutes. Nor do I want to hear Squire and White messing around for six or seven minutes. And I don't want to hear Jon Anderson crooning "Soon" with just some new age synth chords backing him. Tony Kaye, of all people, manages a decent keyboard solo, "Si", and the two actual songs are performed competently. But there's no reason for this to have ever existed.


Big Generator - 1987

Rating: ***
Best songs: Rhythm of Love, Love Will Find a Way, Shoot High Aim Low
Worst songs: Almost Like Love, Big Generator

 

Well, it's been four years, and they manage to create another mostly-good pop album. Aside from the incredibly annoying "Almost Like Love" and another Rabin metalfest (title track, honeybunch!), this is eminently listenable. The hits are "Rhythm of Love" (the only song from this album that survived transition out of the Rabin years) and the string-intro-laden "Love Will Find a Way". There's also a cool, atmospheric track called "Shoot High, Aim Low" and some more attempts at prog-rock-lite on side two, particularly "I'm Running" (slithery basslines! steel drums! it's a collision course for wackiness! oh wait, I used that one already). If you liked 90125/Jenny, you'll probably like this one.


Union - 1991

Rating: *1/2
Best songs: Lift Me Up, Masquerade, The More We Live - Let Go, Miracle of Life
Worst songs: Angkor Wat, Dangerous, most of the others just float on by

 

The hell? Whose bright idea was it to combine the Cinema group and ABWH? Thanks to producer Jonathan Elias (with, undoubtedly, the willing cooperation of Jon Anderson), the ABWH tracks (which make up 3/4 of this album) are made into generic adult pop or AOR, depending on whether or not one of the session guitarists turns on his Boss Metalzone distortion pedal. They mostly sound pleasant when you've got them on, but I challenge you to sing, say, "Holding On" or "Silent Talking" an hour after you hear them. The worst offenders are a hilariously silly funk-hip-hop thing called "Dangerous" and a pretentious mess entitled "Angkor Wat", with a Cambodian poetry recital in the middle of it. The only real highlights of the ABWH stuff is Steve Howe's pretty acoustic guitar piece "Masquerade" and Jon Anderson's attempt to ape Peter Gabriel in "Take the Water to the Mountain" (ending in the shouting of 'pica!', though I don't know what a printing measurement has to do with the song).

Luckily, Cinema comes through with the best material on this here album. Chris Squire and future Yes member (though briefly) Billy Sherwood write the mystical, ethereal "The More We Live - Let Go", Rabin & co. come up with another good pop tune in "Lift Me Up", and ironically create the most prog-esque part of the album (the instrumental intro to "Miracle of Life"). Not something you're going to want to rush out and buy immediately, but if you find it cheap, pick it up for a laugh.


Symphonic Music of Yes - 1993

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Soon, Roundabout, Close to the Edge, Owner of a Lonely Heart
Worst songs: I've Seen All Good People, Survival

 

More a Steve Howe/Bill Bruford album than an actual Yes album, but everyone else puts it on their Yes pages, so who am I to buck tradition? Anyway, the gimmick this time is to slap some orchestral arrangements to classic Yes tunes, whether supplying the vocal melody or backing up Jon or some choir people. Luckily, this isn't a total washout, as 70s Yes generally had an orchestral sweep about it in the first place.

So anyways, the thing begins with "Roundabout", which is done very nicely, with some subtle but effective changes to the song's typical arrangement. Next is "Close to the Edge", which is shortened to nearly a third of its original length, but again, the new arrangement is neat and though it's kind of silly to have the orchestra playing some of those vocal melodies (the opening kind of loses its silly magnificence without those classic lines about seasoned witches and livers), this is the kind of rock music that can be pulled off by a non-rock ensemble -- i.e. I don't particularly want to hear that Kashmir symphonic Zeppelin album. "I've Seen All Good People" is pointless without the "Your Move" part. After that comes "Wonderous Stories", the song from Going for the One that everyone either ignores or bashes. I can't think of much to say about it. It's missing that neat little Wakeman polymoog bit. Afterwards, "Mood for a Day" is turned into a chamber music piece, and certainly this one survives translation perfectly, as it was an instrumental in the first place.

Second half begins with... "Owner of a Lonely Heart"! This time, Steve turns it into a hilarious orchestral bombast disco-funk tune. Well worth checking out, that one is. "Survival" comes up next, and is...ehhh. "Heart of the Sunrise" is another drastically-rearranged tune, but it's not too lame (though Steve's Asia guitar tone certainly is). Then there's "Soon", which is by far the wonderfulest song on here. Steve plays a bunch of heavenly notes here on steel, slide guitar, and mandolin, and I'm a-lovin' it. Finally we have "Starship Trooper", which is another decent though not outstanding rearrangement.

So how shall we close up this review? How about this: I think this is a pretty neat album, especially since I got it for four bucks.


