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RELAYER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.36 | 2123 ratings

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Peter
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Of the classic Yes albums, RELAYER is second only to the controversial TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS in its ability to divide fans. Some love it, some hate it, but few are indifferent. Certain of the band's adherents seem to think that RELAYER is the greatest thing to have come down the musical turnpike since bread showed up sliced, while others wax almost vitriolic in their disdain for the disc. As an example of the latter group, my normally mellow (and always sincere) colleague Maani dismisses RELAYER as "the most overrated Yes album. A lazy, rambling, uninspired, almost nonsensical mish-mosh (sic) of quasi-prog-rock sounds and atmospheres, with little direction." Whew! (Thanks, Maani.) I have also known people who were not otherwise Yes supporters (or even serious prog listeners) to effusively praise this CD as "the only good Yes album."

Now, while I certainly can't concur with that last sentiment, I feel that it nonetheless provides valuable insight into this work. Non-prog followers, and many Yes fans, embrace RELAYER so strongly precisely because it is very different from the fine albums that came before it. There is a consistent "edge" to this one, both musically and lyrically, that is just not there, in such sustained fashion, on other important Yes recordings. My fellow reviewer Corbet said it very well on the Forums, when he wrote that on RELAYER, Steve Howe serves up "the scariest jazz-meets-rock skronking guitar work ever recorded."

Yes, this disc really rocks, and the overall harder edge is especially suited to the breathtaking side-long "Gates of Delirium" suite, which, through some of Jon Anderson's hardest-hitting lyrics, deals with the hellish folly of war and revenge: "Kill them -- give them as they give us. Slay them -- burn their children's laughter. On to hell!" The graphic words are disquieting, and rightly so, as Howe and his band mates skillfully provide an extended musical representation of battle that is a hallmark of Vietnam and Cold War-era "pro-peace prog" music. That yearning for earthly harmony is movingly realized in the final, lovely and uplifting "Soon" section, which, in marked contrast to what has come before, proffers gorgeous and soothing steel guitar from Howe, and some majestic mellotron from Wakeman's replacement Patrick Moraz (who, while not as "flash" as his predecessor, is still a keyboard virtuoso in his own right).

The second track, the frenetic "Sound Chaser," is for me the weakest of the three found here, and prevents me from giving RELAYER full marks. It is not a "bad" song, as such, and it features some particularly impressive axe-work from Howe, but I just can't reconcile myself to the jarring, frenzied group chant of "cha cha cha, cha cha" which rears its ugly head twice in the form of a "bridge" to link the disparate elements. I am sometimes tempted to skip this one, but I never do, because of the strength of Howe's playing.

Respite awaits, however, in the album closer, the genuinely beautiful "To Be Over." (Even my father, a decided non-rock fan, was moved to compliment this piece as "really nice" when he happened to walk into the room one time in my now-distant youth.) To heck with the nay-sayers: this is one of my favourite Yes numbers, and Howe's sparkling slide, and sitar-like sounds at the "outro" are exquisite! I'm not sure what Anderson means when he angelically sings "We go sailing down the calling stream, drifting endlessly like a bridge -- to be over" (he excels at penning lyrics that are "spiritual and profound in their obscurity"), but the words still make my soul soar. "To Be Over" never fails to pick me up when my spirits are flagging!

RELAYER is thus one of my favourite Yes albums. While not entirely flawless, it is yet essential listening for the band's fans -- with the regrettable exception of a certain Mr. Alterman (wink). RELAYER is a deserving addition to any comprehensive progressive rock library.

Peter | 4/5 |

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