Tuesday, July 24, 2012
THE YES ALBUM
Imagine the shock that listeners must have experienced upon first getting acquainted with this record.
Stratospheric vocals arched over playing that was as muscular as it was dexterous. The future had arrived in the form of a progressive rock mothership, which deposited a musical payload that left a blast-crater five miles wide.
It's still smoldering some 40+ years after the event...
Although they have their share of detractors for various reasons (Anderson’s soaring tenor for some, the sheer length of the material for others) their strengths far outweigh any perceived faults. The Yes Album contains some of the most beautiful noise that they ever committed to tape.
One key change in the lineup sealed their fate. Guitarist Peter Banks made his exit (was elbowed out) following Time and a Word, replaced by Steve Howe. Radically altering their sound, greater commercial fortunes were now close at hand.
As time wore on, a revolving door would be necessary to facilitate the comings and goings of players.
Melody in song construction is a big key as to why this became their breakthrough. There is a virtual minefield of hooks embedded in every cut, with an underlying intelligence that draws in the listener rather than seeming calculating or exclusive. Opening with authority, "Yours Is No Disgrace" is a long form piece that takes you on an exhilarating ride. Anderson is tracked with bloodhound like precision by Chris Squire's harmonies. Squire further amazes by practically attacking his Rickenbacker bass with edgy, rollercoaster runs. For all of this, the lyrics do stretch the definition of inscrutability to extremes at times. Perhaps Anderson was more concerned with scansion that pleased him rather than the actual words themselves. He has suggested that this was written with an anti-war theme in mind.
I think that there was likely a pile of dope around to "help".
Yesterday, a morning came / A smile upon your face / Caesar's Palace, morning glory / Silly human, silly human race...
Bruford seals his place as a premier drummer, madly inventive but still tasteful. Tony Kaye anchors it all with extremely intuitive keyboard flourishes. I have to state that I much prefer the material here to what was conceived for the follow up (Fragile). There is greater consistency in that even a minor effort like "A Venture" is far more satisfying than similar fare from the next LP ("We Have Heaven")
How(e) about that new kid on guitar?
Bringing a heady mixture of classical, jazz and Chet Atkins into the fold, Howe perfectly compliments the group dynamic. "Starship Trooper" contains extraordinary passages. Those ethereal descending runs that color the "speak to me of summer" section, the dead stop which ushers in virtuoso acoustic fingerpicking and the hypnotic, phased "Wurm" outro all amount to a masterclass in just under 10 minutes. This man is perpetually overlooked when those frustrating "best guitarist" lists are drawn up, which is unbelievable considering his estimable talents.
"I've Seen All Good People" remains the most accessible slab of multi-part wonder in the set, earning a slot in classic rock play lists, where it is still heard regularly. Borrowing a phrase from John Lennon, the message of peace is sincere with a seductive melody and a riff that Jimmy Page could almost claim as his own in terms of style. They really should have closed out the disc with this one as it has much more visceral impact than the more sedate "Perpetual Change". No need to quibble, as both are more than worthy.
All of the most impressive qualities of this exceptional band are present on The Yes Album. Epic compositions are nicely beveled with enough stunning detours to give the listener variety, with the indulgences muted (for the most part). Both sides are broken up by breezy interludes that hold interest and clear the sonic palette before the next substantial course. Overall, a great place to begin your journey into their discography. Undeniably, one of the most stirringly creative, accomplished bands in the universe.
People are still struggling to catch up with them.