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Yes - Relayer CD (album) cover

RELAYER

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.37 | 2963 ratings

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cfergmusic1
4 stars After the excess of Tales where Yes got a bit too smart for their own good, they proceeded to tour extensively in support of that album, against all odds helping the four-song double-album reach #1 in the UK. Knowing Rick Wakeman's increasing disillusionment with the music, you knew it was only a matter of time before he jumped the Yes ship, which he did for the first time on his 25th birthday (the same day that his Journey to the Centre of the Earth topped the album charts). Anyway, the departure of Wakeman and Yes' rather different musical leanings with their new material meant that they needed to find a replacement and fast, which they did in the form of Swiss poodle Patrick Moraz, who was arguably a more flexible player than Rick and had a keener ear for jazz and fusion music.

The thing that strikes me the most about this album is how gray, harsh and metallic the sound is. I'm not sure whether that's because of the color schemes on the album cover (another winner from Roger Dean), or Steve Howe's raunchy guitar sounds (I've heard that he used exclusively Fender guitars on this one), or Moraz's different and more up-to-date keyboard rig (which included, I believe, the only double Mini-Moog in existence). Actually all of these things, when put together, give the impression of this music having almost come from another planet entirely?I would say that this works more to the advantage of Side Two than Side One (which, even though it has only one song, is unofficially divided into three sections). The other thing is that this album has more to do with jazz/rock fusion than anything else Yes ever did?Moraz probably turned them on to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever around this time.

We begin with "The Gates of Delirium" and right away we're treated to an earful of Moraz' oscillating, insect-like synths in the background. (When I say "in the background," I mean that almost literally, since most of the album was apparently recorded before Moraz even set foot in the studio.) At 21:55, this epic was the longest Yes studio recording at the time (not counting the new version of "Revealing Science of God"), and fittingly, it was based on Tolstoy's classic novel "War and Peace" (or?for you Seinfeld fans?"War, What is it Good For"). Anyway, the first two minutes act as an overture of sorts, outlining a couple of the main themes that will recur throughout the work, before Jon's vocals come in. His lyrics are by far more aggressive than anything else Yes had done at the time, and this is reflected in his harsh, almost sneering vocal delivery. The actual tune alternates happy-sounding major-key verses (if you can call them that) with jarring, snide "choruses," and the instrumental transitions contain some prime Chris Squire. After a Howe solo melody, things quiet down for the most lyrically intense passage ("Listen, should we fight forever"), at first accompanied only by organ and synths, becoming appropriately more demanding as it goes on, culminating in "Burn their children's laughter on to hell." Pretty heady stuff, but the best is saved for last just before the "battle" section, which has a great build-up.

The Battle, starting at around 8 minutes, is introduced by a waltz-time "war anthem" stated alternately by Moraz's synths and Howe's guitar, and is expounded upon as sort of a theme-and-variations, part of which stems from Moraz' background in jazz (listen to his soloing here). Throughout this entire section, one can easily hear commotion in the background, which probably was taken from a tape of people applauding and/or whistling (the latter noise being most audible in the din). At 10:22, another theme is introduced?a harsh, minor-mode number in 11/16 time (are you feeling the tension yet?), which amazingly took me over 10 years and a listen to Yesshows to figure out. This is already a huge improvement over Topographic in my opinion, as everything in this section moves along exactly as it should without any wasted space. By the way, the metallic crash heard about 20 seconds later actually came from Alan White pushing over a shelf stacked with junked auto parts! This also illustrates the DIY approach that went into this album, as much of it was done at Squire's home studio. Anyway, the progression from the Mahavishnu-esque odd time signature back to the 3/4 is effective, as the "war theme" that you might normally expect to hear is replaced by a dissonant, mocking synth tone a la "Seasons of Man" from "CTTE", after which Moraz and the band basically freak out for about 20 seconds (because what else can they do at this point?). Amidst the chaos, Alan whacks away at his drum set, somehow becoming more and more agitated as he builds up (don't worry, it all makes sense) to?

Victory! The tension of the preceding 30 seconds or so is immediately relieved; our heroes (whoever they are) have emerged triumphant over whichever enemies they were doing battle with, as a diatonic melody is superimposed over shifting chord structures over a pedal E (did I mention this part is in 11/8 time?). This is easily Alan White's best outing as a Yes drummer and teases at what the band could have done with him if they had continued in this direction. Again Steve and Patrick trade off and sometimes double the melody, Steve reaching for the stars with his echoed-out, piccolo-register steel guitar. In fact, it is that steel guitar that leads the way into the transition to what I call the "aftermath" section, which is signaled by ambiguous synth pads, upwardly moving bass and more echoed guitar (Alan pulls a Bruford and drops out here for about 5 minutes). This acts as a breather of sorts before guitars steel and strummed acoustic announce what is easily the best known portion of the piece, "Soon." In yet another contrast to the aggressiveness of earlier, Anderson (after a near 10-minute absence) turns in one of his most heartfelt, plaintive vocals and lyrics that call for hope and peace after the preceding atrocity (trust me, it's not nearly as sappy as I'm probably making it sound). After Jon sings his last line, the tune subtly shifts into a 6/8 ballad, with Alan's perfectly-timed, almost imperceptible entrance to ride out the groove for a while. The epic finally ends with steel guitar floating over a cloud of Mellotron pads, finally coming to rest on a minor triad that changes to the tonic chord. Even though this piece is all over the map structurally and in terms of key center, nothing feels forced or padded and the ending is the most satisfying since "Close to the Edge."

