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Yes - Time and a Word CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.32 | 1478 ratings

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3 stars In 1970, Yes were getting rave reviews from their debut album, which obviously struck a chord with listeners who wanted to hear music that was familiar yet adventurous. The fact that they were on the road constantly at this time, gigging up and down England and Europe, surely helped boost sales of the album as well as establishing the band's presence on the music scene at large and increasing their general confidence. So, having already been bitten by the "ambition" bug, Yes decided that the best way to top itself would be to add an orchestra to their next album!

I view this as an interesting little detour in the Yes discography. The addition of the orchestra was certainly part of the "feeling-out" process, and the experiment actually comes off quite well for the most part. The extra musicians (who by the way are uncredited; in fact the name of the ensemble is not even mentioned) are there to add to the sound rather than take away from it except for maybe one or two songs. However, their presence on the album did not sit well with other people in the band, as they felt they were being phased out by what the orchestra was playing. Peter Banks, original Yes guitarist, would actually leave the band after this album's tour?ultimately, I think, to their benefit.

First track here is another wonderful Yes cover, this time of Richie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed." (How's that for a song title?) If the intro sounds like it comes from a Western movie, that's because it does?specifically, the 1958 William Wyler film The Big Country. This grand theme soon gives way to an upbeat, almost proto-"Roundabout" groove over which Tony Kaye lays down some tasty Hammond organ lines under Jon Anderson's vocals (great Chris Squire bass here too). The instrumental section finds Banks performing in tandem with the orchestra to great effect, and the track is generally a fun ride, although the ending is a bit clumsy.

"Then" is an Anderson original and shows a definite improvement in the group's songwriting from the first album. The lyrics are typical "hippie love" stuff, I suppose, but they complement the music wonderfully, and the orchestra backing on the chorus is lovely. The instrumental section is another trip, as Kaye turns in some sparkling organ solos that sound rather like Keith Emerson at times (by the way, I consider this album to be Kaye's best with Yes, performance-wise). The orchestral arrangement is more brass-heavy than the others on the album, and the build-up before the final verse, with crackling lead trumpet lines, almost reminds me of the Maynard Ferguson big band! The final verse is taken rubato before a dark and rather disjointed final chord, with low brass and HONKING saxophones.

The next (and last for a while) cover is Stephen Stills' "Everydays," originally recorded by the great Buffalo Springfield. This is one of the tracks where the orchestra really doesn't add much of anything to the performance, and consequently, this is one of my least favorites here, although the band arrangement is actually very good?significantly more jazz-flavored than Stills' original, and Banks' raunchy guitar solo is quite effective. However, the single version heard on the Yes remaster, which eliminates the orchestra entirely, is how it should have been released here in the first place.

"Sweet Dreams" is a welcome relief from the relative chaos of the previous tracks, as it's a bit more downtempo and also dispenses with the orchestra entirely. The band sounds very comfortable in the groove, though (especially Bill Bruford); the Beatley bridge is highlighted by fantastic vocal harmonies?the group's best yet?and the song generally communicates its' innocence quite well. This song also became an unlikely stage favorite on the Relayer tour just five years later, when the band was moving in an entirely different direction.

Side two's opener is "The Prophet," which begins with another great Kaye organ solo, again influenced by Emerson yet also sounding somewhat like a monster movie; the strings enter with a vaguely Eastern-sounding theme which is echoed by the band. Eventually this all gives way to a full-band instrumental section before the vocals, which basically summarize, Cliffs Notes-style, the Kahlil Gibran book of the same name (so Christgau wasn't BS'ing after all!). I won't say the transitions between vocal sections are a work of genius, but they still sound fresh and vital even today. A great, dense track that is too often forgotten.

"Clear Days" is not one of the better tracks here; it's another ballad in the "Yesterday and Today"/"Sweetness" vein, which showed that the band's slower tunes still had a long way to go. This one is just Jon solo vocals, sepia-toned piano and string section; the tune lumbers around for about two minutes before the sudden ending, with weird-sounding strings for no real reason.

"Astral Traveller" kicks off with a guitar figure that almost sounds like underground funk (!), with its scratched-out minor-chord variations before a quasi-tribal thumping groove, bolstered by yet another great Squire bass line. This is another track that features the band only, without orchestra. The vocals are marred throughout by fast Leslie effects on every voice, an ill-conceived piece of psychedelia; fortunately, they don't last long. Most of the song is given to instrumental passages that, to my ears at least, predate some of the stuff that Genesis would later pull off on Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot. (Did I ever mention that Tony Kaye is consistently awesome throughout this album? Because he is.) Banks' guitar playing is also at its best here, with a wonderful jazz-meets-rock solo that makes me wish for a moment that he had continued on with the band. Eventually the track fades out on the funk guitar from the intro, while band hits fade in at the same time before the "big finish"!

The closing title track ends things on a gentle note, as it's a ballad accompanied mostly by acoustic guitar (which I assume is played by Anderson). Like "Sweet Dreams," it's definitely in the Beatle mold, exemplified not only by the melodic and harmonic construction of the song itself, but also by the quasi-"Hey Jude" ending vamp with the orchestra playing variations on the melody. Although this track is not really one of my favorites today, it was important to me as a budding Yes fan and so I have a soft spot for it.

The Rhino remastered version of the album contains four bonus tracks: the original version of "Dear Father" (the B-side to "Sweet Dreams") with orchestra, an interesting change from what I'm used to on the Yes remaster; "original mixes" of "No Opportunity" and "Sweet Dreams" with no noticeable differences except that the latter song is about 30 seconds longer in this version; and the single edit of "The Prophet" which again is pretty much identical to the album version from what I can tell. Really, I don't even know why they bothered including these, unless there's some subtle thing I'm missing (if it's explained in the liner essay, I don't have it anymore).

An interesting footnote to this album is the fact that Yes produced music videos for five of its' songs?specifically, "No Opportunity Necessary," "Then," "Everydays," "Astral Traveller" and the title track, which is the only one to feature Banks. The others all feature new guitarist Steve Howe, whose presence must have come as a shock to some (he's even in the band photo on the US release). Anyway, these videos are notable solely for the fact that the band is obviously not even trying to play along with the recorded versions?plus, on the "Then" video, Squire and Kaye actually switch instruments for the whole song (Squire on keys, Kaye on bass) for reasons unknown.

Overall, my verdict of the first two Yes albums is that they have a certain charm to them despite not really measuring up to what they would do later. There is a certain "lazy day in the English countryside" innocence about this music, and that sort of sound definitely has its appeal. For all I know, some people might consider this the REAL Yes (kind of like how certain people also think the same about Pink Floyd). Early Yes has its fans, to be sure, and if you like adventurous music that still isn't too far out, I would recommend this along with the debut; it may be right up your alley. 3.5 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 3/5 |


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