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Yes - Magnification CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.73 | 1093 ratings

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4 stars I'll be the first to admit that I've been, for a long while, a backsliding Yes fanatic. The younger generations probably have no inkling as to just how fervidly devoted the followers of the band were back in their heyday. In my circle of acquaintances there were about 20 of us "Yessers" that thought they hung the moon and the stars. In fact, upon learning that the '74 tour for "Tales from Topographic Oceans" would only bring them as close to North Texas as Oklahoma City, we convinced/bribed Donovan Reese to borrow/steal and pilot his Dad's oversized RV to transport us all up I-35 for the show we couldn't bear the thought of missing out on. (Unfortunately, 3 or 4 of the passengers partied a little too hardy during the 4-hour trip and, instead of seeing our idols put on a fabulous show, spent the evening passed out in the RV; an unforgivable sin they most likely never recovered from.) But the insult that was "Tormato" struck a death blow to the majority of us and the magic spell Yes held over us was broken. Just as well, for we were starting families, getting real jobs, relocating and scattering, etc. and the prog bonds that had tied us together fell to the wayside. In my case I just lost track of what the various incarnations of Yes were creating and they slid to the periphery of my life for decades. Recently I noticed some very favorable reviews of "Magnification" here on the site and decided to revisit Jon & the gang to see how their music sounds in the 21st century. I am very pleased to say that they are still vital, alive and well.

How ironic it is that the outset of the album is nostalgically reminiscent of their last collaboration with a real orchestra, 1970's "Time and a Word." But, while that project was uneven at best, this time they got it right. The Larry Groupe-conducted symphony swirls around and through the band as it did back then but here they're more of an integral part of the machine rather than seeming like some kind of add-on. "Magnification" features very strong, confident vocals from Anderson and Squire and crisp drums from Alan White as he guides the group through the tune's many feel and tempo changes smoothly. It even has a great big, fat classic Yes ending to savor. "Spirit of Survival" shows Jon's voice to be in as fine a tone as ever as the band takes things up a notch and delivers a hard rocker based on a metallic, creeping bass/guitar riff. Steve Howe's work on his Strat is too cool for words and I just can't say enough about how fantastic the orchestra sounds. It's hard to imagine Yes without a bank of synthesizers or a Hammond organ but this is one of the best blends of symphony and rock bands I've ever heard.

Those first two tunes are impressive but "Don't Go" marks the start of four songs in a row that are exemplary. By now it's clear that this album is more song-oriented than just being a platform for individual virtuosity and it is amazingly refreshing. The clever intertwining harmonies and countermelodies on this track are fascinating and the catchy chorus of "don't take love for granted" will stick in your head for days. "Give Love Each Day" begins with a superb score from Groupe that brings to mind the compositions of Aaron Copland before they segue further into this wonderful song that epitomizes everything I've ever loved about Yes. These boys may have aged some but they haven't lost a step. Those of you who are like me and cherish Squire's first solo LP, "Fish Out of Water," will be delighted by "Can You Imagine" which showcases his unique voice. The ingenious harmonies floating around and Howe's slinky steel guitarisms are terrific and White even gets a chance to toss in some hot drum fills here and there. Two of Yes' trademarks, unabashed lyrical optimism and Jon's emotional singing, is very much in evidence on the stunning "We Agree" as he sings "I believe in our lives/these are the days that we will talk about." Hearing this makes it difficult to believe that over 30 years have passed since first hearing the "Going for the One" LP.

"Soft as a Dove" is a short, sweet ballad that's a bit of a come-down after the excitement of the previous quartet of tunes. Howe's acoustic guitar backed by the orchestra serves as the intro to "Dreamtime" before the song breaks loose in an aggressive tribal drumbeat. Steve then supplies a ringing 12-string riff that the symphony bounces off of while Jon and Chris deliver intense vocals over a very dynamic arrangement. The orchestra performs alone at the end and at first it almost seems like an afterthought but upon further listening it turns out to be another outstanding musical segment arranged by Larry Groupe. "In the Presence of" begins with Anderson alone with a piano but then starts a long yet dramatic build-up. Here they cleverly reprise several of the lyrical themes from earlier on the album and once they reach a peak they start over again with another climb constructed atop Squire's bass and Howe's steel guitar. They should have stopped right there but adding the embarrassing "Time is Time" to close the CD makes no sense at all. It not only sounds like a demo but it's also one of the most banal tunes they've ever recorded. I could go on but I think it's best if you just act like it isn't there.

The bonus live CD is well worth mentioning. Their 2001 rendition of "Close to the Edge" is a better engineered effort than the one on "Yessongs." Howe lights it up on guitar, the band is tighter than rusty lug nuts, Anderson is in great form and Squire demonstrates why he's considered a true master (and monster) of the Rickenbacker bass. What's curious is the fact that they fail to give any credit whatsoever to keyboard man Tom Brislin who does a more than adequate job here and even manages to throw in some subtle but interesting twists on this classic. (If it weren't for one of the resident geniuses here on the archives I still wouldn't know his name. I mean, come on fellas, he at least deserves a nod on the CD sleeve!) "Long Distance Runaround" gets the full orchestral treatment (the only one of the three that does) and it's a delight. You can tell they were having fun on this one. After Jon explains that they haven't played "Gates of Delirium" in 25 years they bravely venture into that epic gingerly and without the confidence needed for a tune like this. While it's an improvement over the horrible version on "Yesshows," I'm beginning to think that this song is just a real booger to pull off in concert. They don't come close to approaching the majesty of the studio original on "Relayer."

To sum it up, if you had (as did I) pretty much written Yes off I urge you to reconsider and add this album to your collection ASAP. They achieve in spades what many other groups have tried with wildly varying results in combining rock music with a full orchestra. And the more I listen to it the more impressed I am. They sure don't sound like musicians in their late 50s and early 60s, that's for sure. While it's not on the same level as the legendary albums they were producing in the early/mid 1970s, it beats the jeans off most of the questionable material they put out in the 80s and 90s. After hearing this one I can only hope they ain't done yet. A very solid 4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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