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Yes - The Yes Album CD (album) cover

THE YES ALBUM

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.28 | 1832 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Early in 1971 aliens came and replaced the members of YES with the most talented and visionary musicians from the planet Progadoccia. That or something like it must have happened, surely: how else does one explain the remarkable transformation in sound between this, an absolute prog classic, and the two mediocre and rather derivative YES albums that went before?

Some say it was the addition of STEVE HOWE to the lineup. I don't think so. HOWE doesn't deliver those incredible pulsing bass lines with the shattering intensity of controlled detonations. Six seconds into the album comes the first of them, a glorious slide that introduces the new CHRIS SQUIRE, unfettered at last. Yes, HOWE has the talent to match this peerless rhythm section, but even without him that rhythm section comes into its own. Suddenly ANDERSON is really singing rather than annoying us with that over-breathy whispering that masqueraded for vocalisation on the first two albums.

I say it's confidence, allied with a new spirit of adventure. Apparently Atlantic were about to ditch them: unlike other bands in that situation, who try to manufacture a commercial success, YES opted to make their last album a great one. With this album YES took the mantle of leader of the prog rock movement away from KING CRIMSON and, apart from a few moments when they shared it with fellow prophets GENESIS, wore it for the next few years. With this album they showed us where prog rock could take us. They extended their compositions past all sense and into a new place, combining jazz sensibilities with the power of rock and an increasing appreciation of the 'feel' a symphonic arrangement can bring to a song, and simply let loose.

It's no easy thing, this letting loose, this voluntary removal of restraint. Unless you are very confident, you can end up looking foolish. But these arrangements work spectacularly well. 'Yours is No Disgrace' starts us off: liberal borrowing from 'Bonanza' is disguised by the outrageous arrangement. The intro is in itself a masterpiece, with a minute and a half of deliciously tight interplay between rhythm section, HOWE's characteristic guitar and that sumptuous Hammond. When KAYE parks the Hammond to herald the vocal line, we've already had more than YES have heretofore offered us. The song works its way through a collection of meaningless lyrical phrases, selected for their sound, not their meaning, another sign that the band had abandoned any attempt to copy anyone else and gone looking for their own sound. And ah, the results. A growing understanding of symphonic patterns means lovely motifs, such as SQUIRE's bass at 3:30, can be played, stored and repeated with stunning variations later on. In between, the song's middle section showcases great guitar chops and a quite unique sound, in all its stereophonic glory. All this leads to one of prog's finest melting moments: SQUIRE's bass from the seven minute mark, its interaction with ANDERSON's vocals, and finally BRUFORD's re-enty into the song is quite the classiest, funkiest thing you're likely to hear. Gloriously simple, profoundly effective, totally dependent on the platform they've just spent seven minutes assembling, impossible to achieve without the breadth of vision these men demonstrate, and utterly compelling.

At this moment in 1971 YES are balanced at the very peak of the musical world. This song, I believe, is perfect. Not a moment wasted, not a moment too short or too long. It takes me three minutes to recover, which is exactly why 'The Clap' works so well at this point.

The thunderous opening to 'Starship Trooper' notches the album even higher. This is not the concrete slab of LED ZEPPELIN or the chainsaw of BLACK SABBATH, nor is it the melodic beauty of GENESIS: it is, somehow, something of them all. Listen to that bass sound, that vibrating Rickenbacker, melting your spine with its power. Anderson's had a voice transplant, seemingly: he shows precision and range not even hinted at earlier. BRUFORD slaps out complex fills without breaking a sweat, and KAYE underscores it all with that mouthwatering Hammond. Oh, listen as SQUIRE gets to work, those bass runs all desperately compelling. Rightly, the uncluttered arrangements are centered around his stunning sound. We get a short acoustic/vocal break (Disillusion) and return to the main theme in true symphonic style, a lead-in to the justly famous 'Wurm'. Each transition gives the band a chance to show off their stuff. While other albums, even the excellent 'Thick as a Brick' struggle with segues, YES make it a feature of their work, with their very best sounds occurring in the transitions between parts.

Wurm, now, Wurm. Three ominous, flanger-soaked chords given the STEVE HOWE treatment in a gradual build into orgasmic glory, enough to depilate the scalp of the most churlish music-lover. The guitar solo at the end comes as a sweet release of the incredible pressure the prolonged build-up brings to bear on the listener. This is so far past mere mastery it enters into realms beyond compare. My only regret is that it fades out far too soon: that sound could march on in my mind forever.

'All Good People' continues the intensity. An oddly constructed song, the first part is beautifully melodic, with ANDERSON at his best, as SQUIRE and the crew work manfully to provide vocal harmony. The instruments take a back seat, with GOLDRING's guest flute combining with a gentle acoustic and the regular thump of the bass drum to reinforce the reflective pace of the song. KAYE's keyboard highlights the end of this first part. All changes as the instruments come to the fore, dwarfing the repetitive main theme. Another daring experiment; another success. Just listen to the confidence these musicians are now demonstrating.

'A Venture' gives us another moment to rest, a gentle song fragment lowering the intensity somewhat at the right time. Notable for KAYE's excellent piano.

One last monster, the surprisingly underrated 'Perpetual Change'. Winner of the most absurd lyric of 1971 ('And move the movement on the lawn' - didn't they put their 'No Dogs' sign up?), this is the fourth slab of symphonic greatness on this indispensable album. 'You'll see perpetual change!' ANDERSON roars. And we did, we did, for album after stunning album. Again, the interplay of the rhythm section is astonishing - what about that amazing piece at the five minute mark? how on earth did they think of that? - and the song is drawn to an exciting climax. 'Inside out/Outside in/All of the way.'

Though a WAKEMAN short of the classic YES lineup, this album contains stellar examples of everything essential about this magnificent band. For myself - if you haven't already worked it out - I can't think of music more representative of everything I love about this wonderful thing we call Prog Rock. Take a pair of fresh ears out of the drawer and give this old chestnut another listen.

russellk | 5/5 |

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