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RELAYER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.36 | 1986 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars When "Relayer" came out, I imagine some Yes fans said "Oh no, Wakeman's gone" and others said, "Yay, Wakeman's gone." I'd usually be more sympathetic to the latter, but I also remember losing interest in the MOODY BLUES around the time Moraz took over keyboard duties for them. Maybe he's the Ted McGinley of Prog?

Anyway, what is "Relayer"? Undoubtedly a 'classic' YES album, despite the absence of a few integral members and the exploration of some more aggresive tones. While the structure of the album is comparable to "Close to the Edge" (Side one: one song. Side two: two songs), there seems to be less structured movement and cohesiveness in the music. However, this is not the flowing abstraction of "Tales from Topographic Oceans"; this is an almost fusion-sounding wall of sound, a clatter of notes and rhythms that should please anyone who thought "Tales" was too dreamy. No less indulgent or meandering than the previous two-disc release, but somehow more 'progressive' in the sense that the band was trying out more varied tones and harder, jazzier textures.

All that needs to be said about the bass is: Squire's back. We mostly missed him on "Tales", and it's nice to hear that distinctive raspy rumble resume its prominence in the mix. While die-hards mourn Bruford's defection, White continues to prove that he's plenty drummer enough for YES. Anderson also maintains his unique command of lyrics and voice, although the trademark harmonized scatting ("Cha cha cha, cha cha") does get a bit overbearing at the end of "Sound Chaser". Howe delves a bit more into effects and treatments; he bends with his tremolo, fades in his volume, and actually uses echo and reverb for possibly the first time. He also does some tasty sitar-guitar on "To Be Over". On the other hand, where his noodling on "Tales" was often soothingly unfocused, his harshly overdriven a cappella parts on "Sound Chaser" sound more like disposable warm up excercises. However, his slide technique that follows sounds refreshingly different and unique, and almost redeems the song. Similarly, Moraz has a thin phased/ wah synth lead on "Gates of Delerium" that sounds like nothing before heard on a YES album, but nevertheless fits in perfectly- unlike the lead at the end of "Sound Chaser" (almost a 70s funk synth sound) which sticks out a little too much; his use of vibrato and bending throughout the album occasionally approaches sounding dated and laughable. I also have some trouble getting used to his electric piano work at the beginning of "Sound Chaser"- the Rhodes (or whatever he used) is not really a comfortable fit in the YES tonal palette.

It sounds like I dislike "Sound Chaser", doesn't it? Well, I can see where the jazzier prog folks might prefer it to the more 'hippie' sounding YES songs, but to me it's a harsh, unmelodic, and chaotic venture that I am glad to forget during the follower "To Be Over". I may well have a preference for 'pretty sounds', but "Sound Chaser" sounds almost like they threw it together in the studio from live improvisations. Even the far superior "Gates of Delerium" has some of that jittery, discordant quality, but it also contains just enough structure and momentum to carry the tumult. Luckily, "To Be Over", though equally quirky, is also blissful and triumphant enough to leave me with a positive impression of the album as a whole. Truthfully, there's nothing here that quite matches their earlier works, but just enough to reassure fans of the band that YES is continuing to explore and develop their sound.

James Lee | 3/5 |

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