Talk - 1994

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: The Calling, Real Love, I Am Waiting
Worst songs: Where Will You Be

 

Rather than attempt an actual "union" of ABWH and Cinema members into one band, they simply got rid of BWH and made another album. And it turned out better than another ABWH album probably would've been. Yeah, the problem here is that the songs tend to go on too long, but oh well. The only real stinker is the lame stab at folk, "Where Will You Be". Even the cheesy hip-hop/metal "State of Play" manages to be more interesting than, heck, most anything off the last album. The best tracks are the first three -- rockin' out is what this incarnation of Yes is best at. But hey, look, Trevor wants to leave! Guess who's gonna be up next!


Keys to Ascension 2 - 1997

Rating: ***
Best songs: Footprints, Children of Light, Turn of the Century, Time and a Word
Worst songs: Close to the Edge, And You And I, I've Seen All Good People

 

Live album: Absolutely horrid, flaccid renditions of the Close to the Edge tracks and "I've Seen All Good People". "Time and a Word", however, is re-worked into a gorgeous piano ballad, and "Turn of the Century" is as wonderful as ever. "Going for the One" is done pretty well, too.

Studio album: "Mind Drive" has a great spacey intro, but doesn't really justify being the same length as "Close to the Edge". They do manage some prettiness on "Children of Light" and "Footprints" is pretty cool. There's also a little Wakeman/Howe duet at the end and some other song that also has a neat intro.


Open Your Eyes - 1998

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: New State of Mind, The Solution, Universal Garden
Worst songs: Somehow Someday, From the Balcony, No Way We Can Lose

 

Geez, what is with these 90s albums and the horrid production? I ain't gonna totally trash this album like some do, but I ain't gonna totally praise it like others do.

So what's the problem here? Jon Anderson. Even I, a person who normally even enjoys Jon's voice, am disturbed by the absolutely shrill quality he's taken on here. I mean, even on the good songs like "Universal Garden", he sounds like he's trying to be the male Mariah Carey.

The other problem here is the lack of quality songs. Jon contributes schmaltz like "From the Balcony" and "Somehow, Someday", and there's dull tracks like "Fortune Seller" (a good Hammond solo wasted) and "No Way We Can Lose" littering the rest of the album. Nevertheless, they do manage to come up with a few good rockers (particularly the opener "New State of Mind" and the, er, closer "The Solution") and Jon nonsense ("Universal Garden", "Wonderlove"). But overall, this is a good example of why you shouldn't record your albums one person at a time.


The Ladder - 1999

Rating: ****
Best songs: Homeworld, It Will Be a Good Day, The Messenger, Lightning Strikes
Worst songs: Nine Voices, Finally, Can I?

 

Finally realizing that they need an outside producer to sound decent (Tormato anyone?), they pick up Bruce Fairbairn, who whips the boys into shape, actually makes them record together for the first time since, oh, Drama or so, and convinces them not to try writing any 20-minute epics. And look! It's the best album they made since, er... Drama or so.

But they just can't go without making some longish songs! The album contains two 9-minute pieces, the first "Homeworld" (kicks ass for 7 1/2 minutes then falls limp with that vocal/piano ending) and "New Language" (sounds like a Cinema attempt at an epic, but still good). I've just lost my will to write, so I'll end this review............now!


Magnification - 2001

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Magnification, Spirit of Survival, Give Love Each Day, Dreamtime
Worst songs: In the Presence Of, Don't Go

 

What, no keyboard player? An orchestra? What is this, Yngwie Malmsteen's Third Wank-off for Guitar and Orchestra?

Well, whatever this is, it's a step down from The Ladder. The main problem here is it's so sedate! The bombastic potential of an orchestra is only exploited for the awesome "Spirit of Survival" and bits of "Dreamtime". Elsewhere it's more like Beethoven's Seventh Boring-Ass Symphony. "Give Love Each Day" has a two-minute intro which basically just says 'look, we've got an orchestra!'. Okay, so the actual song is pretty good (though I swear the backing vocals sound like Billy Sherwood), but still...

Interestingly, Chris Squire gets his first lead vocal on a Yes tune (unless you count "The Fish"): "Can You Imagine" (a twenty-year old song!) is a pleasant little ditty, though the opening chords are a little too much like "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner for my tastes.

Bad stuff on here: the eleven-minute epic "In the Presence Of" is mostly dull. It has a wonderful ending, but I'm not about to sit through the other nine minutes. "Don't Go" is decent enough, but it's got an absolutely silly middle part that even includes a car horn sound effect! What is this, Stupid Jokey Band's Magnifornication? There are also a couple short (two minutes! damned if that ain't short for Yes!) tunes that don't do much.

On the other side of the fence, there's another epic, "Dreamtime", which kicks forkin' spoon!

In conclusion, this album is good. Buy it, or else. I mean it. Don't make me come over there!


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