Side two opens with "Sound Chaser," which used to be my favorite track for a long time. Fleet-fingered Fender Rhodes clashes with syncopated, bashing drums and gives way to what I can only describe as a hyper-speed trip through space soundtracked mostly by Moraz. (Whatever these squeaky bird-like noises are, Jon replicated them on tour by futzing around with a piccolo. Maybe he's doing that here too.) The verses are marked by a chugging 5/4 rhythm that sounds faster than it is due to Alan's hi-hat; this tune could also be called "Look in Your Eyes" after the line that ends every verse. Just when you think the rhythm train couldn't possibly stop, everyone drops out for Steve's trebled-out Telecaster wankfest (usually he saved his solo features for acoustic guitar), which contains a quote from "Mood for a Day" that immediately seems less contrived than similar quotes on TFTO. Appropriate drama is provided by Moraz's keys and Alan (or someone) banging on timpani before Jon's last verse, accompanied only by volume-swell guitar. A repeat of part of the intro leads into a funky, slide-guitar groove in 5 that I just love to death?before random "cha-cha-chas" and assorted grunting give way to one of Pat's best solos ever. This entire section, along with much of the album, really makes me feel like I'm hearing a Yes concert on the ice planet Nebulon (or something). Another quickening of the tempo, a sort-of reprise of the verse melody (with a brief "cha-cha-cha" interruption), and out. A bit disjointed, but still amazing musicianship to be found here.

After all the chaos of the first two tracks (over a half-hour) it's no surprise that the last tune would be in a significantly lighter vein. "To Be Over" is the send-off here, a meditative, glassy number introduced by electric sitar and pixie-ish sine waves. Both Steve and Chris experiment with different instruments and tones throughout the album; Squire takes a more comfortable backseat role here with (I assume) a Fender Precision. The campfire-like verses (harmonized of course) eventually give way to eight bars of Steve's pedal-steel solo?another great touch?and Moraz's synths immediately afterward further contribute to the "space-land" feel. After some theme-and-variation soloing during which time Steve switches to his Tele (the bass movement in this portion is clearly modeled after Bach and Handel), the "childlike soul dreamer" part begins and almost rivals the "Eclipse" section of "And You And I" for pure atmospheric beauty. The gentle waltz time is doubled up for another great Moraz solo (I never realized how much he actually played on this album before), then back to single time for the final vocal section ("After all"). The last line ("Be ready to be loved") is the perfect emotional release for the coda, reprising the intro melody with more instrumental lines and some subtle backing vocals, which eventually calm the band down and take the piece to a peaceful conclusion. "Maybe someday?"

Wow? now that's a lot of music!

You know what? I originally planned on giving this album a lower rating because as great as the music was technically, I always considered it rather impenetrable and difficult to understand. Indeed, as previously mentioned, it took me the better part of a decade to even start to get a handle on everything that was going on here. Now I finally understand what the band was going for, all the influences that Moraz brought in to help them realize their new direction. If Close to the Edge was the present and Tales from Topographic Oceans was the past, Relayer could very well have been the future of Yes (and those who liked Tales better than I did can think of this as the last part of a trilogy). As it was, they ended up getting too smart again with the material on tour (see "Ritual" on Yesshows), and Moraz was out of the picture within a couple years. IfTales was at times too slow and mannered, this album has a completely different aesthetic: crammed full of music, and not everything works, but what does work is pulled off amazingly. Truly timeless music, essential to any self-respecting prog collection. 4.5 stars out of 5.

P.S. The Rhino remaster (which sounds just fine to my ears, thank you) contains three bonus tracks: the single edit of "Soon" that everyone knows from countless compilations, the single edit of "Sound Chaser" that is literally just the last three minutes of the tune, and a studio run-through of "Gates" with some interesting differences. Alan sounds a lot jazzier on certain sections (particularly the intro), and the ending is completely different than the final version, going back to the battle section for about 30 seconds. On the other hand, Jon seems to have virtually none of his lyrics figured out by this time, but I suppose that's to be expected when your lyrical style is largely "stream-of-consciousness" to begin with.

cfergmusic1 | 4/5 |

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